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President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky
The European Union's executive arm is expected to recommend next week that Ukraine be granted candidate status, a key step on the long path to EU membership, according to people familiar with the matter.

The recommendation, which needs to be debated and adopted by the college of EU commissioners, would come with conditions linked to the rule of law and anti-corruption legislation, said the people who declined to be named on a confidential matter.

The moment will be a significant one for Ukraine, which has invested so much of its political future on a closer relationship with Europe. But there's no existing fast-track path to speed up the lengthy membership process and Ukraine still needs to overcome objections of key states that have been opposed to enlarging the bloc.

A final European Commission opinion, even if positive, would need the approval of member states before Ukraine is officially granted the status. The bloc's leaders are set to discuss the matter in Brussels on June 23-24 and several countries have said they're against the move, saying Ukraine can't be given preference over existing applicants. The membership process includes an arduous set of steps and conditions that can normally last more than a decade.

The opinion is expected to come on June 17, the people said.

A spokesperson for the commission said work is ongoing to deliver its opinion ahead of the next EU summit.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy formally applied to join the EU at the end of February and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivered a membership questionnaire to the Ukrainian president when she visited Kyiv in April. Von der Leyen has repeatedly said that Ukraine belongs in the European family.

Clear Outcome

Some member states, including the Netherlands, have so far opposed backing Kyiv's bid, while a majority, including Italy, are in favor of it, the people said.

Countries including Poland, Lithuania and Ireland told a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday they want EU leaders to decide on a clear outcome and grant candidate status, according to officials familiar with the talks. Estonia stressed the need to give hope to Ukraine.

Germany said an outcome could be conditional candidate status, the officials said.

In a diplomatic note seen by Bloomberg, Denmark said that Ukraine does not sufficiently fulfill criteria related to the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. Kyiv will need to "fundamentally improve its legislative and institutional framework" to progress on all these areas, the note says.

Copenhagen sees Ukraine "generally at a very early stage" regarding its preparedness to take on the obligations of EU membership and establishing a functioning market economy or becoming competitive within the single market.

Ukraine featured 122nd among 180 countries in last year's ranking by the watchdog Transparency International. Ukrainians took to the streets twice, in 2004 and in 2014, to try to force the government to root out corruption. Support among Ukrainians to join the EU jumped to 91% in a March survey by Rating Group, up from 61% in December.

Candidate status, should it be granted, would formally begin the EU's membership procedure. Croatia was the last country to join the bloc and its application process lasted 10 years before it was formally accepted in 2013.