State of the Union: European Commission says Ukraine should start EU membership talks

State of the Union: European Commission says Ukraine should start EU membership talks

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, enlargement of the European Union has gone from an almost taboo subject to a key priority.

This week, the European Commission reaffirmed its belief that the 27-country bloc can absorb more members, including one that is at war with Russia.

The EU executive adopted the "Enlargement 2023" package on Wednesday, which recommends opening negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova.

The document also recommends granting candidate status to Georgia.

Regarding the six Western Balkan countries, the biggest novelty is the suggestion to open accession negotiations with Bosnia & Herzegovina.

All this must still be decided by the European Council in December, but Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is convinced that it will be a win-win for all.

"Enlargement is a vital policy for the European Union. Completing our Union is the call of history, the natural horizon of our Union," she told reporters in Brussels.

"Completing our Union, also has a strong economic and geopolitical logic. Past enlargements have shown the enormous benefits both for the accession countries and the EU. We all win."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the European Commission report as "historic" and promised to carry on the reforms.

It is important to remember that the European Union is preparing a €50 billion financial instrument, called the Ukraine Support Facility, to help it cope with the huge challenge.

Although the country's progress has been praised, the Ukranian government needs to step up the work in several areas.

Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister, Olha Stefanishyna, who works on the country's EU integration told Euronews that they are working hard to complete the final stages.

"There are many things to be accomplished," she said.

"So, we have to do the best sort of legislation, the transparency of the lobbying process. But we have a lot of regulations on corruption prevention, which have already forced officials to be transparent in what they do.

"In fact, we are happy to see that this is the only very small issue to be expected to continue.

"So, the message from my side is that we are not going to stop."

Gaza aid continues

The EU Humanitarian Air Bridge with aid for the people of Gaza Strip concluded its latest phase of eight flights this week.

One of them left Tuesday from the Ostend airport in Belgium, overseen by the Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič.

The destination was Egypt, from where aid is taken in trucks to Gaza through the Rafah border crossing.

The European Commission announced on Friday that six more flights have been scheduled.

In the meantime, it will keep up the diplomatic pressure to increase the flow of aid, including fuel, that is under an Israeli total ban.

"Fuel is needed in order to power the generators, to run, hospitals, to run, to operate the water pumps and desalination plants, to run bakeries and not least to enable humanitarian workers to move around and provide the supplies to people who need it," Lenarčič said.

"So, this is the picture we will continue to work on - the improving of access. We continue to impress on all the parties to introduce the necessary arrangements. We call it humanitarian windows, pauses or cease fires".

Israel also agreed to put in place four-hour daily humanitarian pauses in northern Gaza.

This is to allow civilians to flee and is part of the negotiations for the release of Israeli hostages.

The families of the around 240 people that Hamas captured in Israel are doing all they can to get them back, and some came to Brussels, this week.

A small delegation was at the European Parliament to meet with lawmakers and journalists, calling for continuous diplomatic pressure.

Among the hostages are more than 30 children, elderly people and foreigners or dual citizens, as well as Israeli soldiers.