Keynote speech by President von der Leyen at the opening ceremony of the Ukraine Recovery Conference

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

President Zelenskyy,

President Cassis,

Prime Minister Shmyhal,

Distinguished guests,

One month ago, a young Ukrainian hero died on the battlefield, as he fought for the future of his country. His name was Roman Ratushnyi, and he would have turned 25 tomorrow. Roman belonged to a new generation of young Ukrainians. As a teenager, he was among the first protesters on the Maidan, demonstrating for Europe and for democracy. And ever since, Roman never stopped fighting for a better Ukraine. He fought for a corruption-free Ukraine, both as activist and journalist. He fought for a greener Ukraine, leading the movement to save a natural park in Kyiv from illegal constructions financed by oligarchs. He fought for a sovereign Ukraine, and paid the ultimate price for it. Roman’s life was taken too early, but his dream lives on. The dream of a new Ukraine, not only free, democratic and European, but also fair, green and prosperous. A place that Ukraine’s golden generation can finally feel their own. It is this dream that brings us here today.

Because with our support, our Ukrainian friends can rebuild Ukraine not just as it was, but as its young people want it to be. I know that this may sound overly ambitious, as Russian bombs keep falling, shattering not only schools and hospitals but also countless lives. But all of us know by now that nothing is impossible to the brave people of Ukraine. You have just heard the determination in the words of President Zelenskyy. And we will soon listen to the details of the plan from Prime Minister Shmyhal. We know Ukraine’s immense potential for positive change. We know it because we have seen it affirmed time and again, since the Maidan revolution eight years ago. Ukraine has progressed visibly since February 2014, when the Revolution of Dignity begun. It was the only country in Eastern Europe to pass legislation to rein in the oligarchs’ power. The reform of the administration and decentralisation is a success. We see that the administration does function despite this atrocious war. This is also true for digitalisation. With Europe’s support, Ukraine has created state-of-the-art e-government services and an impressive cybersecurity machine. Decentralisation and digitalisation have made Ukraine stronger.

This experience will be precious for the reconstruction of Ukraine. Because Ukraine will need courageous reforms. But reforms should go hand-in-hand with investment. The scale of destruction is staggering. And costs are rising with each day of this senseless war. This is also true for social costs.  Victims, veterans, women and children coming back from exile – Ukraine will have to take care of them. Ukraine will have to restore business confidence and attract more capital from abroad. Ukraine will have to improve living standards for its citizens. And Ukraine will advance on its path towards the European Union. The challenges are huge – but they are not insurmountable. Ukraine can emerge from this war on a path towards a stronger and more modern country with a modernised judiciary, stronger institutions and a solid track record in the fight against corruption. But also with a greener, more digital and more resilient economy. This is the country that so many young Ukrainians, like Roman Ratushnyi, are dreaming of and fighting for. And this is why we are here today. The task ahead of us is colossal – as President Zelenskyy said. All of you here in the room and many more elsewhere want to support and help rebuild Ukraine. It is not only in our interest but also a moral obligation.

This is why the European Commission has proposed to the government of Ukraine to set up a reconstruction platform to map investment needs, to coordinate action, to channel resources and in support of an ambitious reform agenda. This platform will be the place to shape strategic orientations and priorities for our common work. The focus is on future-proof reconstruction moving towards climate neutrality, embracing the digital decade, building a social market economy – leaving no one behind, ensuring security and defense, all of it embedded in good governance.

Ukraine will be in the lead. Because our action will be driven by the aspirations and desires of the Ukrainian people. The platform will bring together countries, institutions, the private sector and civil society. Our partners from around the globe, from Switzerland to the US. European and international organisations – from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank to the IMF and the World Bank. And of course, it will involve business and business associations with all their incredible know-how. Just recently in Davos, we have seen the keen interest of companies and entrepreneurs to get involved in the reconstruction of Ukraine. The platform will be open to everyone who cares about the future of Ukraine.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Europe has a special responsibility and a strategic interest to be at Ukraine’s side every step of the way. Ukraine wants to be part of our European Union. And we want Ukraine to become a member. Ukraine is highly motivated to work with us in this direction and we will do our utmost to support these efforts. Because the path towards a stronger Ukraine and the path of European integration are one and the same. Through the reconstruction platform, the European Commission can offer its extensive expertise in running programmes that combine reform and investments. In addition, we have been working closely with Ukraine for a long time. And this work will only intensify now that Ukraine has formally become a candidate to join our Union. But besides our own expertise, we would like to bring in external advice. Thus, Chancellor Scholz and I – in close cooperation with international partners –, we will organise a high-level international conference after the summer. We want to bring together the brightest minds and leading global experts on reconstruction to ensure that this generational undertaking is done in the right way. This will give additional confidence to all investors: Your money not only serves a good cause, it will be, first and foremost, spent efficiently and effectively, with maximum impact for the people of Ukraine.

The Kremlin’s goal is the military, political and economic destruction of Ukraine. They want to undermine Ukraine’s very existence as a state. We cannot and we will not let this happen. Since the beginning of the war, the European Union has mobilised around EUR 6.2 billion in financial support. And as you know, more will come. We will engage substantially in the mid- and long-term reconstruction. And here, the Lugano principles are a first important building block, guiding our way. And I want to commend and thank you, President Cassis, for organising this conference.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We can never match the sacrifices Ukrainians are making every day. Ukraine’s youth are giving their life to turn vision into reality. They are fighting for a free and independent Ukraine. They are fighting for the respect of international laws and values. Their fight is our fight, too. And while we work in these days to help Ukraine win this war, we must also make sure that Ukraine wins the peace that will come.

Slava Ukraini.

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