Von der Leyen makes surprise visit to Kyiv to discuss Ukraine’s EU bid

President of EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen (L) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) brief the press following their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, 11 June 2022. [EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO]

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made a surprise visit to Kyiv, the second trip to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion, to discuss Ukraine’s bid to join the EU with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“The discussions today will enable us to finalise our assessment by the end of next week,” Von der Leyen told Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

The European Commission is expected to publish its opinion on Ukraine’s candidate status next Friday (17 June), which leaves EU leaders roughly a week to study the document before they are to decide on the matter at a crucial EU summit on 23-24 June.

Shortly after Russia’s invasion, Zelenskyy has started pushing for Ukraine’s rapid admission into the EU, but EU officials and leaders in the bloc caution that, even with candidacy status, actual EU membership could take years.

High-ranking Ukrainian officials have been touring Europe’s capitals in recent weeks in a concerted diplomatic push towards the EU to grant their country candidate status, insisting they are prepared to fulfil the EU’s entry requirements.

Ukraine makes diplomatic push to win over EU accession process doubters

Ukraine has launched a charm offensive in recent weeks to convince the still sceptical Western European capitals to grant the country EU candidate status and avoid the pitfall of being lumped together with two other eastern hopefuls, Moldova and Georgia. 

Von der Leyen, who earlier championed Ukraine’s bid, saying there’s no question that the country belongs in “the European family”, appearing alongside Zelensky for a brief declaration to reporters, did not make any promises.

“You have done a lot in strengthening the rule of law, but there still need to be reforms implemented, to fight corruption for example or to modernise this well-functioning administration, to help attract investors,” she said.

Instead, Von der Leyen focused on the future reconstruction of the country after the end of the war, which she said “should be a process that is fully owned by Ukraine”, with the EU standing by to help and to contribute to a roadmap “to support Ukraine in pursuing its European path”.

Zelenskyy, meanwhile, seemed to ramp up the pressure, describing the upcoming EU summit as “historic” and its outcome as “the logical decision” to support the candidate status for Ukraine.

Von der Leyen’s visit to Kyiv has raised high hopes in Ukraine, an Ukrainian official told EURACTIV after the talks.

There are expectations that Ukraine’s EU candidacy status will be approved by the EU leaders summit on June 23-24, though with considerable conditions attached.

Several EU countries, including Portugal, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, are reluctant to give their nod and Germany has not set out its position.

Some have concerns with Ukraine’s problem with corruption documented before the war, and the fact that other Western Balkan countries such as North Macedonia and Albania have been in the waiting room for too long.

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