Statement by President von der Leyen on the Commission’s opinions on the EU membership applications by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia

(Source: European Commission)

Today, the College has adopted its opinions, the three opinions on the membership applications of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. We have adopted these opinions after very carefully assessing the merits of each of these applications on the basis, as you know, of the Copenhagen criteria and the Madrid criteria. You might also know that these concern the political criteria, the economic criteria, and the question whether the country, the applicant, has the capacity to thrive in our very competitive Internal Market.

Let me start with Ukraine. The Commission recommends to the Council: First, that Ukraine is given a European perspective. Second, that Ukraine is given candidate status. This is, of course, on the understanding that the country will carry out a number of further, important reforms. Let me detail out a bit our recommendation. In the view of the Commission, Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the country’s aspiration and the country’s determination to live up to European values and standards. Ukraine, before the war, had already embarked on its way towards the European Union. For eight years now, it had already been gradually moving closer to our Union. As you know, we have the Association Agreement since 2016. And with that, Ukraine has already implemented roughly 70% of the EU acquis – that is the rules, the standards and the norms. Ukraine is taking part in important EU programmes, like for example the Horizon programme or the Erasmus programme. Ukraine has a very robust presidential-parliamentary democracy. It has a very well-functioning public administration that has kept and is keeping the country running during this war. We know that because we work very closely with the Ukrainian administration. We know that the decentralisation reform that the country has adopted is a success, because we see the performance of the regions and of the municipalities even under the stress test of this war now. And the administration’s modernisation reform is ongoing. Ukraine has a very vibrant and active civil society – this is good. Ukraine has an electoral system that has proven to be fair and free – as considered by ODIHR. Ukraine has an education system that is well developed; we know and admire the digital skills of this country and the digital infrastructure that is in place. And if we look at the economy – of course, we have to look at the economy before the war: There, Ukraine has shown a sound level of deficit of only 2% and a public debt below 50%. This is good, too. Ukraine has already taken important steps on the path to becoming a fully functioning market economy. This is important because, of course, Ukraine has to be capable of integrating into the EU Single Market. You know that we are working on integrating Ukraine deeper into the Single Market, for example in the transport sector, where we have the transport agreement, or we integrate the energy systems further. You might recall that, even after the beginning of the war, the Ukrainian electricity grid has been coupled to the European Union’s electricity grids. All these steps are going in a very good direction. At the same time, we, of course, know that further work has to be done.

On the rule of law, for example: Ukraine has come far. It has come far in setting up the necessary institutions for the judiciary to function effectively, and the necessary institutions on the vetting of prosecutors. The focus should now be on speeding up the selection of the judges of the Constitutional Court, as well as the members of the High Council of Justice. On anti-corruption: Ukraine also has come far in setting up the necessary anti-corruption bodies. The focus should now be on the appointment of the new head of the anti-corruption prosecutors and the new director of the anti-corruption investigation bureau. In other words, the anti-corruption bodies are in place, now they have to become fully operational. On oligarchs: Ukraine has adopted a bold law against oligarchs, the deoligarchisation law. In fact, it is the only country of the Eastern Partnership that has done so. This is good. Now, here too, it is about implementation, we want to see results on the ground. On fundamental rights: Ukraine has achieved to comply with 80% of the recommendations of the Venice Commission. What remains to be done is the adoption of the law on national minorities. So in sum: A lot has been achieved, but, of course, important work remains.

I have discussed all of this with President Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Shmyhal when I was in Kyiv round about ten days ago. And I got a very telling reply by President Zelenskyy. He said: ‘You know, even if we would not apply for European membership, these are all reforms that are necessary and that are good for the country. And we would have to do them anyway because it is for Ukrainian democracy.’ Of course, we know that not everything can be achieved as long as the war rages in the country. But many of these issues can nevertheless already be addressed. To conclude on Ukraine, we have one clear message, and that is: Yes, Ukraine deserves a European perspective. Yes, Ukraine should be welcomed as a candidate country. This is on the understanding that good work has been done, but important work also remains to be done. The entire process is merits-based. So, it goes by the book and therefore progress depends entirely on Ukraine. It is Ukraine that has it in their hands. And what could be better to shape your own future?

Turning to Moldova, our assessment goes broadly into the same direction as for Ukraine. We therefore also recommend that Council grants Moldova the European perspective and candidate status, on the understanding that the country will carry out a number of further, important reforms. In the recent past, Moldova has taken a decisive step towards reforms, with a clear mandate from its citizens. It is on a real pro-reform, anti-corruption and European path for the first time since independence. Of course, Moldova still has a long way to go. Its economy and public administration in particular require major improvements. But provided that the country’s leaders stay on course, we believe that the country has the potential to live up to the requirements.

On Georgia: Georgia shares the same aspirations and potential as Ukraine and Moldova. Its application has strengths, in particular the market orientation of its economy, with a strong private sector. To succeed, the country must now come together politically to design a clear path towards structural reform and the European Union. A path that concretely sets out the necessary reforms, brings on board civil society and benefits from broad political support. This is why we recommend to Council to grant the European perspective, and to come back and assess how Georgia meets a number of conditions before granting it candidate status.

So finally, to conclude, on these three opinions, we did a thorough assessment. And this is laid out in the, now public, three opinions. This is a very solid basis of facts and evidence to move forward together. Building on this basis of evidence is, of course, a historic and a political momentum. And we all know that Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective. We want them to live with us the European dream.

Thank you so much.

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