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Ukraine makes “excellent progress” toward EU, Von der Leyen says in surprise visit to Kyiv

Ukraine has completed over 90% of requirements for accession talks to open this year, the EU Commissioner said, announcing an upcoming round of EU sanctions against Russia
Von der Leyen in Kyiv Zelenskyy
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, on 4 November 2023. Photo:
Ukraine makes “excellent progress” toward EU, Von der Leyen says in surprise visit to Kyiv

During a press conference in Kyiv on 4 November, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised Ukraine’s reform efforts amid Russia’s war, saying the country has made “excellent progress” toward the EU.

“I have to say that you have made excellent progress. We will confirm this next week when the Commission presents its enlargement report,” von der Leyen stated, according to a report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

She emphasized that the EU was “impressed by the reforms that you are pushing through in the midst of war.” Von der Leyen continued, “We must not forget that you are fighting a war for your very existence. And at the same time you are profoundly reforming your country.”

The European Commission president specifically cited judicial reforms, tackling oligarchic influence, and anti-money laundering efforts.

However, Von der Leyen also stressed what work remains to be done in order for the “historic decision to open the process of accession negotiations” to be taken this year:

“Continuing to strengthen even further your anti-corruption efforts, passing the law on lobbying, strengthening the asset declaration framework in two aspects and addressing the remaining recommendations of the Venice Commission on national minorities, including education – these are measures that are necessary to fulfil completely the seven steps. You can make it. And you can make it swiftly. You have already completed way over 90%. And we will continue to provide all the technical and political support you need, the EU Commissioner said in an address to the Ukrainian Parliament.

Von der Leyen in Kyiv Zelenskyy2
EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy on a surprise visit to Kyiv on 4 November 2023. Photo:

She noted that a year ago, when the European Commission presented its seven recommendations for Ukraine as an EU candidate country, many people thought they were too ambitious. But Ukraine’s response was extraordinary. All of the country’s democratic institutions were mobilized to fulfill the will of the people of Ukraine. As a result, Ukraine implemented a constitutional justice reform, elected the High Council of Justice, and adopted an Anti-Corruption Program. Notable progress has been made in the fight against money laundering and in measures to limit the influence of oligarchs on public life. The same applies to the new law on media and the issue of national minority rights.

Von der Leyen also noted the European Commission was working on freeing up an additional €50 billion in support for Ukraine. She added that over 65% of Ukraine’s agricultural exports were going through “solidarity lanes,” saying, “We are investing in reinforcing these lanes, roads, crossings, rail. €12 million was promised last year but this amount needs to be larger.”

On sanctions against Russia, the European Commission president stated, “Sanctions are having a profound impact on the Russian economy. Soon we will approve a 12th sanctions package. It will list new individuals responsible for the war trade and occupation of Ukraine, for the abduction of children, for fake news, for circumventing import and export bans, for violating the oil price cap.”

In his remarks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stressed his country was not asking for “special conditions” on its path to the EU. “We are fulfilling all the recommendations of the European Commission that were given to our state,” he said.

Zelenskyy cited progress on rule of law, human rights protections, transparency, and anti-corruption efforts. He mentioned legislation underway on reforms to the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and regulating lobbying. “Ukraine will be as ready as possible both for the start of negotiations with the EU on accession and subsequently for full EU membership,” the Ukrainian president stated.

On 4 November, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen paid an unannounced visit to Ukraine. She held meetings with the country’s top political leadership ahead of the EU enlargement report that the European Commission intends to publish on 8 November, which will include an assessment of Ukraine’s progress towards EU membership.

Read more about what should happen for Ukraine to become a EU member in our article “How close is Ukraine to becoming an EU member?

How close is Ukraine to becoming an EU member?

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