Dutch tight fist chokes Ukraine’s EU bid – POLITICO

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VERSAILLES, France – The Netherlands once again led the charge against savers at a major summit of the Council of Europe, but this time it is not the collective debt the Dutch are preventing but the spirit of generosity. towards Ukraine’s attempt to join the EU.

As EU heads of state and governments gather in Versailles to discuss Russia’s war in Ukraine, Kyiv’s hasty accession application will be near the top of the agenda.

With his country facing invasion and bombardment, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy late last month applied for immediate accession under “a new special procedure”.

“Our goal is to be with all the Europeans,” he said, adding: “I’m sure we can.”

But Dutch diplomats, under the direction of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, have raised obstacles in granting Ukraine status as a candidate country, or even making references in the statement. leaders to Article 49 of the EU treaties, leading to the accession process. , according to diplomats and officials from the Netherlands, Ukraine and other EU countries.

Arriving at the summit in Versailles, Rutte said it was too early to discuss Ukraine’s application but there was consensus in Western Europe against any particular acceleration of the normal process.

“This is a year-long procedure; we have to look at what we can do in the short term,” Rutte said, adding: “All the countries in the western part of Europe that I talk to, say you shouldn’t try to have a trip. express train, a – tracking procedure or accelerated accession process. But the question of whether you are for or against Ukraine’s membership is not the point at this point.”

The Dutch diplomats did not deny their country’s position but confirmed that Germany and other countries share their position as well as that of the Netherlands that any reference to Article 49 and main membership Ukraine’s attitude will further anger Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, Putin has shown that he alone decides when he feels provoked – lashed out on the basis of a web of conspiracy theories he has swirled for years, separate from reality. economics of the West and its role in Ukraine.

The Hague’s stance has caused a particularly painful sting, as 196 Dutch citizens were killed when Russian-backed separatists shot down a civilian passenger jet, Flight 17 of Malaysia Airlines, in eastern Ukraine in July 2014.

It also follows a non-binding referendum in 2016, in which Dutch voters opposed a political association agreement between Ukraine and the EU. The campaign against that association agreement was led by far-right politician Thierry Baudet, who was later found to have financial ties to Russia.

Since the invasion, Baudet has continued to support Putin, one of the few European political figures to do so. “Putin is right,” Baudet wrote on Twitter last week. “Western IS behaving like a bandit.” He said that NATO, EU and US should stop escalating the war with Russia and “accept neutrality” towards Ukraine.

The Dutch parliament finally approved the association agreement in May 2017, as well as the trade deal with Ukraine. Since then, Kyiv has made steady, if sometimes slow, progress on reforms demanded by Brussels, including anti-corruption initiatives and an overhaul of the country’s banking and energy systems. .

On March 1, as the bombs dropped and the full-scale invasion of Russia was underway, the Ukrainian Ministry of Finance made a coupon payment of $ 292 million on Eurobond with an interest rate of 7.75 % and due date in September 2022. A senior European Union official pointed to POLITICO this payment as proof of Ukraine’s commitment to meeting its obligations.

On Thursday, as EU leaders began arriving at Versailles, Ukrainian officials were reeling from the latest failed ceasefire talks in Turkey, and they reacted with fury over Hanoi’s views. Lan on EU membership.

A senior Ukrainian diplomat said: “So the Dutch almost killed the association agreement because of their ‘tolerance’ towards the Russians, now ready to punish Ukraine – who is at war with Russia -, killing hope”.

Ukrainians often correctly point out that during their Maidan Revolution of 2013-2014, in which tens of thousands of people protested for months in favor of political and trade deals with the EU, they became the only people ever to die under the blue of the EU. and yellow flags. And Putin has repeatedly stated that his invasion is largely based on Ukraine’s western trajectory, particularly his desire to join NATO.

“The message is simple: The main players in the EU need to wake up,” said the senior Ukrainian diplomat. “They’ve groomed the monster and now they should take responsibility for stopping the war and bringing Ukraine in.”

A Brussels-based diplomat familiar with The Hague’s position said that Rutte, holding on to her pragmatic instincts, was more interested in helping Zelenskyy immediately than EU membership, which would help. useful in the distant future.

Immediate support means military support, money and aid to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the country. “People are emotionally focused on an issue that will take 20 years,” the diplomat said. “And it won’t help Zelenskyy today.”

Currently, the draft leaders’ statement notes that Ukraine’s application is under review and awaiting comments from the European Commission. “Pending this and without delay, we will further strengthen our relationship and deepen our partnership,” the draft statement said. “Ukraine belongs to our European family.”

Poland and Estonia have led the campaign in favor of a quick grant of EU membership to Ukraine. And European Council President Charles Michel proposed a text of compromise with reference to Article 49, but the Netherlands insisted that it also referenced a host of other treaty provisions related to the membership process. .

Officials have noted that new member states must comply with the EU’s legal “repurchase” rule, which runs to some 88,000 pages.

The day before Zelenskyy pleaded for immediate membership, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen raised Kyiv’s hopes by saying in a television interview: “They are one of them. me and we want them to participate,” she told Euronews TV channel.

EU ambassadors on Monday formally forwarded Ukraine’s membership application to the Commission for their opinion, fast-tracking a process that often takes months.

Diplomats said that although there is technically no existing process for immediate admission, in the EU anything is possible if the 27 heads of state and government express their support. households agree.

One EU diplomat in favor of joining Ukraine said: “It is true that fast does not exist in our regulations. “However, if there is political will, anything is possible.”

Jacopo Barigazzi contributed reporting.

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