European Commission officials were warned not to dress in military green or khaki like Volodymyr Zelensky during a visit to war-torn Ukraine.
Ursula von der Leyen, the commission president, and most of her commissioners are in Kyiv on Thursday in a show of support ahead of Friday’s EU-Ukraine summit in the capital.
Ahead of the visit, the EU executive sent out dress code guidance, which called for “usual business attire” and ruled out “green, khaki or too bright colours”.
The memo also suggested visitors travelled light with a backpack rather than a suitcase, the Politico website reported.
It also warned the college of commissioners to steel themselves for less gourmet food than they are used to in Brussels.
“Boxes with cold food will be distributed on the train, but please be prepared for basic supplies,” it said.
President Zelensky’s choice of military-style garb has helped to make him an international icon. Boris Johnson sold one of the president’s fleece jackets for £90,000 at an auction to raise money for Ukraine.
The commission, which has not commented, is thought to have decided to reserve that look for the Ukrainians during the visit.
The messaging may be motivated by a desire to send weapons and support to Ukraine but not to give the impression the EU is ready to fight alongside it in a war with Russia.
Donning the neutral “uniform” of an EU bureaucrat could also be meant to dampen Ukrainian expectations of a swift entry to the bloc, which it applied to join after Russia invaded.
The commission will have to demand tough reforms and painstaking technical work in the years it is expected to take for Kyiv to join and the dull sobriety of suited civil servants could be a nod to that.
During the visit on Thursday, Mrs von der Leyen praised efforts by Ukraine to stamp out corruption, a key requirement for joining the EU.
“I’m comforted to see that your anti-corruption bodies are on alert and effective in detecting corruption cases,” she told a press conference with Mr Zelensky.
“I also commend you on reacting so rapidly at the political level to make sure that the fight against corruption is delivering tangible results and is further stepped up,” she added.
At a joint press conference, Mr Zelensky warned that Russia was building up its troops to take “revenge” on the West nearly a year into Moscow’s invasion.
“Now Russia is concentrating its forces. We all know that. It is preparing to try to take revenge, not only against Ukraine but against a free Europe and the free world,” Zelensky said.
Mrs von der Leyen, who is on her fourth visit to Ukraine, dressed in Ukrainian colours for her annual state of the union speech last year to show the EU’s support for the embattled nation.
Charles Michel, the European Council president, chose to dress informally in jeans and a gilet when he met Mr Zelensky in April last year.
Emmanuel Macron, who donned a suit when he visited Kyiv, drew accusations he was copying the Ukrainian president after he was photographed sporting a Zelensky-style hoodie paired with jeans and stubble in March.