As all main EU political parties have placed Ukraine and defence at the fore of their EU elections campaign, the EU liberals chief and campaign leader, Valérie Hayer, visited Kyiv on Tuesday (26 March) to show support for Ukraine.

Hayer is the President of the EU liberals group in the European Parliament (Renew Europe) and one of its leading candidates for the EU elections. 

The three-day visit two months before the vote, confirmed by four sources briefed on the visit, is critical for the war efforts. Ukraine’s armed forces lack military equipment and need continued financial and material support from EU countries.

While this is the first time a liberal group leader has travelled to the battered capital since the beginning of the war two years ago, Hayer follows in the footsteps of her counterparts from the centre-right EPP group Manfred Weber, the Socialists’ Iratxe García and the Greens co-president Terry Reinke.  

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According to a source close to the matter, former group President Stéphane Séjourné already planned the visit, with Hayer taking over his agenda when she succeeded him.

While the visit is framed as part of Hayer’s agenda as Renew’s president, it is all but certain to feed into the campaign efforts of the liberal coalition for the elections, ‘Renew Europe Now,’ and her French party Renaissance, which lists defence and support for Ukraine as a key topic in its electoral programme.

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“We need to ramp up our defence capabilities, from research to military cooperation, to help Ukraine win the war against the Russian aggressor”, Renew’s electoral programme reads.

“Ukrainians are spilling their blood to defend our democratic freedom. Ukraine must join, and it will join [the EU],” it continues.  

Meanwhile, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, a prominent liberal politician, has long been considered a top pick for the EU’s top diplomat in charge of foreign affairs and defence policy or commissioner for the defence industry, to be decided after the EU elections.  

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Doubling down on the Liberals’ defence-focused campaign message, German politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmerman, chief of the defence committee in the German Bundestag, was appointed as one of the campaign’s leading figures.

The visit is also likely to be used by the Liberals to showcase their support for Ukraine while they are in a neck-to-neck race to win votes from the far-right and conservative parties.

Forces on the extreme right and left sides of the hemicycle have openly been in favour of a stop in weapons deliveries or fighting, despite Ukraine and its backers saying that might give Russia the advantage. 

However, the centrist group is not alone, and all main political parties have placed the topic of support for Ukraine at the forefront of their electoral promises.  

Meanwhile, other European political parties are considering further trips to Ukraine. 

“Another Ukraine visit is obviously on the table”, European Green Party Co-Chair Mélanie Vogel told Euractiv. “We will do it at a moment beneficial for the Ukrainian cause.” 

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The Party of European Socialists (PES) also told Euractiv they intend to arrange another official mission to Kyiv following the one in April 2022.

Hayer’s visit follows a cross-party mission from the European Parliament in Kyiv on Monday and Tuesday, to discuss stepping up efforts to support Ukraine.

Contacted by Euractiv, Renew Europe and Hayer’s cabinet declined to comment. 

Paul Messad contributed to the reporting.

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