European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Monday it was imperative for the European Union to address the issue of its enlargement as soon as possible to include countries such as Ukraine and Moldova to guarantee they do not fall under the influence of Russia or China.
Speaking in Madrid, von der Leyen said the bloc must look forward four years and imagine what the union should be like.
“Can we imagine the European Union will be without Ukraine, without Moldova, without the Western Balkans? And those parts of Europe are under the influence of Russia or China? Impossible,” she said.
“So, the direction of travel is clear. And therefore, now we have to start to think about how are we making sure that Europe is whole, that those countries are part of the European Union.”
Video report by Ricardo Marquina (narration Marcus Harton)
Von der Leyen spoke alongside Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez following a meeting of EU commissioners and the Spanish government to review Spain’s plans for its six-month presidency of the EU Council, which began Saturday.
Von der Leyen said the enlargement issue must be addressed “as soon as possible because it will take us time to come to a conclusion.”
Continued support for Ukraine in its war with Russia was high on the agenda at the meeting and a priority for the Spanish presidency.
“We must double down on our support for Ukraine. It has now been almost 500 days since Russia’s brutal invasion,” von der Leyen said, praising the impressive resistance of the Ukrainian people.
“Now it is our duty to match that endurance, and that perseverance. This includes reliable and regular financial support,” she said, recalling that the commission is proposing 50 billion euros ($55 billion) in budget and rebuilding support until 2027.
EU officials estimate that the bloc’s institutions and 27 member states have provided around 75 billion euros in aid, arms and ammunition since the war began in February 2022. The EU provides 1.8 billion euros each month to help Ukraine keep its economy afloat.
Sánchez started the presidency Saturday with a quick visit to Kyiv to underline the bloc’s support of Ukraine in the face of the Russian invasion.
Sánchez was adamant about keeping up that support in aid and arms.
“Europe and Ukraine together until victory and freedom,” he said Monday.
Von der Leyen and her team arrived Monday for the one-day meeting in Madrid, the first major event of the Spanish presidency, which ends Dec. 31. The meeting was held in the new Royal Collections Gallery museum.
In addition to Ukraine, a migration pact, EU relations with Latin America and the reindustrialization of Europe are among Spain’s presidency priorities.
Von der Leyen and Sánchez expressed confidence that the EU will finalize a controversial pact on migration despite lingering differences within the 27-nation group with Poland and Hungary.
Earlier this month, EU countries made a breakthrough on asylum law reform, sealing an agreement on a plan to share responsibility for migrants entering Europe without authorization. Only Poland and Hungary voted against it.
EU lawmakers have warned that this may be the last chance to solve the issue before EU-wide elections in a year’s time, when migration is likely to be a hot-button issue once again.
The visit by the Commission College was initially scheduled for July 6-7, but was brought forward so as not to take place in the middle of the campaign for Spain’s general election on July 23.
Von der Leyen said she was confident the election results would not have an impact on the objectives or agenda of the presidency.
Polls show the vote could oust Sánchez’s leftist coalition government and replace it with a conservative administration, or even a coalition with the extreme right, following a trend in much of Europe.
Von der Leyen and Sánchez also expressed confidence that accords on rebuilding intra-European supply chains to avoid shortages and guarantee energy sovereignty would be reached during the presidency, as well as agreements on establishing European dominance in the fields of artificial intelligence and digital security.
The two also highlighted the importance of an EU-Latin America summit set for July 17-18 in Brussels, the first in eight years, and the need to move forward on a trade agreement that was reached between the EU and the Mercosur states — Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Sánchez also promised progress on an EU green transition and electricity market reform.
The commissioners later went to the nearby Royal Palace, where they were to be received by King Felipe VI.