Ukraine and Moldova hailed the EU decision as a "historic moment," while Balkan countries Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia criticised EU for moving slowly on their membership process.
European Union leaders agree to grant "candidate status" to war-torn Ukraine and neighbouring Moldova, in a show of support in the face of Russia's attacks.
"A historic moment. Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU," Michel wrote on Twitter during Thursday's summit in Brussels.
Granting EU candidacy to Ukraine sends a "very strong signal" to Russia that the bloc supports Kiev's pro-Western aspirations in the wake of Moscow's assault, French President Emmanuel Macron has said.
The French leader hailed the move as a sign of "a strong and united Europe" in the face of Russia's aggression against its neighbour.
Ukraine, Moldova hail the decision
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the EU decision on his country and Moldova as "a unique and historic moment", although the two former Soviet republics face a long path before joining the bloc and its benefits of free movement and a common market.
Zelenskyy tweeted his gratitude and declared, “Ukraine’s future is within the EU.”
“It’s a victory. We have been waiting for 120 days and 30 years,” he said on Instagram, referring to the beginning of the conflict and the decades since Ukraine became independent upon the breakup of the Soviet Union. “And now we will defeat the enemy.”
Since gaining independence in 1991, Moldova has been blighted by rampant corruption and powerful oligarchs. It's often perceived as being stuck in limbo between pro-Russian forces and those, like pro-Western President Maia Sandu, that look to forge closer ties with the West.
“We are starting on the road to the EU, which will bring Moldovans more prosperity, more opportunities and more order in their country,” Sandu wrote online after the EU decision.
In a Twitter post, Sandu also lauded a “historic day for Moldova.”
Historic day for #Moldova🇲🇩! EU🇪🇺 Member States have granted us the #EU candidate status. An unequivocal & strong signal of support for our citizens and #Moldova's European future. We are grateful & committed to advancing on the path of reforms.— Maia Sandu (@sandumaiamd) June 23, 2022
Georgia to work with 'determination'
Georgia said it was determined to take the steps required to qualify for a status of a European Union membership candidate, after EU leaders decided to defer Tbilisi's candidacy.
"We are ready to work with determination over the next months to reach the candidate status," President Salome Zurabishvili said on Twitter.
"There can be no better sign of hope for the citizens of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in these troubled times," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters.
"It strengthens Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in the face of Russian aggression," she said.
Balkan nations criticise EU for moving slowly
Leaders of three Western Balkan countries — Serbia, Albania, and North Macedonia — criticised the European Union for moving slowly on their membership process.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic vowed that his country will exert every effort by December and before the next summit.
“I will not say that we will celebrate, but I think we will be in a better mood in December than today,” he said.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama expressed disappointment over the EU’s attitude toward the region’s integration into the bloc.
“North Macedonia has been waiting for 17 years for its EU membership talks to start, and Albania for eight years,” said Rama.
Dimitar Kovacevski, the prime minister of North Macedonia, said EU enlargement to the Western Balkans should be seen as an investment in the bloc’s security, particularly in the context of the Ukraine conflict.
“What has happened now is a serious problem and a serious blow to the credibility of the EU. North Macedonia and Albania, but also the region, cannot remain stuck in this situation because one country refuses to coordinate and open the European path to us,” he said.