(Update: adds press conference)
Kyiv, Jun 11 (EFE).- Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday praised Ukraine’s spirit and determination during a visit to Kyiv ahead of the European Commission’s assessment of Ukraine’s application to become a candidate for European Union membership.
Speaking at a press conference alongside Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Von der Leyen said she “was deeply touched and humbled by the strength” Ukrainian had shown and were continuing to display as they “courageously defend their country” against the Russian invading forces.
“I highly appreciate the enormous efforts and the determination of Ukraine in this (EU candidacy) process,” von der Leyen said.
“The people of Ukraine have proven incredible strength, motivation and stamina.”
Von der Leyen, who was making her second visit to Kyiv since the war broke out in late February, confirmed that the Commission will present its recommendation on whether Ukraine should be a candidate country for EU membership by the end of next week following her working meetings with Zelenskyy on Saturday.
She praised Ukraine’s and the international community’s efforts to rebuild the country in the wake of the devastating war and Kyiv’s determination to modernize its institutions in its bid to join the EU – work for which had already begun before the invasion – but said more needs to be done.
“You have done a lot in strengthening the rule of law but there still needs to be reforms implemented to fight corruption, for example, or to modernize and help attract investors,” von der Leyen said.
“The institutions are in place, the reform program you have undergone in the last years is paying off now. Now we need results,” she said, reminding Zelenskyy, who has called for Ukraine to be granted immediate accession, that the path to EU membership is “merit-based”.
Next week, the EU’s executive branch will present its opinion on Ukraine’s application to become a candidate to join the bloc, a process that normally takes years but which in this case has been shortened to a few months following Kyiv’s application just days after the start of the invasion by Russia.
“I am deeply convinced that together we will overcome this horrible, atrocious war. You will rebuild this beautiful country and modernize Ukraine,” she said. “And Europe is here to support you.”
Zelenskyy, meanwhile, said that he expects the EU heads of state to take a “logical” and “positive” decision by agreeing to grant Ukraine candidate status when they meet for a summit on June 23-24.
The summit, the Ukrainian president hoped, will be a “historic session of the European Council with the logical outcome of a decision in support of candidate status for Ukraine.”
“This is a decisive moment not only for Ukraine, but for the European Union and the entire European continent. It is at this moment that we are identifying a future for a unified Europe, whether there will be a future. Russia wants to divide, to weaken Europe. We are sure that Ukraine is only the first step in their plans,” Zelenskyy warned.
That is why a “positive answer” by the European Council regarding Ukraine’s candidacy “can become a positive answer to the question of whether there is a future for the European project,” he said.
“Our people clearly understand that this (candidate) status is only the beginning of the road to accession. We have made some achievements in reforms in the implementation of the association agreement, (but) Ukraine still has to turn this path from candidacy into full membership,” the Ukrainian president said. EFE