Macron frustrates Ukraine with ‘unacceptable’ EU plan

Ukrainians took French President Emmanuel Macron’s landmark speech on his vision for the European Union as a disappointing sign of their hopes for a fast track to membership in the bloc and expressed frustration with his predicted timeline.

Macron on Monday proposed a “new European political community” open to non-member states like Ukraine, adding that it could take “several decades” for Kyiv to fully realize its EU ambitions. He spoke before the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

EU membership is a key goal of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government as Kyiv articulates a future in which the country can be rebuilt and protected from future Russian aggression. Ukraine has been resisting a Russian invasion since February 24.

Emmanuel Macron speaks to Scholz in Berlin
French President Emmanuel Macron is pictured next to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz after talks at the Chancellery May 9, 2022 in Berlin, Germany.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Zelensky’s repeated calls for an accelerated roadmap for membership have come to nothing in several key EU capitals, despite enthusiastic pan-European public rhetoric. Although several in Central and Eastern Europe support Ukraine’s speedy entry, Kyiv does not have the unanimous support of the bloc’s 27 members.

Macron’s Monday speech came on the same day that Zelenskyy’s government completed the second part of its EU membership questionnaire, sparking frustration in Ukraine.

Oleksandr Merezhko, a member of Ukraine’s Rada parliament and current chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said news week that Macron’s proposal was “unacceptable for Ukraine”.

“Ukraine needs full membership of the EU,” Merezhko said. “We fully deserve to be a member of the EU because of our fight for European values ​​and Europe.

“One of the reasons why Russia is waging an aggressive war against Ukraine is that Ukraine wants to become a member of the EU; Ukraine had a revolution of dignity to become EU member.

“It is already in the constitution of Ukraine to become a member of the EU. And we do not want to – and will not – change our constitution just because Macron has a different vision of our future.”

Macron himself acknowledged that years of delay in Ukraine’s application for membership could demoralize Kyiv. “We are taking the risk that they will despair, that they will give up,” the president said.

“Because of this geographic proximity, they stick to the same core values, I want to reiterate that, because Ukraine is fighting for that today and taking all the risks for it… we need to build a new political form, and not just a legal form.”

Zelensky’s senior aide Mykhailo Podolyak, meanwhile, condemned what he interpreted as an attempt to replace Ukrainian membership with a “symbolic” alternative. “Thousands of Ukrainians paid with their lives for the European elections, not for the new series of thimbles,” he wrote on Twitter.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz pointed to the risk that blocking Ukraine’s accession could worry potential members who have been struggling for years to push ahead with their own EU roadmaps.

Scholz said Macron’s plan was “a very interesting proposal to address the great challenge we face,” adding that it was “absolutely necessary to find ways” to get more non-member states closer to the bloc.

“It is clear that this does not have to and will not deter us from the accession processes that we have been working on for so long,” warned Scholz and praised the “courage” of the Western Balkan applicants.

Georgia and Moldova applied for EU membership shortly after Ukraine in March, and the three new applicants join the existing list of Balkan states.

Kira Rudik, a member of Ukraine’s parliament and leader of the liberal, pro-EU Voice party, said news week that Macron risks alienating himself more than Ukraine.

“Forcing Ukraine back would send a negative signal to other countries that want to become EU members soon. It doesn’t seem wise at the moment,” Rudik said. “Our goal is full EU membership and we will push for it. However, I don’t think Macron’s proposal would find support among EU members.”

EU and Ukraine flags in the European Parliament
Flags of the European Union and Ukraine are seen at the entrance of the European Parliament during a demonstration outside the European Parliament March 1, 2022 in Brussels, Belgium.
Omar Havana/Getty Images

The EU is currently discussing its sixth round of sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

The bloc has embarked on a historic realignment with Russia, imposing unprecedented sanctions, rapidly phasing out Russian energy imports, increasing military spending and supplying arms to Ukraine’s defenders.

But the union – and particularly nations like Germany and Hungary, which have close trade ties with Russia – have been criticized for not responding more quickly with tougher measures.

The EU – a collection of different states with different priorities whose Council can only act unanimously – constantly struggles with deep divisions. “We see that there is no firm decision in the EU about Ukraine’s future accession,” said Iuliia Mendel, a former press secretary for Zelenskyy news week.

“Some countries are looking for new formats to make Ukraine an official part of European society as soon as possible. The offer to have this new format of European community may be an example of such an effort, although I’m not sure that creating this new format can happen faster than accelerating the existing path.

“What matters is that European unity does not underestimate the Russian threat, understands that Moscow’s current leadership is going beyond existing laws and rules, and stands firmly with Ukraine.”

Mendel said she sees Macron’s proposals to create new formats “at this difficult time as a step to complicate geopolitics. On the other hand, if this step is clarified with Ukraine and European partners, it can bring positive benefits to everyone.”

“It is important that this step does not ruin Ukrainians’ EU aspirations. This decision cannot be taken in exchange for EU membership. These have to be parallel processes,” she said.

Ukrainians view EU membership as an important bulwark against future aggression, whether military or economic. The bloc pledges vital reconstruction funds and helps with reforms that would strengthen the national economy.

The EU also has a common defense clause, although it is less binding than NATO’s Article 5 collective defense obligation.

“Ukraine’s EU membership is also a question of our security,” Merezhko said. “Putin would hardly have dared to attack Ukraine if she had been a member of the EU, because he understands that behind every EU member stands the support and solidarity of the whole EU, of all its member states.”

Macron’s speech to the European Parliament has renewed fears in Ukraine that the EU’s “big two”, Germany and France, are primarily interested in ending the war and the economic strains that it will bring, even if Ukrainian compromises are involved requires.

Germany and France were members of the failed Normandy format, which in 2014 sought a peaceful solution to the conflict between Kyiv and Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbass region.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly complained that the EU heavyweights are allowing Russia to dominate and disrupt proceedings, and have tried to force Kyiv into making concessions that would threaten the state’s existence.

Ukrainian troops training near Kryvyi Rih
Ukrainian infantrymen complete combat training near Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine, May 9, 2022.
John Moore/Getty Images

“I have the impression that we are dealing here with a new, more subtle version of the old policy of appeasing the aggressor,” said Mereschko.

“France has seriously let us down. First of all at the NATO summit in Bucharest [in 2008] it was against Ukraine’s membership in NATO. Second, France is one of the guarantors of our sovereignty and security under the Budapest Memorandum, but unfortunately we do not see from her the same help and support that we receive from the US and UK.

“With such statements, Macron is ruining France’s credibility,” Mereschko continued.

“The truth is that for some politicians in these countries, Ukraine is just an obstacle to their plans to get back to normal business with Russia. They would prefer Ukraine to capitulate.

“Instead of supplying us with heavy weapons, they have [France and Germany] push us towards a peace deal with Russia on Putin’s terms.

“It is totally unfair that Ukraine – as a country fighting for Europe – is not an EU member while some other countries – which are undermining European and transatlantic solidarity – are EU members.”

Macron walks a fine line between dialogue with Moscow and support for Ukraine. While France backs sanctions and sends arms east, the president has also kept open a line of communication with President Vladimir Putin, though their well-publicized calls appear to have done nothing significant.

The president has not visited Kyiv since the Russian invasion began in late February, making him, along with Scholz, one of the few major European leaders not to make the trip. In April, Macron said he would only visit when he thought it was worthwhile.

Macron secured a second term last month, defeating far-right populist challenger Marine Le Pen and making much of her ties to Russia and her previous refusal to condemn Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

He presented himself as a seasoned European statesman and a key figure in the collective EU and NATO response to the Russian invasion. His decisive election victory, some observers argued, put him in pole position to lead a reinvigorated European response to reinvigorated Russian imperialism.

But early signs were disappointing for some Ukrainians. “I’m very disappointed in Macron,” said Merezhko. “I was hoping that he would change after the elections. But he stayed the same.”

news week has contacted Macron’s office to solicit comment. Macron frustrates Ukraine with ‘unacceptable’ EU plan

Rick Schindler

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