Thursday’s visit to Ukraine by four European Union leaders comes ahead of a key decision on Kyiv’s EU candidacy, expected next week — and as tensions grow over Europe’s long-term commitment to the war.
Speaking to reporters from Kyiv’s war-ravaged suburb of Bucha, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, said his visit with the leaders of Germany, Italy and Romania underscored the European Union’s strong political support for Ukraine and its respect for its people's courage.
Macron dismissed controversy within the EU over his remarks that aggressor Russia should not be humiliated in finding an exit to the conflict. He said France had been by Kyiv’s side from the beginning.
Ukraine has also criticized Macron’s call for a so-called interim “European political community” group for non-EU members.
The Ukraine visit by the four EU leaders comes a day before the bloc’s executive arm is expected to recommend granting Ukraine EU candidacy status. The EU's 27 members are expected to make a decision during a summit next week.
Even if its candidacy is approved, Ukraine will likely wait years to become an EU member — but Kyiv says the move is symbolically important.
But the outcome is uncertain. Members like Poland and the Baltic states strongly support Ukraine’s candidacy; others like Portugal and Denmark have voiced reservations. The biggest EU countries appeared lukewarm, but during a visit to Moldova Wednesday, Macron seemed to back candidate status.
Tensions with Kyiv have also surfaced over the strength of the EU military, political and financial support for Ukraine, as it battles the Russian invasion.
Meanwhile, European leaders face eroding support at home for the conflict, amid rising prices and supply shortages. A poll by the European Council on Foreign Relations policy institute finds one-third or more of all EU citizens want the war to end as soon as possible.
Macron faces extra pressure, ahead of legislative elections Sunday that may eliminate his majority in France’s lower house.
His far-right rival, Marine Le Pen, accuses Macron of profiting politically from his trip to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, another political rival, Jean-Francois Cope of the center-right, faults Macron for taking his eyes off the elections that may see a far-left win. The house is burning, Cope told French radio, and Macron is looking elsewhere.