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Ukraine’s Kuleba pitches his country as ‘asset’ for the EU

8 months ago 33

Ukraine will be “an asset and not a burden” once it becomes a full member of the European Union, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Euractiv ahead of an expected positive European Commission recommendation to open accession talks with Kyiv.

“Ukraine is not a burden, Ukraine is an asset. If we were a burden, no one would be seriously talking about the membership of Ukraine in the EU – don’t forget that we are a nation of 44 million, we are a very big market,” Kuleba, a career diplomat who was instrumental in reviving Ukraine’s EU bid, said in a marked shift of tone.

“And economically, the source of prosperity for the EU as it stands is the common market. With the accession of Ukraine, the common market will expand exponentially and it will bring benefits.”

He said Ukrainians had been frustrated for years “by the inability of the EU to promise the prospect of membership to Ukraine. For years, the people of the Western Balkans too have been frustrated by the inability of the EU to deliver on the promise of membership to them”.

“It would be an irresponsible act for the EU to miss this historic opportunity to make a step towards enlargement, not only with Ukraine, but with all other countries involved,” he added.

When Ukraine launched its bid to become part of the EU in the weeks after Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, few in Brussels expected the dwindling enlargement process to make the leap it has made since then.

After the European Commission delivers its verdict on whether Kyiv has made good on initial reforms, it will be for EU leaders to decide in December whether to start talks. But even EU diplomats from member states strongly backing Kyiv admit the debate will be rough.

They also expect a tough battle over a proposed EU budget revision, which includes the €50 billion in new aid for Kyiv, especially with Hungary and Slovakia having sent signals they have reservations.

Kuleba said one can “always expect an obstacle but we are pretty skilled in overcoming any kind of obstacles” and stressed he would be “encouraged to see that current leaders understand that and they want to grasp this opportunity”.

“It is in the best interest of both Hungary and Slovakia to have Ukraine as a member,” Kuleba said

“But it is also true that on the way on the path towards membership in the European Union, different members will try to get as much as they can in the course of the accession process because these are diplomatic negotiations,” he added.

EU reform debate

But there is a clear understanding that if Ukraine does get the nod, it will still only be at the start of a painstaking reform and accession process that could last for years.

EU member states have argued the bloc must reform itself first, before thinking about taking in more members, raising fears that this could be used to delay any progress in bringing Ukraine and others closer.

“Now that Ukraine made the EU come out of its enlargement coma, it is in the best interest of the EU to avoid another type of frustration, which is protracted reform. Reform is not a reason to delay enlargement,” Kuleba said.

“Ukraine and other candidate countries introduced a lot of reforms following the EU recommendations. We know how difficult that is, but it will be far more difficult for the EU to reform itself – and we all understand that,” Kuleba said.

An internal note, seen by Euractiv earlier this year, highlighted that enlargement could have a tangible impact on the two biggest areas of the EU budget – the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and cohesion policy.

Kuleba dismissed those concerns but admitted it was quite likely that talks on agriculture – an area where Ukraine is a European powerhouse – would be difficult.

“But if both, Ukraine and the EU, are guided by the vision of common prosperity and security, then we will find answers to the questions and we will strike the right balance.”

Throughout the interview, Kuleba switched to the ‘we’, a strong signal that Ukraine sees itself as part of the bloc. When the conversation switched to EU military aid to Ukraine, this became particularly evident.

EU must ramp up defence industry

Under plans made earlier this year, the EU pledged to provide one million artillery ammunition rounds to Ukraine over a 12-month period, first by dipping into existing stocks and then through joint procurement contracts and increasing industrial capacity.

However, Brussels is falling behind on its pledge, raising the risk of Russian forces gaining the upper hand due to a massive supply of ammunition from North Korea to Moscow.

“We should ask ourselves the question – and I’m speaking here not as Ukrainian foreign minister but as European – how are we going to win in the world when those who stand against us are simply more efficient in military matters?” Kuleba said.

“I do not judge or question the EU’s commitment and political will to help, we’re deeply grateful for this will,” he said. “But something is wrong in the way the European defence industry functions.”

The EU needs “a strong market of defence industries as one of the key pillars of the common security and defence policy”.

“The only way to ramp up production is to create a market that will function seamlessly and Ukraine and other candidate countries should be already considered as an integral part of the market,” Kuleba said.

“Because unfortunately, security demands or defence-related demands in Europe will only be growing because of the volatile world we’re living in.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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