A bid by Ukraine to join the European Union could not be finalised for "15 or 20 years," France's Europe minister said Sunday, pouring cold water on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's hopes for a quick entry in the wake of Russia's invasion of his country.
"We have to be honest. If you say Ukraine is going to join the EU in six months, or a year or two, you're lying," Clement Beaune told Radio J. "It's probably in 15 or 20 years, it takes a long time."
"I don't want to offer Ukrainians any illusions or lies," he said, reiterating an offer by President Emmanuel Macron to create a looser "European political community" that could help integrate Ukraine with the bloc sooner.
That offer has received a cold welcome from Zelensky, who on Saturday denounced "such compromises" and insisted on an immediate start of the process towards full EU membership.
But Beaune said Macron's proposal is not "an alternative to joining the European political community. It doesn't prevent membership later on."
Under Macron's plan, "there could be free circulation in Europe, and it could benefit from the European budget for reconstruction and the revival of its country, society and economy," he said.
Other EU leaders have also shown little appetite for a quick welcome of Ukraine, whose pro-Western aspirations are seen as the main reason Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of the country on February 24.
Some EU leaders share France's scepticism about a rapid acceptance of Ukraine's membership bid, concerned that it will take time to rebuild a war-shattered economy, reduce corruption and adopt far-reaching economic and legal reforms.
On Thursday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said there were "no shortcuts" to joining and the ascension process "is not a matter of a few months or years".
Many Western leaders believe Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion on February 24 in response to Ukraine's pro-Western aspirations, but Beaune rejected any blame on Kyiv.
"The person who sought this war, the aggressor, is Mr Putin," he told CNews television in an interview earlier Sunday, while insisting "Ukraine is Europe".
The EU's goal is to "avoid any Russian victory", he said, adding: "Our support is legitimate. If Europe said, 'Go ahead, Mr Putin's Russia can do what it wants,' it would be dangerous for our security."
Macron's "European political community" initiative will be debated at an EU summit in late June.