KYIV: The president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen told Ukraine’s parliament on Friday that EU membership was “within reach” but urged them to press forward with anti-corruption reforms.
“You have created an impressive anti-corruption machine,” she told the lawmakers by video link. “But now these institutions need teeth, and the right people in senior posts.”
Von der Leyen’s warm address heaped praise on Ukraine’s parliament and President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government for their swift and successful push to become candidates for EU membership.
And she stressed that Brussels and the EU member states were firmly behind Ukraine in both its battle with the ongoing Russian invasion and the quest to be “reunited with our European family”.
But she also insisted on the need to build on reforms already introduced since Ukraine’s 2014 revolt against its previous government to battle corruption and the grip of oligarchs on its economy.
“The new head of the Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and the new director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine should be appointed as soon as possible,” she said.
Von der Leyen urged the Ukrainian parliament to pass laws in line with norms promoted by the Council of Europe to improve selection procedures for independent judges on the constitutional court.
“Institutions must come to life, so that they can deliver on the aspirations of your people,” she said.
Ukraine applied for EU membership just five days after Russia’s February 24 invasion and the 27 existing member states accepted its candidacy on June 23, in a strong signal of support.
But the accession process could take many years, and the candidacies of Turkey and several countries in the western Balkans have stalled as western capitals insist on tough economic and legal criteria.
Von der Leyen praised Ukraine for becoming the only EU partner in eastern Europe “to have adopted a law to break the oligarchs’ grip on your economic and political life.”
But she added: “Now you have to focus on the implementation of this law in a legally sound manner.”
And she called on Kyiv to empower an independent media regulator to protect a free press.
“The next steps are within your reach, but they will require hard work, determination and above all unity of purpose,” she said.
Next week, von der Leyen will join international and Ukrainian leaders in Lugano, Switzerland at a conference to raise funds and make plans for the post-war reconstruction in Ukraine.
“Your European path and the reconstruction of the country will go hand in hand,” she said.
“Ukraine will be in the lead. Massive investments will have to come, but to maximise their impact and to foster business confidence, investments will have to be coupled with a new wave of reforms.”