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Keynote speech by President von der Leyen at the opening ceremony of the Ukraine Recovery Conference

Keynote speech given yesterday by President von der Leyen at the opening ceremony of the Ukraine Recovery Conference.

President Zelenskyy,

President Cassis, many thanks for hosting this fantastic Conference here,

Prime Minister Shmyhal, dear Denys, It is wonderful to see you again,

Speaker of the Parliament, the Rada, Mr Stefanchuk, also good to see you again,

Dear Prime Minister Fiala, as Presidency of the Council of the European Union,

Dear Prime Minister Šimonytė, you hosted last year the Conference,

Prime Ministers,



Honourable guests,

One month ago, a young Ukrainian hero died on the battlefield, as he fought for the future of his country. His name was Roman Ratushnyi, and he would have turned 25 tomorrow. Roman belonged to a new generation of young Ukrainians. As a teenager, he was among the first protesters on the Maidan, demonstrating for Europe and for democracy. And ever since, Roman never stopped fighting for a better Ukraine. He fought for a corruption-free Ukraine, both as activist and journalist. He fought for a greener Ukraine, leading the movement to save a natural park in Kyiv from illegal constructions financed by oligarchs. He fought for a sovereign Ukraine, and he paid the ultimate price for it. Roman's life was taken too early, but his dream lives on. The dream of a new Ukraine, not only free, democratic and European, but also green and prosperous. A place that Ukraine's golden generation can finally feel their own. It is this dream that brings us here today.

Because with our support, our Ukrainian friends can rebuild Ukraine not just as it was but as its young people want it to be. I know that this may sound overly ambitious, as Russian bombs keep falling, shattering not only schools and hospitals but also countless lives. But all of us know by now that nothing is impossible to the brave people of Ukraine. You have just heard the determination in the words of President Zelenskyy. And we will soon listen to the details of the plan from Prime Minister Shmyhal. We know Ukraine's immense potential for positive change. We know it because we have seen it affirmed time and again, since the Maidan revolution eight years ago. Ukraine has progressed visibly since February 2014, when the Revolution of Dignity began. It was the only country in Eastern Europe to pass legislation to rein in the oligarchs' powers. Or take the reform of the administration and decentralisation: It is a success. We see that the administration does function despite this atrocious war. This is also true for digitalisation. With Europe's support, Ukraine has created state-of-the-art e-government services and an impressive cybersecurity machine. Decentralisation and digitalisation have made Ukraine stronger.

This experience, how reforms work, will be precious for the reconstruction of Ukraine. Because Ukraine will need courageous reforms. But reforms should go hand in hand with investment. We all know, the scale of destruction is staggering. And costs are rising with each day of this senseless war. This is also true for social costs. Victims, veterans, women, children, they are coming back from exile, that is good – but Ukraine will have to care for them. Ukraine will have to restore business confidence and attract more capital from abroad. Ukraine will have to improve living standards for its citizens. And Ukraine will advance on its path towards the European Union. The challenges are huge, without any question – but they are not insurmountable. Ukraine can emerge from this war on a path towards a stronger and more modern country with a modernised judiciary, with stronger institutions, with a solid track record to fight against corruption. But also with a greener, more digital and more resilient economy. This is the country that so many Ukrainians, like Roman Ratushnyi, are dreaming of and fighting for. And this is why we are here today. The task ahead of us is colossal – as President Zelenskyy said. All of you here in the room and many more elsewhere on the screens want to support and help rebuild Ukraine. This is not only in our interest – it is also in our interest – but it is also our moral duty, our moral obligation.

This is why the European Commission has proposed to the government of Ukraine to set up a reconstruction platform to map investment needs, to coordinate action, to channel resources, and of course in support of an ambitious reform agenda. This platform will be the place to shape strategic orientations and priorities for our common work to focus on future-proof reconstruction moving towards climate neutrality, embracing the digital decade, building a social market economy that leaves no one behind, ensuring security and defence, and all of it embedded in good governance.

Ukraine will be in the lead. Because our action will be driven by the aspirations and the desires of the Ukrainian people, that is so important. The platform will bring together countries, institutions, the private sector and civil society; our partners from around the globe, from Switzerland to the United States, European and international organisations – from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development – that is already working in Ukraine and I really commend you for that – to the European Investment Bank; from the IMF to the World Bank. And of course, it will involve business and business associations with all their incredible know-how, we need that know-how, we need that expertise. Just recently in Davos, Prime Minister Shmyhal and me, we have seen the keen interest of companies and entrepreneurs to get involved in the reconstruction of Ukraine. The platform will be open to everyone, everyone who cares about the future of Ukraine.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Europe has a special responsibility and a strategic interest to be at Ukraine's side every step of the way. Ukraine wants to be part of our European Union. And we want Ukraine to become a member of the European Union. Ukraine is highly motivated to work with us in this direction and we will do our utmost to support these efforts. Because the path towards a stronger Ukraine and the path of European integration are one and the same. Through the reconstruction platform, the European Commission can offer its extensive expertise in running programmes that combine reform and investments. In addition, we have been working very closely with Ukraine for a long, long time. And this work will only intensify now that Ukraine has formally become a candidate country to join our European Union. This, Prime Minister Shmyhal and Chairman Stefanchuk, is your applause. It was your job; your work, you have done it. So from my part, too, many thanks. But of course, besides our own expertise, we would like to bring in external expertise and external advice. Thus, Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and I – in very close cooperation with our international partners –, we will organise a high-level international conference after the summer. We want to bring together the brightest minds and the leading global experts on reconstruction, we have never done it at that scale before, so that we can ensure that this generational undertaking is done in the right way. We have a huge opportunity, we should use it. And if we have a good plan; if we have a sound plan; if we have a comprehensive plan, this will give the necessary confidence to all investors. It will give them the message: Your money not only serves a good cause – it does serve a good cause –, but it will be, first and foremost, spent efficiently and effectively, with a maximum impact for the benefit of the people of Ukraine.

The Kremlin's goal is the military, political and economic destruction of Ukraine. They want to undermine Ukraine's very existence as a state. We cannot and we will never let that happen. Since the beginning of the war, we have all mobilised – the European Union, for example, has mobilised round about EUR 6.2 billion in financial support. And as you know, more has to come and more will come. We are fully aware that for the immediate relief there is money flow, there is budget support necessary, now. We will engage substantially. But, here in this room, we also have to engage substantially in the mid- and long-term reconstruction. And here, in Lugano, the Lugano principles are the first important building block, guiding our way. President Cassis, once again, many thanks for making that possible. This is the foundation on which we are working now to rebuild and reconstruct Ukraine, the Lugano principles. I want to commend you and I want to thank you for organising this Conference.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We can never match the sacrifices Ukrainians are making every single day. Ukraine's youth are giving their life to turn vision into reality. They are fighting for a free and independent Ukraine. They are fighting for the respect of international laws and our values. So we know that their fight is also our fight. And while we work in these days to help Ukraine to win this war, we must also make sure that Ukraine wins the peace that will come for sure.

Slava Ukraini.

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