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Von der Leyen pitches postwar Ukraine recovery package

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday threw her weight behind a financial package for Ukraine that would rebuild the country and reshape its economy once the war against Russia has ended. 

“We want Ukraine to win this war. But we also want to set the conditions for Ukraine’s success in the aftermath of the war,” von der Leyen declared in a speech to the European Parliament, during which she also proposed a phaseout of Russian oil purchases and further sanctions targeting Moscow’s coffers. 

While Western allies have directed billions of dollars toward Ukraine in military and humanitarian aid, attention has recently turned to the incredible decimation across the country — and the grievous financial situation it has created. 

U.S. President Joe Biden has already asked lawmakers to approve $8.5 billion in economic support for Ukraine as part of a $33 billion aid package. And on Wednesday, von der Leyen argued Europe must move as well — while stopping short of suggesting a specific financial figure.

“We, as Team Europe, have to do our share,” she said to applause from European Parliament members.

Von der Leyen noted Ukraine’s economic output will plunge between 35 and 50 percent this year and pointed to International Monetary Fund estimates that the country now needs €5 billion each month just to cover payments and maintain basic services for citizens.

To meet this need, the Commission chief proposed an “ambitious recovery package.” The package she envisioned would both bring funds to Ukraine, and also restructure the economy more in line with EU standards. 

“It could set a system of milestones and targets to make sure that the European money truly delivers for the people of Ukraine and is spent in accordance with EU rules,” von der Leyen said. “It could help fight corruption — we have to do that — it could align the legal environment with European standards and radically upgrade Ukraine’s productive capacity.”

To see her vision through, however, von der Leyen will ultimately need buy-in from EU countries — meaning considerable negotiations lie ahead.

The goal, von der Leyen said, is for the recovery package to speed Ukraine’s entrance into the EU — a request Kyiv has made but that some EU countries warn will take time. The idea of sending Ukraine money contingent on economic reforms could be key to convincing countries like the Netherlands and France that have so far been cold on EU enlargement, diplomats say.

“Eventually, honorable members, it will pave the way for Ukraine’s future inside the European Union,” von der Leyen concluded.

The Commission is expected to offer its response to Ukraine’s membership request ahead of an EU leaders’ meeting in June. 

Some diplomats say a potential compromise could be to label Ukraine a “potential candidate,” a tag that currently applies to Kosovo and Bosnia — an outcome that would fall short of what Ukraine wants. Such a designation is given to countries with a clear prospect of eventually joining the EU without offering them full “candidate” status. 

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