UKRAINE’S President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sparked global headlines on Monday after he signed an application for his nation to join the European Union.

Excited headlines followed on Tuesday after the European Parliament passed a resolution on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Kyiv Post tweeted: “The European Parliament has approved Ukraine's application to join the European Union.”

This however, was not the case, and joining the EU could be many years away for the eastern European nation, if it were to happen at all.

READ MORE: Translator fights back tears as Ukraine's president tells the EU of war

The Kyiv Independent also wrote: "BREAKING: European Parliament recommends giving Ukraine EU candidate status."

However, the resolution the parliament passed actually only called for "institutions to work towards granting EU candidate status to Ukraine, in line with Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union and on the basis of merit". 

Amid all the confusion, here two experts lay out the situation as it stands between a war-torn Ukraine and the EU.

Anthony Salamone, managing director of the Edinburgh-based political analysis firm European Merchants

The National: Anthony Salamone is Managing Director of European Merchants, a political analysis firm in Edinburgh

MANY Ukrainians have long wanted their country to join the European Union. The aim of seeking EU membership was added to Ukraine's constitution in 2019. However, up until now, Ukraine had never formally applied to join.

Now, in the midst of war, Ukraine has taken that first step. As you might expect, there is no “application form” for EU membership as such. Instead, to start the process, the proposed candidate sends a formal letter addressed to the country holding the EU Council presidency – currently France and its President Emmanuel Macron (below).

The National: Emmanuel Macron

The procedure for joining the EU is well defined. Following the application letter from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the EU Council (that is, the EU member states) will consider the letter. No time limits exist. The Council could consider Ukraine's letter for as long as it chooses.

The next step is for the EU Council to ask the European Commission to prepare a formal opinion assessing how ready Ukraine is to join the EU at this point, and give the Commission's recommendation on whether to designate Ukraine as a candidate country. The process would continue from there.

Needless to say, we are witnessing an unprecedented circumstance. Ukraine is at war, and the EU is aiding it in that war. In the past few days, the EU has responded with astounding speed and strength, compared to how it usually works. Nevertheless, Ukraine is not on the verge of joining the EU.

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Before Russia's invasion, it would probably have taken Ukraine several decades to join the bloc, if it was ever accepted at all. There are still major differences among the existing EU member states on whether to even consider admitting new eastern members.

Given the current environment, it is definitely more likely than before that Ukraine will be granted candidate country status. But even that process normally takes months or years. The EU member states will have to decide how they respond in new times. For now, it still seems evident that actual EU membership for Ukraine would be years away.

Dr Kirsty Hughes, founder and former director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations

The National:

THE passionate appeal by Ukraine’s courageous president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, for his nation to have a special procedure leading to rapid EU accession, and the lodging of Ukraine’s EU application with Brussels on Tuesday, has provoked different reactions in the bloc.

Yes, we have seen extraordinary shifts by the EU in the first week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including in agreeing to supply weapons to Ukraine, the plan to allow Ukrainian refugees to live and work in the EU for up to three years, and the growing range of EU sanctions on Russia. Germany’s defence and foreign policy shifted dramatically too, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz (below) agreeing to provide weapons to Ukraine in a speech last Sunday.

The National: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz

But there are substantive differences across member states on an EU accession route for Ukraine. The European Parliament is expected to approve a resolution on Ukraine on Wednesday which will call on the EU to “work towards granting EU candidate status to Ukraine”. Nine of the EU’s central and eastern European member states went further, on Monday calling on the EU to take “steps to immediately grant Ukraine an EU candidate country status and start negotiations”.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has stressed, more vaguely, that Ukraine belongs in the European family. Meanwhile, both French and German politicians and officials have been much more circumspect, emphasising the political, technical and legal aspects of EU accession.

What is unclear is how fast the EU will respond to Ukraine’s membership application. There will clearly be considerable debate across the member states as to whether the technical and political process whereby an applicant gets to candidate – or even potential candidate – status can be shortened. This looks unlikely as of now.

Yet the key thing to watch out for here is not really whether Ukraine gets fast-tracked to being a candidate, after which it would anyway – and depending on the outcome of the current war – take several years to go through the negotiations process. The real question is, and always has been, is there a genuine EU path for Ukraine.

Back in the 1990s, the EU took the narrow decision to give an EU path to ten of the central and eastern European countries (and later and slowly to the rest of the western Balkans). But it deliberately did not give Ukraine or other former Soviet bloc countries (other than the Baltics) a clear EU path. This looked like the wrong decision at the time and now much more so with hindsight.

So the big challenge to France, Germany and other more cautious EU member states is whether they face up to the immediate political and historical challenge they face, and make publicly clear that Ukraine is welcome, in time, as an EU member state.

Or they stick to the negative obfuscation of calling Ukraine European without opening the EU accession process at this moment of its most urgent need for full political and moral support.