European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen travelled to Kyiv on Thursday accompanied by EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell for the first-ever high-level meeting between the EU Commission and the Ukrainian government.
"With the visit of the College to Kyiv, the EU is sending today a very clear message to Ukraine and beyond about our collective strength and resolve in the face of Russia’s brutal aggression,” President Von der Leyen said.
The meeting focused on deepening their cooperation, the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine and the country’s path to EU membership, which was followed by an EU-Ukraine summit on Friday.
Von der Leyen also stated that “we will continue to impose a heavy price on Russia until it ceases its aggression. Ukraine can count on Europe to help rebuild a more resilient country, that progresses on its path to join the EU.”
Planned European support
As already mentioned, the EU is planning to impose a tenth round of sanctions on Russia one year after its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February and to double the number of Ukrainian troops receiving military training in EU member states.
In her speech, the Commission President also announced a number of new measures in support of Ukraine. “Two weeks ago, we delivered the first tranche of our €18 billion financial assistance for 2023. Overall, the European Union's economic, humanitarian and military support for Ukraine amounts now, since the beginning of the war, to almost €50 billion.”
In addition to this, the Commission is said to be working towards a €1 billion contribution to fast recovery, as well as working on restoring vital energy infrastructure.
“It starts in Ukrainians' homes. From this week on, LED light bulbs are available to Ukrainian citizens at the post office. These are the first batches of the 30 million LED light bulbs we promised. But in fact, I am happy to announce that we can overshoot our goal. We are now able to provide 35 million LED light bulbs.”
She announced that the EU is providing 2,400 additional generators which come on top of the 3,000 already delivered since the beginning of the war. “And alongside the Member States in the Energy Community, we will make available over EUR 150 million to purchase vital energy equipment for Ukraine. Finally, we are inviting Ukraine to our Energy Platform for joint purchasing of gas.”
The two sides signed a Memorandum of Understanding on renewable gases, such as biomethane or hydrogen. “So very concrete steps in the direction of Ukraine's green reconstruction.”
“Reconstruction is the big overarching topic,” she continued. “We are in this fight together and we will rebuild this beautiful country together. So, we work now together on making available EUR 1 billion for the start of the fast recovery.”
- EU to impose new Russian sanctions ahead of invasion anniversary
- Ahead of Ukraine-EU summit, MEPs reaffirm support for Kyiv
- Ukraine calling: Damaged Ukrainian emergency vehicles brought to Brussels
According to the Commission President, Russia is already paying a heavy price for its invasion because of the EU sanctions, “throwing it back by a generation”. Besides a tenth sanctions package, an additional price cap on Russian petroleum products will be introduced. Russia will also have to pay for the destruction it caused and contribute to the reconstruction of Ukraine.
“Therefore, we are exploring with our partners how to use Russia's public assets to the benefit of Ukraine.” She also stated that Russia must be held accountable in courts for its crimes. As a result, an International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression in Ukraine will be set up in The Hague. This Centre will coordinate the collection of evidence.
Furthermore, “we are connecting more and more our people, our companies and our cities,” President von der Leyen said. There are now 100 large cities in the EU that are twinned with 36 Ukrainian cities. Almost 1,000 smaller towns in the European Union have partnerships with municipalities in Ukraine.
This war of aggression has broken so many lives, she said and left many children orphans. The EU will help Ukraine to cope with the problem by supporting a new family-child care system instead of institutions. To start with, the EU will provide EUR 10 million for the design of a modern childcare strategy base on best practices in the EU.
EU membership – when?
Towards the end of her speech, she addressed Ukraine’s integration into the EU, an issue which is high on Ukraine’s agenda. It was clear from President Zelensky’s speech at the press conference that he considers EU membership as a logical step in the near future and a strong incentive for Ukraine to defend itself against Russia in a war for the common European values that unite it with the EU.
On that point, the Commission president could only encourage Ukraine to continue to prepare itself for membership while fighting for its very existence, without giving any date. In the meantime, Ukraine will be invited to join key European programmes. “This will give Ukraine benefits close to those of EU membership in many areas.”
“Your stamina and your people's stamina and your determination to join the European Union is impressive,” she said. “You prepared your application for the European Union membership brilliantly. You became a candidate country while fighting an invasion.” She assured that Ukraine is making “impressive progress to meet the seven steps of the Commission's opinion” in June 2022.
Corruption in Ukraine is still an issue of concern but she was comforted to see that the anti-corruption bodies in Ukraine are on alert and effective in detecting corruption cases. “I also commend you on reacting so rapidly at the political level to make sure that the fight against corruption is delivering tangible results and is further stepped up.”
The meeting on Thursday was co-chaired by President von der Leyen and Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. At the meeting, von der Leyen handed over the Commission’s so-called analytical report, complementing its opinion on Ukraine's EU membership application.
The report provides a kind of snapshot of the situation as regards Ukraine’s capacity to fulfil the obligations of EU membership in the 33 acquis chapters but lacks an overall assessment. In fact, it takes stock of the situation in June 2022 and does not include any updated information about the development since then if the substance of the chapter was covered in the Commission's opinion.
The Commission will focus on a detailed assessment of Ukraine’s compliance with the EU acquis and preparedness for EU membership in the context of the next enlargement package in Autumn 2023. Before that, it will inform Ukraine already in Spring about its opinion on the priority measures that the country has been asked to implement in the accession process.
Prime Minister Shmyhal expressed Ukraine’s expectations of a rapid accession process with a decision on the start of negotiations towards the end of this year followed by EU membership two years later. Normally it takes several years for a candidate country to start and finalise accession negotiations but Ukraine is a unique case – a country which is fighting for its very existence and has no time to lose.
The Brussels Times