Ukraine's future lies inside the European Union and the country should become a member as soon as possible, the deputy head of the EU Commission said on Friday.
"Now it is time for a strong message. It is time for signalling that the Ukrainian people are one of the European peoples. We want them in as soon as possible," Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said after a meeting of EU Europe ministers in Arles in the south of France.
Enthusiasm has grown for Ukraine's eventual EU membership in the wake of the Russian invasion among European lawmakers, after President Volodymyr Zelensky's impassioned plea to the European parliament this week.
But the country would still need to go through the same membership process as any other candidate, with no fast track route in prospect.
"The most important thing is to send a very strong political signal that we consider Ukraine. We see them as future member state," Sefkovic said.
In his video address from Kyiv to the EU parliament on March 1, Zelensky had requested "immediate" EU membership, saying his country was "fighting for survival".
EU officials, while sympathetic, say there is no short-cut path for membership and any accession process would be lengthy.
Europe Minister Clement Beaune described supporting the prospect of EU membership for Ukraine as a "signal, a perspective that in any case will take several years".
Sefcovic said the EU, which has surprised some observers with the unity and strength of its response to the Russian attack on Ukraine, had itself transformed in the days since President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on February 24.
"Things are just transforming in such a dramatic way that I think now is time for the bold steps and as Europe was bold until now, I am sure we will be bold also in this issue," Sefcovic added.
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