European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen.

The European Commission has backed Ukraine and Moldova to become candidates for EU membership.

But leaders of EU countries will then have the final say at a summit in Brussels on 23-24 June.

The announcement was welcomed by both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his Moldovan counterpart Maia Sandu.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in the case of Ukraine that “we all know that Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective, we want them to live with us, the EU”.

She praised the country’s pre-war reforms to tackle corruption, curb the influence of oligarchs and strengthen the rights of minorities although she noted that “we want to see results on the ground”.

She also flagged that the country enjoys a “very robust parliamentary, presidential democracy” and that its public administration has kept the country going despite the war. She also noted that “Ukraine has a very vibrant and active civil society”.

“To conclude on Ukraine, we have one clear message and that is, yes Ukraine deserves European perspective, yes Ukraine should be welcome as a candidate country,” she told reporters.

Moldova too has a solid foundation in place to reach the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the economic integration with the EU, the Commission concluded.

“Provided the country’s leaders stay on course, we believe that the country has the potential to live up to the requirements,” von der Leyen said.

The candidate status, if approved by EU leaders at their Council summit next week, is more of a symbolic gesture. It does not entitle Ukraine or Moldova to more EU funds and does not also mean that accession negotiations will begin in earnest.

For that, both countries will need to continue with their reformist agenda with von der Leyen highlighting that accession is a “dynamic process” and that it does not have “a defined timeline.”

“We expect these reforms to be done, if so, then it’s merit-based, and then there’s movement forward,” she said.

Still, Zelenskyy took to Twitter to “commend the positive Commission’s conclusion” which he described as a “historic decision”.

“It’s the first step on the EU membership path that’ll certainly bring our victory closer,” he also wrote, adding that he now expects “a positive result” at the European Council level when EU leaders meet next week.