Europe Minister urges EU to send positive signal over Ukraine’s membership bid

European affairs – French presidency of the Council of the European Union/Ukraine/Russia – Excerpts from the interview given by M. Clément Beaune, Minister Delegate for Europe, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to France Inter

Paris, 14 June 2022

(…)

Q. – Turning now to Europe, and Ukraine. There are also changes of stance.

THE MINISTER – I think many things can be said. Just a word on this, on Europe’s commitment in terms of its sovereignty, defence and autonomy: President Macron – I’ve been at his side for years – has never deviated an inch on this, when it was difficult and not very fashionable to be pro-European.

Q. – A word, precisely, about Europe, two weeks away from the end of France’s EU presidency: what lasting measure, reform will there be? Give our listeners one example.

THE MINISTER – Well, I’d mention the minimum wage in Europe, for example.

Q. – That isn’t the European presidency.

THE MINISTER – The French EU presidency…

Q. – It’s the French presidency of the European Union, but it had already been initiated beforehand.

THE MINISTER – As you know, European negotiations take a long time, several months, but France supported it [the measure] before its presidency, and France brought it to fruition during its presidency. I’m using examples, because sometimes people don’t know exactly what Europe does. This is very tangible. All European countries will be obliged to have a minimum wage. Ours obviously isn’t going to go down, but countries without one will have one – this avoids so-called social dumping, unfair competition.

Internal-combustion vehicles are going to be banned at European level in 2035 – that’s a huge industrial and social challenge. We’re the first continent to do so. Here too, it’s a decisive step, it’s exciting, and it’s being done by Europe. And I think the war in Ukraine has obviously stood out during this French presidency; we’ve had to face up to the crisis, but we’ve done unprecedented things on gender equality, ecology and social affairs which were probably unhoped-for only a few months ago. (…)

Q. – The Ukrainians, but also many Eastern Europeans and Europeans generally, were shocked by what President Macron said when he called for Russia not to be humiliated. Even Hillary Clinton, interviewed on France Culture at the weekend, thought that saying Putin’s Russia mustn’t be humiliated was an outdated view. Are you standing by what was said this morning? Are you telling us clearly: Putin’s Russia mustn’t be humiliated?

THE MINISTER – I want to explain two things, because that phrase has been quoted a lot. First of all, President Macron – this really makes a genuine difference – didn’t say: we mustn’t humiliate Vladimir Putin: he said very clearly from the outset, while many other people were being indulgent and complicit, that there was an aggressor, namely Vladimir Putin’s Russia; that’s very clear. Our support for Ukraine has been total, complete, at humanitarian and military level under our European Union presidency, so I don’t want there to be any ambiguity about this…

Q. – What’s the point of saying: we mustn’t humiliate Russia?

THE MINISTER – President Macron said what he said to the European Parliament in particular, saying we must think about what comes next, Ukraine’s accession to the European Union, we must build the period which comes afterwards, and at a given point, together with Russian society, the Russian people, we’ll have to find paths to coexistence, reconciliation; when that day comes, our mindset mustn’t be one of revenge and humiliation…

Q. – True, but today it’s Russian bombs that are falling on the Donbas…

THE MINISTER – Of course, but I want to be very clear about this…

Q. – And today we’re saying we mustn’t humiliate the Russians?

THE MINISTER – But there again, it didn’t mean Mr Putin and it didn’t mean now, it meant when we build the period which comes afterwards and reconciliation. Today there’s no ambiguity: there’s an aggressor, which is Russia, there’s an enemy of Ukraine, which is Russia; we want Ukraine’s victory and we’re doing everything to ensure it.

So there you are, we have to be very simple and very clear about it. And while some people, both on the far left and the far right, were telling us it was all rubbish, that there was no Russian threat, we’ve always said it, we’ve maintained dialogue even so, but without being naïve; and during this war, sanctions packages and arms deliveries to Ukraine – all that has been organized, including by France, which I think, through President Macron, has been the country most in contact with President Zelenskyy in particular.

Q. – (…) A word about Ursula von der Leyen, who has promised to provide a response next week to Ukraine’s EU membership bid: the eastern countries are broadly in favour of a fast-track procedure; as for France and Germany, they seem more reluctant; what exactly is the situation?

THE MINISTER – Yes, there are two different things, without being too technical: the European Commission is going to give us an opinion as to whether we should recognize Ukraine as a candidate for European Union membership, and we’ll decide, the heads of State and government will decide at the end of June. I think we must give Ukraine this signal, be open to this bid, and then launch an accession process, to be perfectly honest, otherwise we create disappointments tomorrow; it takes time, because first of all it’s a country at war, so the urgent thing is to stop the war, then rebuild Ukraine, and then have it join our club under good conditions, both for the European Union and for Ukraine.

So yes, we must send a positive signal, I think, as quickly as possible; we must then embark on a long process. And what we’ve said is that in the meantime we mustn’t let Ukraine down – that would be a mistake; so we can have a debate, but there should be an intermediate political project, what we’ve called the European political community, so Ukraine can quickly join the European family, without being a full EU member in the short term, because that takes time. (…)./.

Published on 15/06/2022

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