The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, woke up this Saturday aboard a robust blue iron train bound for kyiv. One could say that it is the train for Ukraine’s candidacy for the European Union: a convoy of wagons moving slowly but steadily from the Polish border, on Community territory, to the battlefield, out there, where decide with cannon shots which side the coin lands on. Everything seems to indicate that the vehicle brings good news. The European Commission is scheduled to issue its opinion on the Ukrainian bid this coming week. But nothing has been decided yet, and from time to time the train slows down or stops at stations on the outskirts of kyiv without explanation. It is difficult to get to the city crossed by the Dnieper River.
“I have returned to kyiv to meet with the president [Volodímir] Zelensky and the prime minister [Denis] Shmihal. We will take stock of the joint work necessary for the reconstruction and the progress made by Ukraine on its way to Europe”, Von der Leyen told a small group of international journalists accompanying her, including EL PAÍS. “This will serve as the basis for our evaluation, which we will present shortly.”
Von der Leyen has traveled in a compartment guarded by the Ukrainian military, inside a car with a baroque air and as if from another era, with golden moldings in the style of the old Orient Express. On this train the curtains must always be closed for safety reasons. After 12 hours of travel, after leaving behind a thunderstorm in the night, the train has finally arrived around 11:00 at the central station of kyiv.
The president of the Community Executive does not plan to make big announcements in the country’s capital. The objective is to hold a long meeting with the Ukrainian leaders during the day, to discuss and review face to face ―partly to avoid eavesdropping and illegitimate interference― the long and tortuous path that this country has to travel to join the family of the European Union.
🇺🇦 Good to be back in Kyiv.
With President @ZelenskyyUa I will take stock of the joint work needed for reconstruction and of the progress made by Ukraine on its European path.
Європа з вами! pic.twitter.com/JqtXvgamkV
– Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) June 11, 2022
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The Community Executive considers that there are no shortcuts to becoming a Member State, but it is also aware that in 20 years, when it is time to look back, it will be judged whether the Twenty-seven were timid or rose to the occasion; the war has thus placed the EU in front of the mirror of what it was in the past, in front of its origins. The European aspirations of the neighboring country are already part of the theater of war and have the ability to largely define the morale of the troops on the ground: the EU represents a way out, a road map to a prosperous future away from the Russian invader.
The former Soviet republic is in a hurry to complete the stages of the accession process: it officially requested the candidacy shortly after Moscow ordered its troops to invade the country at the end of February; In April, von der Leyen traveled to kyiv (his first visit of his during the war; this is his second) to hand-deliver a lengthy questionnaire to Zelensky. The Ukrainian government returned it filled in just 10 days. Since then, nearly two months have passed. And the Executive arm of the EU is scheduled to meet next Monday to discuss the matter, which will be followed on Friday by a meeting of the college of commissioners (something like the council of ministers), after which it is expected to issue its opinion .
After this position, it is up to the Member States to decide unanimously to grant it official status as a candidate country, a thorny issue that the leaders of the Twenty-seven will find on the table during the Brussels summit on June 23; the mood of the capitals is volatile and there is a long way to go to achieve that voice in tune and in unison, if it comes at all.
In part, von der Leyen’s objective is to convey to Zelenski that there is still a long way to go to convince the community partners, that there are a good number of skeptical member states and another handful openly against it, that there are no shortcuts either, and that the fact of being at war does not change things: accession to the EU requires respecting a procedure and complying with strict rules on almost genetic issues for the EU, such as the rule of law and the fight against corruption.
The Community Executive considers that a large part of the journey has already been covered, largely thanks to the signing of the Association Agreement in 2014, and values an Administration whose good functioning at a national, regional and local level has been able to verify in times of extreme crisis . Von der Leyen also arrives in the city with the message that it is time to start organizing multi-million dollar funds for the reconstruction of the country. Brussels wants to play a key role in this field, with an eye on the medium and long term, to direct its disbursement in the same direction as the train travels: with an eye on the rails that lead to the Union.
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