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Von der Leyen Says Ukraine’s EU Bid Advancing During Kyiv Visit

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(Bloomberg) --

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy during an unannounced visit to Kyiv for making progress on his country’s bid to join the European Union and said they will address how to fund the rebuilding of the war-torn nation.

“You have done a lot on strengthening the rule of law but there still need to be reforms implemented to fight corruption, for example,” von der Leyen said during a joint appearance with Zelenskiy, noting the EU is preparing its opinion on Ukraine’s membership application. “The discussion today will enable us to finalize the assessment by the end of next week.”

The head of the EU’s executive arm made her second visit to Kyiv since the Russian invasion last February at a critical moment for Ukraine, whose army is facing heavy combat in the eastern part of its territory and is struggling to cover a financial gap of around 5 billion euros ($5.3 billion) per month.

The commission is expected to recommend on June 17 that Ukraine be granted candidate status to join the bloc with conditions linked to the rule of law and the fight against corruption, according to people familiar with the matter.

“We have been working day and night on this assessment,” she said.

That opinion, which needs to be adopted by the college of commissioners, would need the unanimous approval of the 27 member states before Ukraine’s application can progress. The milestone opens an arduous membership process that could last more than a decade in which the country must adopt EU rules and standards.

Ukraine Likely to Win Initial EU Backing for Path to Membership

Von der Leyen discussed at length with Zelenskiy the questionnaire submitted by his government in mid-April to assess the country’s readiness to become a member of the bloc. The commission’s college of commissioners will hold an orientation debate on this issue on Monday, ahead of the decision later in the week.

The issue is an emotional one for Ukraine, and Zelenskiy has said there is “no alternative” to EU membership as the country seeks to embed its future in Europe.

Russia wants to split Europe, Zelenskiy said on Saturday, and the European project can’t be completed without Ukraine. “The whole of Europe is a target for Russia,” he added.

Around half a dozen of member states, including the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Portugal, remain skeptical of granting the appearance of any fast track for Kyiv. Some argue that the country doesn’t sufficiently fulfill EU principles related to the rule of law or fundamental rights, while others say that Ukraine cannot be given preference over existing applicants because of the ongoing war.

Countries like Poland, Lithuania and Ireland, meanwhile, support Ukraine’s candidacy to become part of the EU, and several are open to backing candidate status as a moral boost for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion. Von der Leyen has said in numerous occasions that Ukraine belongs in the European family and “we want them in the European Union.”

EU leaders will discuss Ukraine’s application to join the bloc during the next summit on June 23-24 in Brussels. Moldova and Georgia also applied to become part of the EU around the same time and are waiting for the commission’s opinion.

Zelenskiy also thanked the EU for sanctions on Russia that have put it under “significant pressure.” He urged the bloc to adopt a seventh package that would include all Russian officials and judges who are “working for the war.”

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