Metsola wants Ukraine EU membership talks to start this year

Metsola wants Ukraine EU membership talks to start this year
Опубликовано: Saturday, 04 March 2023 15:03

European Parliament chief meets Ukrainian President Zelenskyy in Lviv to discuss EU membership bid.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola made an unannounced trip to Lviv and discussed Ukraine’s bid to join the EU with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“I am hopeful that accession negotiations can begin already this year,” Metsola said in Lviv on Saturday through a spokesperson who was traveling with her.

“Never give up,” Metsola tweeted after meeting with Zelenskyy, who is leading the defense of his country against an invasion by Russia now in its second year.

The discussions between Metsola and Zelenskyy focused “very much on the membership application,” said Metsola’s spokesperson, adding that weapons supplies to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia were also discussed.

“The pace with which the Verkhovna Rada [Ukraine’s parliament] and the government is making progress on the EU application impresses me,” Metsola said through the spokesperson.

The 27-country bloc granted so-called candidate status to Ukraine last summer, kicking off an exhaustive legal process that could last many years but which Zelenskyy wants to wrap up as soon as possible. The European Commission and national EU governments are likely to be more cautious than the European Parliament about fast-tracking Ukraine’s entry bid, which is contingent on internal reforms and alignment with 35 chapters of EU rules.

On social media app Telegram, Zelenskyy thanked Metsola and the European Parliament for their support during the war, and wrote: “Ukraine aims to complete the implementation of the recommendations of the European Commission as soon as possible and to start negotiations on joining the EU already this year.” The video showed Zelenskyy greeting Metsola with a firm hand shake on the red carpeted steps of a palace in Lviv.

Zelenskyy himself traveled to Brussels only last month, where he met EU leaders and made an impassioned speech in the European Parliament to underscore the shared values between Ukraine and the EU.

After arriving in Lviv on Friday, Metsola met the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, who also gave her a guided tour of the city at night. “I think that next year will be the year of our victory,” Stefanchuk can be heard telling Metsola in a video.

Metsola laid wreaths to honor victims of the Russian invasion, including a poet named Yuriy Ruf who died defending his country.

The Parliament president stressed that her institution supports the establishment of a special international tribunal to prosecute crimes of aggression against Ukraine. At the “United for Justice Conference” in Lviv, Ukraine and its international partners pushed forward with setting up the International Center for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression (ICPA) in The Hague, which is expected to be fully operational this summer.

“There can be no peace without accountability,” Metsola said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised the ICPA in a statement on Saturday.

“There needs to be a dedicated tribunal to prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression,” von der Leyen said. “Russia must be held accountable for these horrific crimes. Putin must be held accountable.”

A Maltese center-right MEP, Metsola was the first leader of a major EU institution to visit Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion in February last year. She traveled to Kyiv in April 2022.

She is considered a contender to lead her center-right European People’s Party’s (EPP) campaign in next year’s EU election, which could land her the powerful job of president of the European Commission.

That speculation was fanned by Manfred Weber, the EPP chief, who said that Metsola and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen were both strong candidates. However, Metsola has not publicly acknowledged any ambitions to run the EU executive, instead saying she is focusing on her job as Parliament chief.

Veronika Melkozerova contributed reporting from Kyiv.

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