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EU parliamentary group offers help and invitations to Ukraine

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Zelenskiy in Kyiv

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A European Parliament group invited Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his party's lawmakers to take part in some of its activities, a token of friendship and a way to involve Ukraine in EU processes ahead of its accession talks.

Ukraine, which has received strong support from most European nations since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its territory two years ago, is a candidate to join the 27-member European Union, but the process will take years.

The Renew group said it was inviting Zelenskiy to join its leaders' summits and inviting lawmakers from the Ukrainian leader's Servant of the People party to take part in Renew's parliamentary meetings.

Renew, the third largest group in the European parliament, includes heads of government and ruling party lawmakers from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Estonia, Slovenia and Bulgaria. Its leaders summits typically include French President Emmanuel Macron and his counterparts from the other countries.

The group also offered to provide Servant of the People with expert help to prepare Ukraine for the arduous process of negotiating entry to the European club.

"We believe that Servant of the People will get ever closer to our parliament and the Renew family," said Renew Europe President Valerie Hayer after meeting Ruslan Stefanchuk, the chairman of the Ukrainian parliament, in Kyiv on Wednesday.

Ukraine is one of eight countries hoping to join the EU, but the process is expected to take a long time because the country is fighting off Russia's invasion and will need to carry out a raft of reforms to meet EU standards in many areas.

To admit a new member the size of Ukraine, the EU also requires internal reforms, making the process even more complex.

EU officials said the Renew initiative, which comes as EU parliamentarians are campaigning for European elections due on June 9, was a way to engage with Ukraine before more concrete steps in the accession process can be taken.

"We do not have to wait until an official observer status is granted to seriously start working together," said Hayer.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Estelle Shirbon)