It’s a truism politicians are loath to admit: Their job is often as much about photo ops and symbolism as it is about actual policy.
That might help explain why even before the EU finalized its agenda and guest list for an upcoming two-day summit in Ukraine — set to feature a plethora of top EU leaders confabbing with Ukrainian officials — it circulated an internal memo with a clear message: There’s a dress code.
In: “Usual business attire” (or come as you are in Brussels).
Out: “Green, khaki or too bright colours” (less common in the European Quarter).
The reason for the note, sent last week and seen by POLITICO, was an apparent attempt to reserve the military look for the hosts and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has made an army green T-shirt his ubiquitous war-time uniform. EU planners are likely keenly aware that’s a style appropriate for those fighting off a brutal Russian invasion — but perhaps less so for an EU commissioner.
The European Commission did not comment.
EU officials, of course, have found ways to show sartorial solidarity with Ukraine in the past. During her annual state of the EU speech, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen sported a bright yellow and blue outfit, mirroring the Ukrainian flag. The EU’s female commissioners joined in on the dress code from the audience, making a united fashion statement.
The note — sent by the Commission’s Secretariat General, which is keeping a tight grip on logistics and protocol services for the trip — did not give any explanation for the bright-color ban at the occasion, but EU diplomats said it is in line with expectations around the Continent to not overdo the imagery and stay consistent with the political message. The EU, after all, may have to disappoint Ukraine on thorny issues like its desire to swiftly join the bloc.
Regardless, there will be little chance for outfit changes during the upcoming EU-Ukraine summit, which spans Thursday and Friday in Kyiv — there’s simply no time or space.
“We are requested to travel light (backpack or similar), avoiding a suitcase if possible,” the note said. “Since the exact travel time is impossible to foresee, it is advisable to be prepared to go straight from the train to the meetings upon arrival, in case needed.”
As a piece of practical advice ahead of a winter trip, the travelers were told that “comfortable shoes are advisable and also a warm jacket/coat.”
Travel comfort, however, is predictably not what attendees should expect.
“Boxes with cold food will be distributed on the train, but please be prepared for basic supplies,” the note warns.
And the train itself will be a crowded affair, a far cry from the cozy compartment French President Emmanuel Macron received on a sleeper train to Ukraine last year: “There will be individual sleeping couches [sic] with one shared toilet in each wagon, no bathrooms.”
To avoid the excursion adopting the odor of a class trip, hotel rooms have been booked in Kyiv “for day use on Thursday if time allows to go there before the meetings start.”
With so much care given to appearances, the travelers were reminded that any photo must credibly support — not replace — the political message EU officials are there to convey.
“Please note that during the meetings with the Members of the Ukraine Government, Members of College will be expected to intervene when necessary,” the note reads.