7 February, 2023
The 24th EU-Ukraine Summit – A Reason for Optimism
Quick Comment - insights from SCEEUS's experts on breaking news and hot topics
Last week, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, accompanied by 15 Commissioners, held the first ever meeting between the College and the Ukrainian Government. The meeting took place back-to-back with the EU-Ukraine summit, the first since the start of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine and the granting of candidate status. Our experts analyze the outcomes and draw their conclusions on what to expect next.
Hugo von Essen, SCEEUS:
In the joint statement following the 24th EU Ukraine Summit, the accession process was front and center – reflecting its gravity – with several paragraphs emphasizing the importance of furthering the integration process; acknowledging the process already made and being made by Ukraine; and outlining the path forward through (mainly judicial and anti-corruption) reforms. The still central role of the The Association Agreement, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (AA/DCFTA), was underlined, and many vital integration projects were mentioned, including encouraging hints at the possibility of extending the suspension of tariffs and trade defence measures, and continuing developing the Solidarity Lanes.
However, no dates were given for either the Commission’s promised spring update, or the possible start of accession negotiations, reflecting not-yet-resolved internal EU disunity on these crucial matters.
Fredrik Wesslau, SCEEUS:
Importantly, the joint declaration includes a paragraph dedicated to ensuring accountability for international crimes committed in Ukraine after Russia’s invasion. The strong language reflects how both Ukraine and the EU see accountability as one of the main priorities in dealing with Russia’s aggression. This is not surprising given the staggering number of alleged war crimes. So far, close to 70 000 alleged war crimes have been registered by the Ukrainian Prosecution. This number increases by the hundreds every day.
The declaration gives particular emphasis to the crime of aggression – the original crime of launching the war against Ukraine that relates directly to the norms-based international order. Ukraine has been pushing for the establishment of a Special Tribunal for this leadership crime, and while this seemed a distant prospect only six months ago, today there is much more support for this idea. EU Member states are now backing the establishment of such a judicial mechanism, and there are currently discussions on the details.
What’s important in the declaration is the support expressed for the establishment of an international centre for the prosecution of the crime of aggression. This centre will coordinate the investigation and store evidence for a future trial on aggression. The centre is a clear step towards a Special Tribunal.
Andreas Umland, SCEEUS:
Among several other exceptional circumstances, the summit was the first such meeting under conditions of "hard conditionality" in regard to Ukraine - a concept denoting Brussels' ability to use an explicit future EU accession offer to pressure an applicant to do what it wants before entering the Union. Accordingly, the joint final summit statement is refreshingly concrete and filled with substantive elements.
Ukraine's leading EU-specialized news outlet "Evropeiska Pravda" has identified a number of positive aspects of the final statement, among them that Ukraine "has the right to liberate and regain full control of all occupied territories within its internationally recognised borders." The Ukrainian journalists interpret this as Brussels' confirmation that Kyiv is allowed to "free occupied Crimea by military means," and assert that the summit statement is the first document of its kind providing such a confirmation. This, as well as a number of other encouraging signals in the joint statement make the 24th EU-Ukraine summit one of the most successful such meetings for Kyiv and Brussels so far.
Anna Lundbladh, SCEEUS:
Whilst highlighting a year of “legendary bravery of the Ukrainian people” and “impressive unity by the global community”, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen was refreshingly outspoken at the press conference with President Zelensky on Thursday 3 February.
Perhaps less surprising, von der Leyen was more forward leaning and positive in her own statement, than in the joint statement negotiated with all EU Member States following the summit, mirroring the current Commission’s role of frontrunner in many crucial areas.
In the context of Ukraine becoming a candidate country while fighting an invasion, von der Leyen commented on Ukraine’s admirable reform development:
“You continue to make impressive progress to meet the seven steps of the Commission's opinion. I am comforted to see that your anti-corruption bodies are on alert and effective in detecting corruption cases. I also commend you on reacting so rapidly at political level to make sure that the fight against corruption is delivering tangible results and is further stepped up,” she said, against the backdrop of the number of officials that have either resigned or been sacked as Kyiv tries to tackle government corruption.
Such decisive measures by the Ukrainian government are critical, not least with rule of law and anti-corruption reforms as a precondition for ensuring continued and long-term Western support.