Romano Prodi, who just finished his term as president of the European Commission, the European Union's executive body, once commented that "Ukraine has as much chance of joining the EU as New Zealand."
A country of 48 million people about the size of France, and with a per capita GDP that's miles below even the poorest of the EU countries, Ukraine has been considered too big, and too economically and politically dysfunctional, to be seriously considered for membership.
Then there were the geopolitical drawbacks. Losing Slavic Ukraine to the EU would antagonize Slavic Russia. And the 25-member club can't absorb any more newcomers. It just took in 10 new members last year. Four more countries, including controversial Turkey, are official candidates.
Nothing's changed, yet thankfully, everything has.
Because of Ukraine's "orange revolution," in which throngs of protesters braved cold and potential violence to overturn a rigged election last fall, the former Soviet republic has a democratically elected president bent on reform - and EU membership.
Losing no time, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is in Western Europe this week, making his case. So far, the EU is responding positively. On Monday, it laid out a plan to reduce trade barriers with Ukraine and increase investment there. Margot Wallström, vice president of the EU's executive body, ventured to call eventual membership "realistic."
Not all members agree with her, pointing to the reasons that prompted Mr. Prodi's wisecrack about New Zealand. But surely, Mr. Yushchenko, who put his life on the line for democracy, and the people of Ukraine, who rallied behind him, deserve a clear signal that membership will happen if the proper reforms ensue. It may yet take years, even decades, but the door to this possibility must start to open.