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Von der Leyen noncommital on Ukrainian EU membership, banning Russian energy imports

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday declined to say whether and when Ukraine would be given European Union membership, and refused to answer whether the EU would contemplate a total ban on imports of oil and gas from Russia.

She said the Ukrainian people “belong in the European family,” but added that “this would take time,” in an interview with CNN. Asked when the earliest possible date for accession would be, she said, “This is hard to say … Reforms have to be done, processes have to be set up.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday filed a symbolic application to the EU, asking for his country’s membership to be fast-tracked. Georgia and Moldova have also filed applications.

EU membership is a years-long process that requires countries to comply with both legislative and practical changes. Other countries whose membership bids have been pending — such as Montenegro and North Macedonia — could potentially be resentful if other applications get fast-tracked.

Von der Leyen also refused to say whether a ban on imports of Russian oil and gas — on which the bloc heavily relies for its energy supply — would be an option the EU is prepared to take.

Instead, she said that “we have to get rid of the dependency [on] fossil fuels from Russia. We’re just discussing in the European Union a strategic approach, a plan on how to accelerate investments into renewables, how to diversify our energy supply for example with you, our friends in the U.S. for LNG gas … and other friends around the world, how to invest heavily in biogas and in hydrogen that is homegrown. This is not only a strategic investment into our energy security but it is also good for the climate.”

The Commission will next week outline a list of actions for discussion by EU leaders on how to reduce the bloc’s energy dependency on Russia.

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