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Von der Leyen Visits Kyiv to Make Progress on Ukraine’s EU Accession by Hélène de Lauzun

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Von der Leyen Visits Kyiv to Make Progress on Ukraine’s EU Accession

While discussions on the possible admission of Ukraine to the European Union are fierce and causing passionate debates among European leaders, the President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen decided to make a surprise visit to Kyiv in order to discuss the matter directly with the Ukrainian government.

Ursula von der Leyen arrived in the Ukrainian capital on Saturday, June 11th, for talks with Volodymyr Zelensky and his Prime Minister Denys Chmyhal. 

For the President of the Commission, Ukraine’s European vocation is not in doubt. She stressed the “progress” that had been made in terms of respect for the rule of law, but warned that there was still a long way to go in terms of corruption and the modernisation of the administration. Von der Leyen welcomed the pugnacity of the Ukrainians and their resilience as fighting intensified in the east. But she played both hot and cold in her statements, looking to a future reconstruction and post-war period, and referring to Ukraine’s “European path,”—which member states should help it to follow—but without providing a clear timetable. The establishment of a platform to work on reconstruction was one of the main issues discussed with the Ukrainian government.

The European Commission is due to vote on the thorny issue of accession on Friday, June 17th, that will take a final decision on the matter.

“Today’s discussions will allow us to finalise our assessment by the end of next week,” Von der Leyen said after her meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Ukraine is calling for a concrete “legal commitment” from the Europeans by the end of June. There is a strong chance that the opening of the accession process will be accepted by the time of the European Summit, June 23rd and 24th, but with serious reservations on the part of many European countries. Austria, France, Portugal, Sweden, and the Netherlands have expressed their concerns about Ukraine’s preparedness. For the time being, Germany prefers to keep a cautious silence. Other countries, whose candidacies have been on hold for a long time, such as Albania, are not happy with the acceleration of the Ukrainian candidacy due to the war. 

In any case, Ukraine’s accession to the status of “candidate” for EU membership does not mean the process will be accelerated. This formal step would simply mark the beginning of a process of negotiations and potential reforms, which could take years or even decades before leading to actual EU entry. 

Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).