By Euronews Brussels bureau Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President, and a deployment...
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In its EU bid, Ukraine juggles ambitious ideals with hard truths

By Euronews Brussels bureau

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President, and a deployment of 15 Commissioners have travelled to Kyiv to meet face-to-face with their Ukrainian counterparts.

The high-profile trip, details of which were carefully kept under wraps for security reasons, took place as Russia prepares to launch a new offensive and the war nears its one-year anniversary.

“Our presence in Kyiv today gives a very clear signal: The whole of the European Union is in this with Ukraine, for the long haul,” von der Leyen said, speaking next to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The joint meeting was meant to strengthen cooperation and deepen legislative alignment in areas such as telecommunications, financial services and market surveillance in a bid to bring Ukraine closer to European standards. Humanitarian aid, military training, new sanctions on Russia and the investigation of war crimes were also high on the agenda.

However, one pressing topic dominated talks: Ukraine’s bid to become a EU member state.

If you recall, Ukraine was unanimously granted candidate status back in June in what EU leaders called a “historic” decision. The moment was celebrated across Europe and represented one of Kyiv’s greatest geopolitical victories since the war broke out.

But as the euphoria from those summer days faded away, a new picture emerged: the tortuous, technically complex and highly conditional accession process to join the bloc. Countries like Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey know first-hand how easily this inspiring journey can turn into an exasperating back-and-forth. In fact, “stuck in limbo” appears to be the most common outcome for those who had dared apply for membership.

That’s why alarms rang as soon as Ukrainian officials said they hope to meet all accession requirements no later than 2026. Behind closed doors, diplomats and officials in Brussels dismissed the timeline as unrealistic and downright unfeasible.

“It's important that the legitimacy of the methodology be upheld,” said a senior EU official ahead of the trip.

Speaking to our reporter Sasha Vakulina, who is in Kyiv following the summit, Olha Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration, struck a sober tone and conceded the accession process was “all very complicated.”

“Membership in the European Union is a combination of the accomplishment of a country but also the political will of the leaders to take this decision. So, it is a very multi-layered process,” Stefanishyna told Sasha.

“The major contribution Ukraine can make to make sure that this decision is taken as soon as possible is making sure that we are prepared for this window of opportunity. So that’s why we advocate for opening the accession talks or reaching a political consensus already this year.”

So far, Ukraine remains a candidate country on paper. Formal accession talks cannot start until, at least, the European Commission concludes Kyiv has satisfactorily carried out seven key reforms. The need for these reforms became clear last week when a corruption scandal over illicit payments erupted in Ukraine and triggered the resignation of several top officials. Police raided the offices of an oligarch and tax authorities a day prior the Commissioners arrived.

“We understand that within the European Union, there are differences when it comes to the speed of our accession. It’s something that we recognise and we’re in the midst of having these negotiations,” Alexander Rodnyansky, an economic adviser to President Zelenskyy, told Sasha.

“Whether it’s realistic that we will join in two years, I’m not going to be the judge of making that statement. But when we look at the history of the European Union, the negotiations process can take years.”

GO DEEPER How do you keep high-profile politicians safe in a conflict zone? Alessio Dellanna spoke with security experts to find out how Ursula von der Leyen and other leaders are able to travel back and forth to Kyiv in the midst of a raging war.

 

WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON?

THE FRONTLINE Russia is mustering its military might in Eastern Ukraine and forcing the removal of the local population living near the front lines, Ukrainian officials said. The siege on Bakhmut continues with unrelenting force, aggravating the humanitarian crisis inside the city. Fearing an imminent Russia offensive, Kyiv steps up calls for fighter jets, a step that Western allies remain hesitant to take. Meanwhile, several European hospitals have been targeted by pro-Russian hackers, according to Dutch authorities. And in Italy, a fierce controversy has erupted over Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s guest appearance at the Sanremo Music Festival.

SUBSIDY OVERLOAD The European Commission has unveiled its long-awaited response to Joe Biden’s $369-billion Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Dubbed the “Green Deal Industrial Plan,” the strategy is an intricate combination of looser state aid rules, repurposed EU funds, production targets, faster permitting and upskilling programmes. But instead of dispelling fears of an imminent subsidy race across the Atlantic, the Commission’s plans only increased the odds, writes Jorge Liboreiro.

TURNING POINT A bit of good news on the economic front: the IMF has improved the 2023 forecast for the eurozone after the bloc proved “more resilient than expected” in the face of the war and the energy crisis. In fact, the latest figures show the eurozone escaped, by a razor-thin margin, a contraction in the last quarter of 2022. And inflation continues to fall, as gas prices drop.

FRESH MOMENTUM With Lula da Silva back as Brazil’s president and a geopolitical need to strengthen global links, there is palpable momentum to bring the EU-Mercosur trade deal across the finish line. The agreement, which encompasses 780 million people, has been stuck in limbo since negotiations concluded in 2019. Isabel da Silva breaks down the remaining roadblocks.

NEW TOP BRASS Former military chief Petr Pavel has been elected the new president of Czech Republic in a run-off with record turnout. His resounding victory marks the departure of two populist politicians: his campaign rival, billionaire Andrej Babiš, and incumbent president Miloš Zeman, both of whom had been accused of espousing pro-Russian rhetoric. But, as David Hutt writes, the country’s long-running struggle between liberal values and populism is far from over.

 
 
100 DAYS Giorgia Meloni, the far-right politician who became Italy’s first female prime minister, has crossed the 100-day mark in office. What has she accomplished so far? Has she followed the promises of her Eurospectic, incendiary campaign? Or has she changed course? Andrea Carlo scrutinises Meloni’s performance as premier.

SECOND GENERATION The Tuscan city of Prato has Italy’s highest percentage of Chinese residents (14,3%) but many of them say that, despite roots dating back over 40 years, they still feel disconnected from the local community due to unresolved social tensions. “I was born and raised in Italy, yet I am still viewed as an outsider due to my physical appearance,” Giorgia Gao says. “What sense does it make to me to become Italian?” Read the full story.

SOUNDS OF HATRED We went inside the immersive exhibition at the European Parliament: a black box that recreates the harassment and bullying suffered by those who dared to stand up against ETA, the paramilitary group that terrorised Spain over four decades of deadly violence.

EXPLAINED Finland’s new progressive law that makes it easier for trans people to change their legal gender.

SO LONG, DRY JANUARY! If you feel that Europeans drink a lot, your hunch is correct: people across the continent consume more alcohol than in any other part of the world. But which country drinks the most and which country drinks the least? Euronews Next has these intoxicating stats.
 
 
 
IT'S IN THE NUMBERS

Since Russia launched the invasion of Ukraine, Norway has boosted gas exports by 8 to 10% and is now Europe’s biggest supplier. With energy prices high, Oslo’s coffers are overflowing: the government has forecast its biggest-ever budget surplus of 1.12 trillion kroner (or about €1.03 billion). But Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre insists the country is not a “war profiteer.”
 
EDITOR'S CHOICE

Stockholm bridge row exposes inequalities fracturing Swedish society

 
 
The construction of a bridge that will connect one of Stockholm’s poorest districts to a wealthier neighbourhood has sparked a fierce debate with strong socioeconomic undertones. The bridge, which is set to be completed later this year, will join the underprivileged district of Rinkeby, in the north of Stockholm, with the more affluent area of Sundbyberg. Sweden’s far-right claims the project will see criminality and delinquency spread across the city. But residents say the bridge will make commuting easier while also curbing segregation. “It’s going to make it easier for buses, and for the people who work and live in the area. They’ll no longer have to make long detours,” said Mustafa Andic, who grew up in Rinkeby but now lives in Sundbyberg. In this must-watch episode of Euronews Witness, Valérie Gauriat explores how one single bridge has exposed the deep-seated social inequalities fracturing the internationally-admired Swedish model.
 
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