EU leaders are set to designate Ukraine and Moldova as official candidates for membership of the European Union at a two-day summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.
The highly symbolic move amid the Russian invasion came after months of lobbying from war-torn Ukraine and close neighbour, Moldova, to start the long process of joining the 27-member bloc.
EU accession, a politically fraught and legally complex process, could drag on for years, with aspiring countries navigating countless milestones to be even deemed acceptable candidates.
Georgia applied for EU candidate status with Ukraine and Moldova but received only qualified support.
A decision to grant the status required unanimity among EU members.
Ukraine’s progress and the broad backing it enjoyed among EU members, including France, Germany and Italy, in view of the Russian invasion, were viewed as unprecedented.
However, the widespread support only served to highlight frustrations simmering in Western Balkan countries about their own lack of progress.
Threats from Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia to boycott a gathering between the EU leaders and their Western Balkan counterparts ahead of the summit embodied the impatience.
EU member Bulgaria, had been blocking the start of EU accession talks with North Macedonia, and by extension Albania, for several years in a dispute linked to national identity, history and languages.
EU leaders might seek answers on Thursday in a French proposal for a new pan-European political area to bring aspiring members closer, but details remained scarce.
On Friday, EU leaders would consider the growing economic toll of the Russian invasion, with inflation running high and energy and food costs spiking.