Netherlands seeks ‘rigorous’ EU approach to Ukraine bid
The Dutch have urged the European Commission to take a “rigorous” approach to deciding whether Ukraine deserves to be put on the enlargement train.
The Commission is due to unveil its recommendation on Ukraine on Friday 17 June.
The Dutch non-paper on Ukraine’s candidacy, seen by EUobserver on Thursday but sent to the Commission earlier, states: “The Netherlands reaffirms its commitment to the enlargement process”.
But he also says “we reaffirm the need for fair and rigorous conditionality” to move Ukraine forward.
The Commission’s recommendation should be “qualitative” and should “specify” the reforms that Ukraine must carry out in the future, adds the Dutch newspaper, before listing two pages of “priorities” of reform, going into the details, such as the criminalization of anti-LGBTI hatred.
The Dutch document does not explicitly take a position on what the EU should do with Ukraine’s candidacy.
But it does highlight key questions on the table, such as: should the EU give Ukraine a future bid promise conditional on reforms, as it did with Bosnia? Or should Ukraine overtake Bosnia and be put on an equal footing with North Macedonia and Albania?
French President Emmanuel Macron, the German Chancellor, the Italian Prime Minister and the Romanian President voiced support for granting “immediate candidate status” to Ukraine during their visit to Kyiv on Thursday.
And EU leaders will discuss the issue of Ukraine and the Western Balkans at a summit next week.
They will remain “strongly committed to providing additional military support to help Ukraine exercise its inherent right of self-defence”, according to a draft statement dated June 15 and viewed by EUobserver.
They will also express their “full commitment to the prospect of unequivocal EU membership of the Western Balkans”.
Draft summit conclusions mention ‘negotiation between Bulgaria and North Macedonia’ – amid budding hopes that Sofia could drop its veto on opening EU accession talks with Skopje and Tirana .
Bulgaria insists that North Macedonia claim that its language and culture are of Bulgarian origin.
And a breakthrough in the deadlock could generate positive momentum on broader enlargement when EU leaders discuss Ukraine’s status.
But the Dutch are part of a wider group, including Denmark and Portugal, which have expressed reservations about Ukraine’s bid, EU diplomats said.
And for all Macron’s enthusiasm in Kyiv, the French are also sending mixed messages by trumpeting Macron’s idea of creating a new pan-European intergovernmental body – the European Political Community (EPC).
EPC would “not replace…enlargement”, say the draft conclusions of the summit.
But Macron’s big top idea steals the show from Ukraine.
The draft conclusions of the summit place the EPC proposal at the center of a “strategic discussion” on “wider Europe”, while turning to the Russian war five paragraphs later and mentioning the question of the status of the Ukraine on page four.
The EPC would “promote political dialogue” between the EU and “the Western Balkans, the associated countries of our Eastern Partnership [former Soviet states]and other European countries with which we have close relations,” they say.
Poland and the Baltic states also support Ukraine’s immediate EU candidacy for moral and strategic reasons.
But amid Dutch concern over reform and the French idea of the EPC halfway house, there is also the threat of a veto from Russian-leaning EU countries.
An Austrian informal note on enlargement, dated May, spoke only of a more “tangible” enlargement of the Western Balkans, without mentioning Ukraine’s candidacy (submitted in February).
“Russian aggression against Ukraine,” Austria said, “could have negative collateral effects on the stability of the Western Balkans. As a result, the conflict would shift from the borders of the EU to within it itself.”
Orban is right.
For his part, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán recently vetoed a Russian oil embargo and the EU blacklisting of a senior Russian church official.
He was reprimanded for this in a letter from Lithuanian liberal MEP Petras Austrevicius.
And if Orbán’s response to Austrevicius, dated June 15 and seen by EUobserver, reflects his mentality heading into the EU summit, then there could be some choppy water ahead of him.
Orbán did not mention Ukraine’s candidacy, but he accused Austrevicius of being “offensive”, resented his “indoctrination”, and enshrined Hungary’s European prerogative in quasi-philosophical language.
“The right of veto is conceptually incomprehensible because in the absence of [EU] unanimity, no decision can be made,” Orbán said.
“I reserve the right for Hungary to speak with a sincere voice and sober arguments against proposals that run counter to common sense,” he told the MEP.