Blog: A historic month in EU-Ukraine relations
February 27, 2023

Blog: A historic month in EU-Ukraine relations

The past weeks have seen some important events in relations between Ukraine and the European Union (EU). Among them were the EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv and the meeting of the European Council with the participation of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It is difficult to determine which event was more important because both were truly historical events with historic decisions. So, what gives the grounds to say this and what decisions were taken as a result?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends the EU Leaders Summit © Reuters

24th EU-Ukraine summit

On 3 February, the EU-Ukraine summit was held in Kyiv. This format is annual, and the meeting takes place alternately in Brussels and Kyiv. This year, Brussels was supposed to host the event, but a symbolic decision was made to hold it in the Ukrainian capital.

It is also worth noting that this was the first EU-Ukraine summit since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but most importantly, the first time that Ukraine hosted this event as a candidate for EU membership. This itself demonstrates the unprecedented nature of the event.

On the eve of the summit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrived in Kyiv with a large team of commissioners to hold the first joint meeting of the European Commission and the Ukrainian government on 2 February. As a result, an agreement with the European Union on Ukraine’s participation in the Single Market Programme and a memorandum on strategic partnership in the field of renewable gases were signed.

Speaking about the EU-Ukraine summit, the most important issues on the agenda were Ukraine’s integration into the EU, military support, and the strengthening of sanctions against Russia.

Both the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission have repeatedly confirmed that Ukraine is a part of the European family. In fact, this is also stated in the joint statement following the summit, which repeats that the future of Ukraine and its citizens lies within the European Union”. What is important in this context is that the European Commission will assess the fulfilment of the conditions specified in the opinion on Ukraine’s membership application in the spring of 2023, which will theoretically make it possible to start negotiations on EU membership this year, as the Ukrainian authorities want. Of course, such an ambitious task will only be achieved if the recommendations set out in the Commission’s opinion on Ukraine’s membership application are fully implemented. In the meantime, the EU has welcomed Ukraine’s reform efforts in these difficult times and encouraged the country to continue this path.

Ukraine has also expressed its intention to prepare a National Programme for the Adaptation of the Acquis based on the Analytical Report on the Compliance of Ukrainian Legislation with EU Law. This will be an important step, as the implementation of the EU acquis into Ukrainian national legislation is one of the prerequisites for joining the European Union.

Obviously, a large part of the summit was devoted to Russian aggression. The EU reaffirmed its unwavering support and solidarity with Ukraine and called on Russia to immediately, fully and unconditionally withdraw all its military forces from all of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders. Thus, the EU reaffirmed its commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

An important point of the joint statement following the summit was the EU’s support for the establishment of a special tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine. In addition, the EU expressed its readiness to intensify efforts to use Russia’s frozen assets to support Ukraine’s recovery.

Moreover, the European Union has officially supported President Zelenskyy’s peace formula and expressed its willingness to work on its implementation.

The EU also expressed its readiness to continue restrictive measures against Russia and Belarus.

The European Union has reaffirmed its commitment to continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, including for the further reconstruction of the country. The total amount of assistance already provided to Ukraine by the European Union and its member states now stands at around €50 billion, consisting of financial, humanitarian, emergency, budgetary and military support.

Finally, despite Ukraine’s candidate status, both Ukraine and the European Union have recognised the importance of further strengthening and personalising regional cooperation, in particular the Eastern Partnership. This is important for increasing the resilience of the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood.

As you can see, the agenda of this summit was quite broad, and this is not a complete list of decisions agreed upon at the 24th EU-Ukraine summit. Some of them served as the basis for conclusions after the special European Council meeting.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola during a summit in Brussels, Belgium © Reuters

The special meeting of the European Council

On 9 February, the special meeting of the European Council was held in Brussels, the first of this year. The meeting was truly significant because it was personally attended by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, the Ukrainian leader has been invited to speak at the European Council, but this was the first time he spoke in person.

The President of Ukraine paid a visit to the European Parliament and the European Council as part of his second departure abroad since the outbreak of the full-scale war, during which he visited three European capitals: London, Paris and Brussels. For security reasons, Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s participation in the meeting was not confirmed until the last minute, although it had been reported that the President of the European Council Charles Michel had invited the Ukrainian President to attend the meeting.

At the beginning of his visit to Brussels, Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the European Parliament. He wanted to thank the people of the European countries who support and help Ukraine in the face of the Russian aggressor, and to call for continued support.

After that, the European Council held its meeting. The agenda included economics, migration, and other topics, but it is clear that support for Ukraine was the first issue on the agenda.

The European Council reiterated its resolute condemnation of Russian aggression, as well as support for Ukraine for as long as it takes. The leaders of the EU member states expressed their support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders.

The European Council also expressed its readiness to support President Zelenskyy’s peace formula and to work actively on its implementation.

Furthermore, the European Council spoke in favour of the establishment of an appropriate mechanism for the prosecution of the crime of aggression. This is a very important point. It demonstrates that Ukraine can count not only on the EU institutions but also on the member states in the creation of the special tribunal. This is an extremely useful signal on the eve of the vote in the UN General Assembly on the relevant resolution.

The EU reiterated its readiness to work on the use of Russia’s frozen and immobilised assets to support Ukraine’s reconstruction and for the purposes of reparation.

Obviously, a large part of the discussion at the meeting concerned Ukraine’s accession to the EU. The European Council welcomed Ukraine’s reform efforts and encouraged it to continue this work in order to fulfil the conditions specified in the Commission’s opinion on its membership application. This is a prerequisite for advancement towards future membership in the EU.

In general, the leaders of the EU member states reaffirmed their commitment to comprehensive support for Ukraine, as well as to Ukraine’s repair, recovery and reconstruction.

In conclusion

Ukraine and the European Union have never been as close as they are now. After Ukraine was granted candidate status for EU membership, we are witnessing a new era in EU-Ukraine relations. The EU-Ukraine summit and the special meeting of the European Council clearly demonstrate this.

Ukraine can count on the EU. The European Union and its member states will support Ukraine in all aspects as long as it is needed.

Finally, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Ukraine belongs to the European family and is firmly on the path to becoming a member of the EU. I am also confident of this and in our common peaceful and prosperous European future.

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