This year, on 9 December, we mark 30 years of diplomatic relations between the European Union and Ukraine. Over these three decades, we have taken huge steps together – from the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in 1994, through the 2014 Association Agreement, the visa-free regime, the establishment of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, to the granting of EU Candidate status to Ukraine and the most recent recommendation by the European Commission to launch accession negotiations.
During these 30 years, Ukraine has lived through two revolutions – both linked to the country’s European choice. The entire world has witnessed Ukraine’s yearning for freedom and democracy. And still today, once more, Ukraine has to fend off another brutal attempt by Russia to subjugate it. A senseless war of aggression, atrocities, destruction. War that also undermines global security and stability.
The EU has stood by Ukraine during these 30 years. When Viktor Yanukovych wanted to abandon the Association Agreement and when Vladimir Putin fantasized about Russian invaders parading in Kyiv.
Our relationship has gone through a lot.
It was not always clear where the road would lead.
The developments over the last decade, however, point unmistakably towards a shared goal – coming together ever more closely and, ultimately, being under the same roof of the European Union.
To reach this goal, the EU has accompanied Ukraine on its path through countless projects, investments, and, importantly, in key reform agendas. Since the Maidan Revolution we supported Ukraine in flagship reforms such as decentralisation, systemic fight against corruption, reform of the justice and police sectors, banking reform and a new approach to public administration, to name just few.
These major reforms helped modernise the country and make the society more resilient. They have helped Ukraine move ahead on its EU integration path.
Let us remember that a key ingredient in all these reforms have been the people of Ukraine and its civil society. The civil society held the fort during the Revolution of Dignity and also rushed to support Ukraine’s defenders. It is, just like the government, a partner for the EU that we cooperate with and are honoured to support.
We have moved forward not only politically: our Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area has made the EU Ukraine’s main trade partner, doubling the total trade volume. Russia’s full-scale invasion could not halt this partnership.
The Solidarity Lanes, set up in mid-2022 to address the Russian blockade of the Black Sea, the main export axis of Ukraine have been a lifeline for the country’s exports. So far, they have enabled exporting 102 million tonnes of goods. This has also helped Ukraine continue feeding the world as its agricultural products could reach the most vulnerable.
Our journey together has not always been easy. And there is a long road ahead – but Europe stands here with Ukraine today. During my interviews over the past months, I have been most often asked whether the European Union is serious about letting Ukraine join. And what Europeans really think of Ukrainians. T
hroughout the decades, the EU has grown and adapted – this is in its very nature – and the Union always came out stronger. And so did the countries that joined the EU family.
For my native Slovakia to join the EU in May 2004, together with nine other countries, we also had to undergo fundamental transitions: of our societies, economies and institutions. We then came out as new members within a bigger, more diverse and stronger Union.
This does not mean that the changes will happen only one way.
Ukraine’s accession will also change the EU. Probably in many aspects. But, in the end, EU enlargement offers more opportunities than risks to both sides.
European citizens know this – their support to Ukraine and Ukrainians remains strong. According to September’s Eurobarometer, 86% of EU citizens approve the EU continuing to provide humanitarian support, 71% back imposing economic sanctions against Russia. Close to two thirds of Europeans are in favour of Ukraine’s European integration.
What has been really palpable to me in the few months I have lived in Ukraine is both the resilience and the determination of its people. Ukrainians will not give up on their freedom, no matter how exhausting the situation is. You have been at war for 654 days. You grieve the losses of sons and fathers, mothers and daughters, friends and brave compatriots who went to fight the Russian aggressor.
The European Union is a project of peace and prosperity on our continent. This is a goal we share with Ukraine and we owe it to this shared goal to support Ukraine in this war.
I cannot agree more with Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the European Commission, when he says: "As a non-military alliance, the strongest security commitment the EU can give to Ukraine, is EU membership."
Ukraine is undertaking deep reforms while under Russian assault. While fighting for its national survival, Ukraine is a resilient state. Its institutions function.
And while it is not perfect, it strives for modernisation, democracy, prosperity, and above all, peace. This is a democracy able to defend itself – while also accepting necessary support from friends.
We need to continue supporting Ukraine’s progress as a European democracy, firmly rooted in European values and principles.
One day Ukraine will become a member of the European Union.
Not because I write this. Not because our political leaders say so. But because of the determination, reforms and choices made by the Ukrainian people.
For the entire team at the European Union Delegation to Ukraine I can assure you that we will continue working towards this goal.