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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR)
News article2 February 2023Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations

Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with Ukrainian Prime Minister Shmyhal

Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with Ukrainian Prime Minister Shmyhal

Indeed, we had an extremely productive and, I must also say, also emotional day. Hours of bilateral meetings of Commissioners and Ministers. Four hours of plenary. And we should not forget that we are here in a country that is amidst a war, defending itself against a brutal aggressor and we are discussing together our common future. This was a very, very special moment. And I was deeply impressed by the depth and the width of the topics that we have been discussing together.

It was the first meeting ever between the College of the European Commission and the Ukrainian government. Very rich in political terms, but also very rich in practical deliverables. And the clear message of this meeting is that we stand by Ukraine as firmly as ever. And listening to the wide scope that we have been discussing today, you could see how this term is filled with life. We are using our whole strength as a Union and all the tools we have to support Ukraine.

We covered an immense ground. I think it was more than 20 files that we have been discussing. And it shows how much our cooperation has grown in the last months. We have integrated our economies deeper, we have connected our people, we have twinned our cities. We have synchronised our electricity grids. One Minister was telling us the story of synchronising our electricity grids in the night of 23 to 24 February last year. At midnight, Belarus cut you – Ukraine – off from the electricity grid. There was immediately an emergency connection to the European Union. And on 16 March, the grids were synchronised and connected. So I think this also shows the responsiveness that we have shown together towards the brutal invasion that you have suffered.

This morning, I spoke about our commitment to ensure Ukraine's economic security, with almost EUR 50 billion made available so far. Today, in this session, we have mostly spoken about how we can deeper integrate our economies and how we can strengthen our ties. In other words, to seize every opportunity to integrate Ukraine further into our Single Market. And we took five important steps in this direction. And these five important steps are only highlights of tens and tens of different initiatives we have been debating today.

First of all, we are including Ukraine in a number of key EU programmes. Ukraine is joining now or later this year our Single Market programme – we just signed it –, the justice programme, the citizens programme. Very soon you will be able to apply for the funding you were describing for different types of projects. This means more support to the small businesses under the Single Market programme, here in Ukraine. They will be able to join EU business networks and of course then access new markets. It also means training or capacity building, in the fields of justice for example – for a robust judicial system. And you will also be able to take part in cross-border cooperation projects so that, for example, lawyers from Ukraine and from the European Union start building long-term partnerships. Of course, we are waiving all participation fees for Ukraine in these programmes. I am very glad that we are opening an office for Horizon Europe in Kyiv. As you know, it is our flagship programme for research. Ukraine is already part of the Horizon Europe programme. With this new office, scientists and researchers in Ukraine will now be able to connect better with their peers, for example, in the European Union, and share their expertise and work in our networks of researchers.

The second topic I want to emphasise is that we have agreed a roadmap to improve Ukraine's access to our Single Market. It is a 15-point plan to bring you closer to the Single Market: cooperation on consumer safety, telecom services, public procurement, among others – many of these topics. It is very technical, but we will also move forward with our agreement on conformity assessment – but this is so important to have the flow of goods across the border – and the acceptance of industrial products. Once we get there, it will give a strong boost to Ukrainian industrial exports to the European Union.  

This is also my third point, trade. You might recall that last year we suspended all import duties on Ukrainian exports that are going into the European Union. It was a big success. It has helped maintain trade between us remarkably stable. Actually, trade has risen by 16%. And today, I can announce that we propose to extend this measure – to waive all the trade barriers and the tariffs – by another year so that Ukrainian products can access the Single Market, tariff-free, also in the year 2023.  

Associated with that is the fourth point, that are our solidarity lanes. They are also a big success because they helped us in the most critical time, for you, for example, in Ukraine, to bring out the grain, as long as the Black Sea ports were blocked; but all the other products and goods are a priority on the  solidarity lanes. Just to give you two figures: 45 million tonnes have been moved through these solidarity lanes. A revenue of EUR 20 billion. They have been the key entry point for all the essential goods from Ukraine to the European Union. With our partners, we have now mobilised EUR 1 billion to strengthen these solidarity lanes because they are such a success.

Finally, free roaming between Ukraine and the European Union – very important for the people of Ukraine that are in Ukraine and in the European Union. It is the lifeline for Ukrainians in the European Union. The telecom operators have just signed – that is good news – an agreement to extend free roaming for another six months. I very much commend them for taking this step on a voluntary basis. And I am confident that very soon we will make free roaming then permanent.  

Finally, looking at those who need support and fled from Putin's bombs and found shelter in the European Union. European citizens have welcomed Ukrainians with open hearts and arms. There is an abundance of moving examples of the solidarity that has been shown between our people. And it was very important to immediately trigger the Temporary Protection Directive. Indeed, one week into the war, we were able to have the Temporary Protection Directive, which gave to Ukrainians, that fled Putin's bombs, in the European Union immediate access to the labour market, to the health sector, to education, to schools. It was the first time that we triggered this temporary protection mechanism but it is very successful, and it showed to bring a lot of reward to all those who are here in the European Union fleeing the war in Ukraine. Just to give you a few figures: We know that by now round about four million Ukrainians are in the European Union. Very important is: 750,000 children are going to school in the European Union. But we know that one day these children with their parents want to go home to Ukraine. Therefore, they are following a Ukrainian curriculum, while being here in schools, and we have funded the printing of Ukrainian school books to strengthen the ties to Ukraine. What their parents, mostly their mothers, are concerned, we have done everything possible to give access to the labour market. 600,000 are in jobs by now. For them, it is very important to be independent and to have an own income.

All these are highlights of a long discussion we had together, mainly also in view of the people fleeing the war, being in the European Union, and the children that found shelter in the European Union. I think we all know, they are the future of Ukraine. But if they are the future of Ukraine, they are also the future of Europe. And therefore, we share the concern for them and the care for them.

Many thanks.

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