It is the largest delegation from Brussels since the start of the war in Ukraine: Ursula von der Leyen and no less than fifteen European Commissioners visit Kiev, at a secret location. With the visit, the European Commission (EC) wants to confirm the support to Ukraine. But the reconstruction of the country after the war and the possible accession to the European Union are also on the agenda.
For example, Ukraine plays an important role in the EU’s sustainability plans. It would be a “priority” partner to realize European ideas for sustainable electricity and hydrogen. Why? The country has gigantic steppes, vast plains where no people live (who can complain) and where there is often a lot of wind. That is why Ukraine often features in the plans of the European Commission.
A strategic partnership between the EU and Ukraine on green energy was signed today. Ukraine could supply significant amounts of hydrogen to the EU, according to plans. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is enthusiastic about it. He wants to lead the way when it comes to green energy. And hydrogen is a green alternative to fossil fuels.
The transition to clean energy is described in the European ‘Green Deal’: in 2050, Europe must be the first climate-neutral continent. European Commissioner Frans Timmermans, also Vice-President of the European Commission and responsible for the implementation of the green plans, wrote last week: “Ukraine has what it takes to become a leader in modern green energy. It has enormous potential for solar, wind, hydrogen and green gas.”
Ukraine may also see supplying hydrogen as a ticket to EU membership. Will the country receive that membership as a gift? According to Timmermans – in conversation with Nieuwsuur – this is not the case. “We have to ensure that Ukraine can stand on its own feet again soon. It is important to show our solidarity. That gives perspective. We want to do everything we can to get them as close as possible to the EU.”
It is no longer possible to spend too long on procedures, says Timmermans. “European history took a different turn in February last year. Putin will not stop and try to impose his will on all of Europe. This is a new situation that Europe must deal with wisely. They are fighting for our values there.”
Eastern Europe expert Tony van der Togt of the Clingendael Institute thinks that the EC should manage expectations internally. “They are candidate members with a homework list of about seven points, including in the field of anti-corruption. And that is a very important one. The fact that Zelenskyhad thinks that they will be members of the EU within two years does not concern him become.”
Van der Togt emphasizes that Ukraine has already done a lot. “And there is support in all kinds of areas. In the field of energy that is also possible. That in itself has nothing to do with EU membership.”
But at the moment the country is also still in ruins and the end of the war is not yet in sight. How realistic are the energy plans? Timmermans: “Just like us, Ukraine was much too dependent on Russia. So the country also has to invest a lot in new energy. If they do, you can put the extra electricity into hydrogen. They can then export it to the EU.”
For example, Ukraine already has many pipelines connecting it with other EU countries. This gives the country an opportunity to supply part of the market within the EU, says Timmermans. “Much more will have to be done to rebuild Ukraine and its industry. Many billions of investments are needed. You can’t arrange the energy supply in a few days, it takes a long time. We have to give them the optimism that they will never need to be more dependent on Russia.”
For former ambassador to Ukraine Robert Serry – himself involved in the reconstruction of Ukraine – it is certainly not too early to talk about the future of Ukraine. “You have to start thinking about how to rebuild this country right now.” Build back better, he says.
There are indeed great opportunities in Ukraine to provide the EU with new, clean energy sources, he believes. “You already have very large energy companies that currently mainly extract gas and are working with coal. But they really want to take that step towards green energy and more modern forms of energy. The hydrogen plan is also part of that.”
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