Ukraine will eventually be part of the European Union, France's Europe minister said on Tuesday, reassuring Kyiv that an initiative to forge closer ties between the bloc and aspiring members would not replace their bids to join.
French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this month suggested creating a "European political community" that would create a new structure allowing closer cooperation with countries seeking EU membership.
"I am convinced that Ukraine will be part of the European Union," Clement Beaune told reporters. "We know with honesty that it takes time and in this time we can't allow ourselves to simply wait. We have to nurture the European hope."
Beaune, who earlier this week said it could take 15-20 years for Ukraine to join added that the project "was not an alternative."
Speaking alongside Olga Stefanishyna, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, he said the next step would be to discuss the details of the initiative with European partners.
The aim is to create a community of countries who aspire to join the bloc or wish closer ties and adhere to the EU's core values in areas such as political cooperation, security, cooperation in energy, transport, investment of infrastructure or circulation of people.
The initiative has been received cautiously by some member states given the lack of details. Kyiv has also expressed its concern that it could be used as an alternative to membership.
The European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, will give its opinion on Ukraine's candidacy request in June, but even if approved the process takes several years and can be vetoed by a member state.
Stefanishyna said after the meeting with Beaune that she had been reassured the idea would not affect Kyiv's candidacy.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)