Italy’s Meloni urges quick start of Ukraine’s EU entry talks

ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni on Wednesday urged European allies to accelerate Ukraine’s European Union membership bid, as Rome hosted a bilateral conference on the war-torn country’s reconstruction attended by hundreds of Italian and Ukrainian businesses.

“The future of Ukraine must include an always wider capacity of integrating with the European dynamics and institutions,” Meloni said, in joint statements with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal on the sidelines of the conference.

“The smartest way to thank Ukrainians for what they are doing is to accelerate their chance of being part of the European institutions. We need to acknowledge Kyiv’s enormous efforts to reform its system and bring it closer to targets required by the EU Commission,” Meloni added, urging a quick start of negotiations needed to grant Ukraine full EU membership.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said the conference attracted over a thousand companies, including hundreds from Ukraine. He stressed that the Italian initiative was part of a wider process, as both Germany and France already held their own bilateral conferences with Ukrainian firms in October and December, respectively, while G7 countries launched a Donor Coordination Platform in February.

“I know that the representatives of many Italian companies are listening to me and I’d like to speak to them not just as the representatives of businesses, but also as parents,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a live video address to the Rome conference.

“Even if hundreds of our villages have been burned down by Russian missile attacks, we are ready to bring them back to life,” he said. “We want to reconstruct them with modern standards, so that our people can live like millions of others, in security ... And we invite your companies to build this future for all.”

A World Bank report has estimated it will cost Ukraine 411 billion dollars over the next 10 years to recover and rebuild from the war launched by Russia. The report predicts Kyiv will require 14 billion dollars for critical and priority reconstruction, as well as recovery investments in 2023 alone.

“Ukraine will win this war and our victory will be restoring our territorial integrity. We won’t stop until we reach this goal,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba, who was also in Rome, told the conference.

“We are making a miracle by doing trade and moving ahead with reforms, so please don’t consider the war an obstacle on your business way to Ukraine,” Kuleba added, stressing that reconstruction has already started even though the war is still raging.

The conference took place as an Italian journalist in Ukraine, Corrado Zunino, was injured and his interpreter Bogdan Bitik killed in the southern city of Kherson. Zunino, a correspondent for La Repubblica daily, told the newspaper he suspected he had been hit Wednesday by Russian snipers after having passed through three Ukrainian-manned checkpoints in an area where there wasn’t any active fighting.

Tajani, the Italian foreign minister, tweeted that Zunino had been hit by a drone and was injured in the shoulder.