EU united on Ukraine, but won’t offer fast-track membership

VERSAILLES, France (AP) — European Union leaders meeting in France on Thursday ruled out Ukraine’s demand for accelerated integration with the bloc as they discussed ways to help the country from Is which was invaded by neighboring Russia.

EU nations have been fully united in backing Ukraine’s resistance, passing unprecedented economic sanctions against Russia, but leaders are divided on how quickly Brussels could accept Ukraine as a member and on how quickly the 27-nation bloc could sever energy ties with Moscow.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wants his country to join the EU soon, but agreement on that will not be reached this week at the two-day summit at the Palace of Versailles west of Paris.

At best, EU leaders should agree on language favorable to Ukraine’s bid to join the European family, but they will refrain from going any further in the process.


Ukraine’s fast-track bid has received warm support in Eastern European countries, but EU officials have stressed the process could take years, with unanimity of current members required to allow a newcomer in in the club.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the EU must send a “strong signal” of support for Ukraine, but ruled out the possibility of the country joining the bloc anytime soon.

“Can we open an accession procedure today (to the EU) with a country at war? I don’t think so,” Macron said. “Are we going to close the door and say (to Ukraine): ‘Never?’ It would be unfair.

Upon his arrival in Versailles, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he told Zelenskyy that Ukraine’s EU membership could not be accelerated.

“There’s not something like a fast track, a fast track,” Rutte said. “We also have to take into account the nations of the Western Balkans, which have sometimes worked for more than a decade to simply become a candidate nation for membership. Think of Albania and Macedonia. Let’s see what we can actually do.

Another key deterrent to a hasty decision – which Macron alluded to – is the specific clause in the EU treaty that if a member is the victim of armed aggression, other EU countries have an obligation to help and assist him by all means in their power.

But more specifically, the Baltic countries, with their Soviet past, want to reach out to Ukraine.

“It is also important to make it clear to Ukraine that the door is open to EU membership, that the way is open for it and that we, as a family of democratic nations, would like it to do so,” said Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins. “It’s very, very important for Ukrainians right now as a very important signal.”

The leaders’ talks will also focus on how to wean the bloc off its Russian energy dependence and boost the region’s defense capabilities.

Possible new sanctions against Russia and its ally Belarus – including the removal of all their banks from the dominant SWIFT system for global financial transactions – will also be on the table.

“The energy sector is the main source of income for the Kremlin, some 600 million euros a day,” Karins said. “If we were to stop the purchase of Russian energy, it would stop the financing of the Russian military machine.”

All leaders agree that the EU should reduce its dependence on Russian gas, oil and coal imports while accelerating the green transition. The EU imports 90% of the natural gas used to generate electricity, heat homes and supply industry, with Russia supplying almost 40% of the EU’s gas and a quarter of its oil.

Earlier this week, the European Commission proposed diversifying natural gas supplies and accelerating the development of renewable energy in a bid to cut European demand for Russian gas by two-thirds before the end of the year.

Macron said the Versailles talks aim to determine how quickly the EU can “reduce and then remove” its dependency, as the end-of-year deadline proposed by the commission seems unrealistic to many member states.

Leaders are also unlikely to follow Washington’s lead and unanimously endorse a full embargo on Russian oil and gas imports. France will not defend what it sees as a drastic measure and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has made it clear he opposes it.

Efforts to agree on a boycott are complicated because some EU countries, including Germany and Italy, are much more dependent than others on Russia. Poland gets 67% of its oil from Russia, while Ireland gets only 5%.

Rutte said it was essential that the EU “does not (move) hastily towards a complete ban on gas and oil from Russia”.

The EU has shown remarkable cohesion since the start of the war last month. He quickly passed massive sanctions targeting Putin himself, the Russian financial system and its demanding oligarchs. He also took the unprecedented step of collectively supplying arms to a country under attack.

According to draft summit conclusions obtained by The Associated Press, leaders will agree at Versailles that they “must resolutely step up (their) investments in defense capabilities and innovative technologies,” and continue efforts to make EU “a stronger and more competent security provider Union.

___

Raf Casert in Brussels and Jeff Schaeffer in Paris contributed to it.

___

Follow AP coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Comments are closed.