The move could open up a years-long path toward Ukraine joining the bloc which requires unanimous approval from all existing EU member nations.
The European Union's executive arm has recommended making Ukraine a candidate for EU membership, a first step on what was expected to be a long road for the country to join the 27-nation bloc.
The European Commission delivered its proposal on Friday to award Ukraine candidate status after a fast-tracked analysis of answers to a questionnaire.
The Ukrainian government applied for EU membership less than a week after Russia started its attacks on the country.
“Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective,” commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “We want them to live with us, the European dream.”
The leaders of the bloc's existing members are scheduled to discuss the recommendation during a summit next week in Brussels.
The European Commission’s endorsement, while a strong sign of solidarity with Ukraine, is likely to take years or even decades to materialise into EU membership.
Along with Ukraine, the European Commission also recommended giving neighbouring Moldova EU candidate status to Moldova. The commission also reviewed Georgia’s application but said the Caucasus nation first needs to fulfill a number of conditions.
Adding new members requires unanimous approval from all existing EU member nations. They have expressed differing views on how quickly to add Ukraine to their ranks.
Ukraine’s bid received a boost when the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania visited the country on Thursday and vowed to back its candidacy.
To be admitted, potential newcomers need to demonstrate that they meet EU standards on democratic principles and they must absorb about 80,000 pages of rules covering everything from trade and immigration to fertiliser and the rule of law.
Before Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, the European Commission repeatedly expressed concern in recent years about corruption in Ukraine and the need for deep political and economic reforms.
“Yes, Ukraine deserves a European perspective. It should be welcomed as a candidate country, on the understanding that important work remains to be done,” von der Leyen said Friday. “The entire process is merits-based. It goes by the book and therefore, progress depends entirely on Ukraine.”
Ukraine currently has an association agreement with the EU, which is aimed at opening Ukraine’s markets and bringing it closer to Europe. It includes a far-reaching free trade pact. Von der Leyen said that due to the 2016 agreement, "Ukraine has already implemented roughly 70% of the EU rules, norms and standards.”
“It is taking part in many important EU programs," she continued. "Ukraine is a robust parliamentary democracy. It has a well-functioning public administration that has kept the country running even during this war.”
Von der Leyen said the country should continue to make progress in the fields of rule of law and fighting corruption. She also cited the need to speed up the selection of high court judges.