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Scholz dashes Ukraine’s hopes for quick EU membership

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Versailles (dpa) – As the Russian war against Ukraine continues, tensions are rising between EU countries over the future of the European Union.

At a meeting of heads of state and government at the Palace of Versailles near Paris on Thursday, countries including Latvia made it clear they no longer view Germany’s refusal to stop energy imports from Russia as sustainable.

Opinions also differed on how to deal with Ukraine’s application for EU membership as quickly as possible. Here, too, Chancellor Olaf Scholz was on the side of those who put the brakes on.

Scholz refuses to stop energy imports

However, Scholz was under pressure mainly because of his refusal to stop imports of oil, gas, and coal from Russia. “I am convinced that we must make a decision to stop energy imports from Russia in order to bring (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to the negotiating table and end the war,” said Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins. The President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, stressed: “In this time of crisis, we must remember that energy is politics, and always has been.” A clear message must be sent and Russian exports must be restricted.

Both sided with countries like Poland and Lithuania, which had already spoken out in favor of such a move. This is aimed at depriving the Russian state of its main source of income to finance the war against Ukraine. According to estimates by the Bruegel think tank in Brussels, EU states currently spend around $420 million (€380 million) on Russian gas and almost $400 million (€362 million) on Russian oil. This is mainly because countries such as Germany, Austria and Hungary cover much of their energy needs with supplies from Russia.

Scholz said on Monday: “There is currently no other way to secure Europe’s energy supply for heat generation, for mobility, for power supply and for industry.” At Versailles, he said that when considering sanctions, one considers very precisely how to persuade the Russian government to end the war. At the same time, it is important to ensure that the effects in Europe are as small as possible. “We should continue to follow this course,” he said. The draft summit declaration only generally said that one was ready to act quickly with more sanctions.

Among other things, the war had also caused a rapid increase in energy prices in the EU. The president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has now announced that she will propose a temporary limit. She is mandated to present options for emergency measures, including temporary price caps, by the end of March, the policy said at the summit. The aim is therefore to limit the “contagion effects” between gas prices and electricity prices.

Debates on EU accession

Tensions were also evident at the summit over the question of how to deal with Ukraine’s desire for rapid EU membership. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte gave a clear rejection of the request. “There is no such thing as accelerated accession,” he said. His Luxembourgish counterpart, Xavier Bettel, said he was not a fan of rules, but there were conditions for joining the EU. Chancellor Scholz made a similar statement. “It’s very important that we continue to pursue the things that we’ve decided on in the past,” he said.

The draft summit declaration stated that Ukraine belongs to the European family. However, no concrete commitments were made with regard to rapid accession to the EU. Countries like Estonia and Lithuania urged it. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” that, in her eyes, there was a moral obligation “to make the European dream of these people possible.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently applied for EU membership in the face of the Russian war. However, joining the EU is a long and complicated process. But Ukraine expects speed. “We don’t want a free pass. But we want this to happen in an urgent procedure, in a few years,” Ukraine’s ambassador to Berlin, Andriy Melnyk, told the German Press Agency.

Effects on the EU economy

Another hot topic at the two-day summit was how to deal with the effects of the war on the EU’s economic development. France has floated the idea of ​​adopting a debt-financed support program, as it did during the Corona crisis. Therefore, this could help cushion the consequences of the current increase in energy prices, but also promote investments in defense projects. Countries such as Germany and the Netherlands do not consider this necessary at the moment and point out that the Corona aid package of 800 billion euros must first be exhausted.

The Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, for his part, was open to the French proposal. “Italy and France are completely aligned on this front as well,” Draghi said.


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