In emotional session, European Parliament welcomes Ukraine’s application for candidate status

MEPs praise Ukrainian resistance in face of Russian military aggression, pledge more help in historic session

By Andreas Rogal

Andreas Rogal is a senior journalist at the Parliament Magazine

01 Mar 2022

In an extraordinary plenary session on Tuesday, Parliament addressed the current situation in the war waged by Russia against Ukraine.

Frequently interrupted by standing ovations, MEPs heard passionate interventions not only from the EU’s leaders but also, via video call, from Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the Speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk.

In his speech, President Zelenskyy thanked the EU for its support but urged them to further “prove that you are with us”. Informing the House that two Russian cruise missiles had hit Freedom Square in the centre of Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv in the morning, killing sixteen civilians, he said that from today, every square in every city in his country will be called Freedom Square.

In a tweet, Manfred Weber, the EPP Group’s president, expressed a sentiment echoed by many of those who took the floor during the session:  

Stefanchuk called on the EU leadership to support Ukraine’s candidate status application to the Union which President Zelenskyy submitted yesterday. He delivered his speech against a background of video footage of recent rocket attacks in Ukraine which were in parts so graphic that Parliament’s audiovisual service panned to the hemicycle repeatedly.

We welcome Ukraine’s application for candidate status and will work towards that goal, because we will and we must face the future together.”

Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament

Support for this candidate status application was something that European Parliament President Roberta Metsola had expressed intention to do during her opening remarks.

“We recognise Ukraine’s European perspective, and as our resolution clearly states, we welcome, Mr President, Ukraine’s application for candidate status and will work towards that goal, because we will and we must face the future together.”

The presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen, also expressed support for Ukraine’s membership bid.

Pointing to the close cooperation within the Union but also with its allies, von der Leyen argued that “if Putin was seeking to divide the European Union, to weaken NATO and to break the international community, he has achieved exactly the opposite. We are united”.

Almost all speakers recognised a fundamental policy shift brought about by Russia’s all-out attack on Ukraine. It was “the act of birth of a geopolitical Europe”, in the words of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borell.

If Putin was seeking to divide the European Union, to weaken NATO and to break the international community, he has achieved exactly the opposite. We are united”.

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President

In his speech, EPP Group leader Manfred Weber proclaimed 24 February, the first day of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, to be  Europe’s “Kyiv moment, [the moment] which made us all Europeans”. But he also argued that the Union had not been decisive enough at the beginning of the crisis and called for the abolition of the unanimity rule for foreign affairs in the Council.

S&D Group President Iratxe García Pérez praised the EU’s unprecedented decision on Sunday to put aside €500 million for member states to provide military assistance to Ukraine. She described the move to fund military aid, along with the agreement to impose comprehensive economic and political sanctions against Russia, as a “qualitative leap” for EU foreign policy.

García Pérez tweeted a picture of the demonstration in support of Ukraine that had gathered outside the main entrance to Parliament's Brussels home while the debate took place.

Renew Group President Stéphane Séjourné called for a review of the EU’s and Member States defence budgets – the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had told the Bundestag in an extraordinary plenary session on Sunday that his country will increase defense spending from currently 1.4 per cent of GDP to over 2 per cent.

Greens/EFA Group Co-president Philippe Lamberts described Ukrainians’ resistance to Russian military aggression as a “wake up call to all democracies in the world”. For Europe, he identified urgent efforts to abandon dependence on energy supplies for Russia as one of the main challenges to be taken on.

In this, Lamberts was supported by the president of the far-right ID Group, Marco Zanni.

Parliament adopted its resolution, which also calls on the Commission and EU countries to provide further emergency humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, with 637 votes in favour, 13 against and 27 abstentions.

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