I attended a meeting of the European Council on Thursday, 23 June, and Friday, 24 June, in Brussels. The meeting was preceded by a meeting of European Union and western Balkans leaders, in which I also participated, and was followed by a meeting of the Euro summit, at which leaders were joined by the President of the ECB and the President of the Eurogroup. It was the fifth meeting of the European Council since Russia began its full-scale war on Ukraine on 24 February. We discussed a number of dimensions of the war - military, humanitarian and economic - and their impacts in Ukraine, across Europe and in the wider world. We took the historic decision to grant European Union candidate status to Ukraine and to the Republic of Moldova, based on a thorough analysis and the positive recommendation of the European Commission. As I said, we have received correspondence from President Zelenskyy thanking us for the proactive role Ireland played in that respect. We agreed that we are ready to grant the status of candidate country to Georgia, once the priorities specified in the Commission's opinion have been addressed.
We expressed our full and unequivocal commitment to the European Union perspective of the western Balkans and called for acceleration of the accession process. We held a strategic discussion on the European Union's relations with its partners and neighbours in wider Europe and had an exchange of views on a proposal to launch what is called a European political community. At the Euro summit we discussed economic issues, including rising energy prices and inflationary pressures and how we can work together to increase the resilience of our economies. We took note of the proposals set out in the report on the outcome of the Conference of the Future of Europe submitted to the three co-presidents. We also had a session on external relations issues focused on relations with Belarus and, separately, with Turkey. In his contribution, the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, will address the Conference on the Future of Europe and will provide further detail on the meeting of the Euro summit. I will address all other issues.
Before turning to the meetings in Brussels, at which the situation in Ukraine was top of our agenda, I wish to update the House on my recent visit to Ukraine on 6 July.
I visited at the invitation of President Zelenskyy and I was honoured to be the first Taoiseach to pay an official visit to the country. I was also glad to be able to visit in the wake of the decision of the European Council to grant Ukraine candidate status. While in Ukraine, I visited the towns of Borodianka, Bucha and Irpin, which are in the northern part of the Kyiv region and which were occupied by Russian forces in March. It was very clear to me that these are residential towns with no military or strategic significance in which civilians were attacked and killed. Missiles were launched against what were clearly residential buildings, without any regard for human life. I heard harrowing accounts from people who were there at the time and saw for myself the devastation caused to the built environment by Russia's bombardment. It is plain to me, and to any reasonable person, that these are war crimes.
I visited an exhibition of artefacts and artworks of the war. I laid a soft toy at a memorial in remembrance of the children killed in the war since February. I also had the opportunity to visit an exhibition on the role played by rail workers in the evacuation of the people fleeing the war, largely women and children. Throughout my visit, I was struck by the exceptional trauma that the war is visiting on the children of Ukraine. Many have been killed or maimed. Many have experienced the terror of bombings or have spent nights in dark, underground bunkers. Many have had their loved ones killed, their families separated and their education disrupted, including those being welcomed into our schools.
I visited the national memorial to the Holodomor, Ukraine's catastrophic man-made famine in the 1930s, which has resonances with our own history of famine. It was particularly poignant given Putin's despicable weaponisation of food in the current context.
I had the opportunity to have a meeting and working lunch with President Zelenskyy, and I heard directly from him about the critical security, humanitarian and economic challenges facing his country. I expressed to him the full support and solidarity of the Irish people.
At its meeting on 23 June and 24 June, the European Council took the historic decision to grant the status of candidate country to Ukraine. Every sovereign country has a right to determine its own future, free from external pressure and duress. The people of Ukraine have chosen a future in the European Union and they deserve our full support. I have long advocated this outcome. The decision has provided a great boost to the people and government of Ukraine, who have stood firm in defence of democratic values in the face of the most appalling war being waged by Russia. I told President Zelenskyy that Ireland will walk every step of the journey towards membership with Ukraine, providing whatever support and encouragement we can along the way.
As I have said previously, we know from our own experience that membership of the EU is transformative, and we are determined that others should be able to benefit from opportunities we have enjoyed. On 23 and 24 June, we also agreed to support Ukraine via exceptional macro-financial assistance of up to €9 billion to meet its immediate humanitarian and liquidity needs. The funding mechanism for a €1 billion tranche was subsequently agreed this month. It is essential that we make the full funding available without delay.
At the meeting of the Council, leaders discussed a proposal for a European political community, open to EU members and also like-minded European countries currently outside the Union. Importantly, we agreed that any European political community would not be intended as an alternative to either the enlargement process or ambitions of those seeking to join. Our discussion was an initial exchange and I look forward to further discussions when we revert to this issue in the autumn. We will next meet in Prague on 6 and 7 October.
Resolving the current slow rate of progress associated with the enlargement process in the Western Balkans, and the resulting disillusionment, is a priority for Ireland and a majority of member states. At our meeting with Western Balkans leaders on 23 June, a number of them made clear their frustration at the slow pace of progress on their paths to EU accession. Acknowledging this frustration, EU leaders expressed our full and unequivocal commitment to the EU membership perspective of the Western Balkans and called for the acceleration of the accession process.
The Council expressed deep concern over recent actions and statements by Turkey. We are clear that Turkey must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all member states. I encourage Turkey to take positive steps in this regard.
The Council underlined the democratic right of the Belarusian people to have new, free and fair elections. We called on the Belarusian authorities to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law, end repression and release political prisoners. It is wholly unacceptable that the Lukashenko regime is abetting Russia's further invasion of Ukraine. Ireland will continue to keep the issue of Belarus on the international agenda and support civil society and the opposition movement where we can.
We also discussed a range of economic issues and met in Euro Summit format, whereby we were briefed by the President of the European Central Bank, Ms Christine Lagarde, and the President of the Eurogroup, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, on the economic situation and outlook. Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine is causing significant economic disruption and inflationary pressures that are being felt right across the Union. Leaders at the meeting were very focused on the uncertain prospects for the autumn and winter ahead, not least on the possibility that Russia will restrict or even cease gas delivery. All were agreed that the best approach to these challenges is a joint one, with member states continuing to work closely and co-operatively together, as we did on the pandemic.
While economic prospects remain uncertain, with global growth slowing, inflationary pressures and continuing disruption to supply chains, leaders also acknowledged that the European economy remains strong. EU leaders remain united in our determination to further strengthen the resilience of our economies and will continue co-ordinate our response to this crisis.
The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, will further address economic issues, the Euro Summit and the Conference on the Future of Europe later in his wrap-up remarks. I will continue to report to the House on discussions at the Council.