BRUSSELS - The European Commission will recommend on Friday that the European Union designate Ukraine and Moldova as candidates for membership, with Georgia being asked to meet certain conditions before being granted the same status, diplomats said.
While some EU countries including the Netherlands and Denmark do not support more countries becoming EU membership candidates, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy won the backing of France, Germany, Italy and Romania on Thursday.
The Commission, the EU executive, is expected to make its proposal around 1200 CET (1000 GMT). That will pave the way for EU government leaders to sign off on it at a summit next Thursday and Friday in Brussels in what will be a morale boost for Ukraine as it fights Russia's invasion.
In their first visit to Kyiv since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, France's Emmanuel Macron, Germany's Olaf Scholz, Italy's Mario Draghi and Romania's Klaus Iohannis said Ukraine belonged in the "European family".
EU candidate status, sought by Ukraine since 2014 when protests in Kyiv toppled an unpopular pro-Russian president, would be a milestone in its path from a former Soviet republic towards a developed economy in the world's largest trading bloc.
However, the path towards membership is expected to take years, requiring deep reforms tackling endemic corruption. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen singled out corruption during a visit to Kyiv on June 11.
According to watchdog Transparency International, Ukraine is perceived as one of the world's most corrupt countries, ranked 122 out of 180 states.
EU "enlargement" as a policy has also stalled since 2018. EU member states cannot agree on whether to bring other official candidates - Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey - into the bloc.
One senior diplomat involved in discussion on enlargement told Reuters that Georgia, once one of the most pro-EU and pro-U.S. countries seeking to join the bloc, is further away from candidate status.
"Georgia has become polarised and its political system dysfunctional," the diplomat said. "Key politicians seem to be unwilling or unable to move ahead with democratic reforms."
(Reporting by Robin Emmott Editing by Mark Heinrich and Andrew Heavens)