Aspiring bloc members, including Kiev, will not be given any shortcuts towards membership, Ursula von der Leyen has signaled © Getty Images / Marcelo del Pozo

Countries aspiring to join the EU must follow the “merit-based” accession process and reach the milestones outlined by the bloc’s rules, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday.

The EU chief made the remarks during a press conference following a summit of the bloc’s leaders in the Spanish city of Granada. Von der Leyen touched upon the accession process of prospective members, stating that all of them must follow due procedures.

“The process is merit-based,” the EU Commission head explained. “There are clear rules, there are milestones that have to be achieved.”

Such a stance was included in the joint declaration that was adopted during the summit. While the document reiterated the bloc’s readiness to “continue to support Ukraine and its people for as long as it takes,” it also warned that potential new members will be given no shortcuts during the accession process.

“Aspiring members need to step up their reform efforts, notably in the area of rule of law, in line with the merit-based nature of the accession process and with the assistance of the EU. In parallel, the Union needs to lay the necessary internal groundwork and reforms,” the declaration reads.

Ex-EU boss says Ukraine too corrupt to join Ex-EU boss says Ukraine too corrupt to join

While the document did not provide any timeframe for when an expansion will actually happen, the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, said the bloc should be ready to expand by 2030. “What’s important is to stop procrastinating,” he said during the press conference.

The remarks by the top EU officials come in contrast to earlier statements about the prospects for Ukraine’s accession. In mid-September, for instance, von der Leyen said Ukraine would “complete” the bloc and claimed that the move would not necessarily require an amendment to the Treaties of the European Union, the legal foundation for its existence.

Joining the EU has been a key talking point for pro-West Ukrainian politicians for decades, yet little actual progress on that path was achieved before the conflict between Kiev and Moscow broke out in February 2022. However, the hostilities have seemingly re-invigorated the process, with top Ukraine officials repeatedly demanding the country be accepted into the bloc as soon as possible due to its perceived role in defending the EU from an allegedly looming Russian invasion.

However, in recent weeks, numerous current and former EU officials have warned against fast-tracking Ukraine’s admission, arguing, for various reasons, that it might do more harm than good to the bloc itself. Perhaps the most damning opinion was voiced by Jean-Claude Juncker, a former president of the European Commission, who argued that Ukraine was simply way too corrupt to join the EU anytime soon.

“Those who have dealt with Ukraine know that this is a country that is corrupt at all levels of society,” Juncker said in an interview with Germany’s Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper. (RT)