It may take “15 or 20 years” for Ukraine’s EU bid to be finalised, France's Europe minister said on Sunday, dampening Kyiv's hopes for a quick entry after Russia's invasion.
"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."
Mr Beaune repeated President Emmanuel Macron’s offer to create a looser "European political community" that could help to integrate Ukraine into the bloc sooner.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday denounced "such compromises" and insisted on an immediate start of the process towards full EU membership.
But Mr Beaune said Mr Macron's proposal was not "an alternative to joining the European political community. It doesn't prevent membership later on".
Under Mr 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.
Some EU leaders share France's scepticism about a rapid acceptance of Ukraine's membership bid.
They are 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 accession 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 aspirations, but Mr Beaune rejected any blame on Kyiv.
"The person who sought this war, the aggressor, is Mr Putin," he told Europe 1 radio earlier on Sunday. "Ukraine is Europe."
The EU's goal is to "avoid any Russian victory", he said.
"Our support is legitimate," Mr Beaune said. "If Europe said, 'Go ahead, Mr Putin's Russia can do what it wants,' it would be dangerous for our security."
Mr Macron's initiative will be debated at an EU summit in late June.