Ukraine and its people have gone through hell and high water on their path to the European Union and proven that they are worth a membership candidate status.

That’s according to the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, who spoke at the European Parliament Plenary on the preparation of the European Council meeting, Vigilant reports.

“From the early days of the Maidan on, Ukraine has bravely resisted against Russia’s aggression. It went through repression and uprising. It went through territorial annexation, and now outright war. It is the only country where people got shot because they wrapped themselves in a European flag. Ukraine has gone through hell and high water for one simple reason: Its desire to join the European Union,” von der Leyen said.

In the opinion presented last week, the European Commission has recognized Ukraine’s aspirations, acknowledging “the immense progress” that Ukraine’s democracy has achieved since the Maidan protests of 2014.

“Our opinion stems from a careful and thorough assessment of the reality on the ground. And this evidence tells us that Ukraine deserves a European perspective, and also the candidate status on the understanding that the country will carry out a number of further, important reforms,” von der Leyen stressed.

She noted that Ukraine has proven, already before the war, that it is “on the right trajectory.” In the last few years Ukraine has reformed more than in the last decades. Thanks to the Association Agreement of 2016, Ukraine has already implemented roughly 70% of EU rules, norms and standards.  It is already involved in many important EU programmes like Horizon Europe and Erasmus.

“Ukraine is a robust parliamentary democracy, it has a well-functioning public administration, which every day is passing the ultimate stress test of war. It has free and fair elections and a vibrant civil society, that holds the government to account. Year after year, small businesses and, in particular, young entrepreneurs have conquered new space in the country´s economy – and fought back against the power of oligarchs,” the EC president said.

Ukraine punches well above its weight when it comes to innovative start-ups and the digital economy. And all of this progress has been achieved because the people of Ukraine have Europe in their hearts and their minds. But we also know that there is important work ahead. Take the fight against corruption. Ukraine has already taken important steps in the right direction. It has set up the necessary anti-corruption bodies. But now these institutions have to come to life. They need teeth, and the right people in senior posts,” the top official noted.

She recalled that Ukraine is the only country from the Eastern Partnership group that has adopted “a bold law to break the oligarchs’ grip on Ukraine’s economic, political and public life.”

“Now it is about turning the law into positive and enduring change,” von der Leyen added.

The people of Ukraine “want to continue on the path of modernization, the path of democracy, the path that leads to Europe.”

As Ukrinform reported earlier, on June 17, the European Commission published an opinion as regards Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia’s applications for EU membership, recommending that the candidate status be granted to the previous two. The EU Council at its summit June 23-24 is set to consider the opinion and pass a final decision in this regard.