EU to hold talks in Ukraine, push ‘progressive integration’ as war anniversary nears – EURACTIV.com

More than a dozen top EU officials are set to arrive in Kyiv on Thursday (2 February) with promises of more military, financial and political aid, a symbolic trip meant to highlight support for Ukraine as the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion approaches.

On Thursday, top EU executive members, including fifteen commissioners, will meet their counterparts in the Ukrainian government for back-to-back consultations.

The visit, which will be the biggest EU delegation Kyiv has welcomed since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, is also the first ever to be held in an active war zone.

“It is a very strong signal that we are in Kyiv during the war. It’s a signal to the Ukrainian people. It’s a signal to Russia. It’s a signal to the world,” a senior EU official told reporters.

‘Progressive integration’

Ahead of the joint meetings, the European Commission updated its so-called EU-Ukraine priority action plan for integration into the bloc’s internal market, which is meant to be approved by both sides on Thursday.

According to the draft document seen by EURACTIV, progress is expected in areas such as boosting customs-free access for Ukrainian exports to the EU market.

The plan foresees that the EU will “consider Ukraine’s request to extend the measures beyond the current validity”, noting the “trade-enhancing effects” of the temporary suspension of all tariffs.

New additions are also items on the access to the bloc’s roaming-free zone and inclusion in the single euro payments area.

Both sides are also set to sign a memorandum of understanding on a strategic partnership on renewables.

“The idea is to accelerate sectoral integration and make progress on concrete steps to bind Ukraine closer to the bloc,” one EU official told EURACTIV.

Beyond sectoral policies, both sides will discuss sending even more weapons and money to Ukraine, helping Ukraine cover energy needs, slapping new sanctions on Russia, prosecuting the leadership in Moscow for the war and extending the EU roaming-free zone to Ukraine.

Among those travelling to Kyiv is the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell, who is to announce it will double its target of training Ukrainian troops under its recently installed military training mission, now aiming to run drills and teach as many as 30,000 soldiers this year, and €25 million for demining areas recaptured by Ukraine.

The EU and its members have already delivered weapons and military equipment worth €11.5 billion to Ukraine.

So far, the bloc has earmarked nearly €60 billion in aid to Ukraine, according to EU officials, including almost €12 billion of military support and €18 billion supposed to help the Ukrainian government pay wages and pensions and maintain essential public services running.

Accession hopes dampened

However, the EU is set to dash Ukraine’s hopes of swiftly acceding to the bloc, stressing the need for more anti-corruption measures and being unwilling to admit a country at war.

On Friday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and Borrell will meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for an EU-Ukraine summit.

As EURACTIV reported earlier this week, the EU is expected to commend Ukraine on its progress on membership-bound reforms and send a strong message to Moscow, according to a draft summit communique seen by EURACTIV.

But member states remain divided over the speed of accession, with EU officials emphasising that the Ukrainian government might need to manage their expectations regarding the speed of the process.

Over the past weeks, EU capitals and Brussels have been locked in a brawl regarding the positive wording of the text regarding Ukraine’s EU membership perspective, four EU diplomats told EURACTIV.

As Kyiv has been pressing ahead with reforms over the past months, Ukrainian leaders have expressed hopes that their country could join the bloc in the near future, possibly even within the next two years.

Instead of committing to dates, EU officials have listed multiple conditions to join, from political and economic stability to adopting EU laws from climate to social to health standards.

The EU would stress its “commitment to support Ukraine’s further European integration” after it formally gave it membership candidate status last June and go on to say, according to a draft summit declaration seen by EURACTIV.

“The EU will decide on further steps once all conditions (…) are fully met. Ukraine underlined its determination to meet the necessary requirements to start accession negotiations as soon as possible,” according to the document.

While recognising the progress made by Ukraine in fighting corruption, the EU side is expected to emphasise the country must build a credible track record over time to shed its reputation for endemic corruption.

Just ahead of the EU visit and in a bid to demonstrate it can rid itself of systemic graft, Zelenskyy’s government cracked down on high-level corruption.

On Wednesday (1 February), Ukrainian authorities expanded a corruption clampdown with coordinated searches of residences linked to a high-profile oligarch and former interior minister and tax offices in the capital in what the authorities called a wartime anti-graft purge.

However, several EU diplomats expect EU leaders to go further than member states in their oral commitments, especially given the tensions between von der Leyen and Michel.

“They are in a race of outbidding each other toward the Ukrainians,” one EU official said.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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