Emmanuel Macron says ‘we must be vigilant’ despite eastern member states wanting to show Ukraine ‘path is open to them’
EU leaders pose for a photo at the summit at the Palace of Versailles, outside Paris, to acknowledge the ‘tectonic shift in European history’. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty
The Guardian- Daniel Boffey in Versailles
Emmanuel Macron has led western European leaders in rebuffing appeals from Volodymyr Zelenskiy for fast-track EU membership for Ukraine despite the backing of eastern member states.
At a summit in Versailles, the 27 EU countries acknowledged as one the “tectonic shift in European history” caused by Russia’s invasion of its neighbour and vowed to bolster their military might and “strengthen our bonds and deepen our partnership” with Kyiv.
But calls from Ukraine’s president, supported by Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, for a special membership process failed to convince France, Germany, Spain or the Netherlands.
France’s president said he wanted to “send a strong signal in this period to Ukraine and to the Ukrainians” of solidarity but “at the same time, we must be vigilant”, adding that he did not believe it possible to “open an accession procedure with a country at war”.
“Should we close the door and say never, it would be unfair,” he said.
Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, told reporters there was no prospect of the EU membership for Ukraine in the short term. He said: “All countries in the western part of Europe that I speak to say that you shouldn’t try to have a fast-track procedure or accelerated accession process …
“What’s important is that Ukraine has asked to be member of the EU … There is no fast-track procedure to become a member of the EU.”
Western European governments opposed to rushing to EU candidacy status are concerned by the widespread corruption in Ukraine, the lack of stability in its institutions, and its parlous economic state. The experience in being unable to act in relation to the democratic deficit in Hungary and Poland has put off a number of capitals from any enlargement before big reforms of the bloc’s decision-making mechanisms.
Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, suggested that the EU was not ready for enlargement as its decision-making was still rooted in unanimity.
There was no immediate response from Kyiv. The EU member states have asked the European Commission to give an assessment of Ukraine’s membership application, which could take up to 18 months to complete.
The Latvian prime minister, Krisjanis Karins, whose country shares a border with Russia, said Ukraine should join the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey in being granted candidate status, although that would be the start of a “long road” to membership.
“It is important to show a clear, open door for EU membership for Ukraine, that the path is open for them to take,” he said.
The leaders were meeting in France just hours after talks between Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Turkey ended in stalemate.
Macron, who has staged a number of lengthy calls with Putin before and after Russia’s president launched his invasion, told reporters he would continue to talk with Moscow but that he was not hopeful of a breakthrough.
He said: “I do not see a diplomatic solution in the next few hours or the next few days, but we will speak again with President Putin in the next few days, try to see if things move on either side, and so we will continue to remain engaged with a lot of strength …
“I have to confess that the conditions that he puts on the table aren’t acceptable to anybody, to be honest.
“The questions is whether Mr Putin is ready to engage himself and we will work genuinely collectively … When I look at the facts, the facts are the following: Russia decided to launch war; Russia has bombed Ukraine; Russia is bombing civilians; and in parallel you have negotiations, but the negotiations are not ready to be completed.”
He described the Russian airstrike on a Mariupol maternity hospital as a “a shameful and amoral act of war”.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said Putin was engaged in a “crazy war” and was “indiscriminately” shelling civilians and “bombing and destroying a country” as it had done in Syria.
The EU’s leaders discussed a variety of ways in which economic and political ties could be strengthened with Ukraine, ranging from a seat for the Ukrainian leadership at some EU meetings to membership of the Erasmus student exchange programme.
They also focused on how to reduce the bloc’s dependency on Russian gas and oil. In 2021, the EU imported 155bn cubic metres of natural gas from Russia, accounting for about 45% of its gas imports and close to 40% of the bloc’s total gas consumption.
The EU has already imposed unprecedented punitive measures on key parts of the Russian economy and hundreds of politicians, officials and oligarchs.
According to a draft summit communique seen by the Guardian, the leaders are expected to warn Moscow that they “are ready to move quickly with further sanctions if needed”.
In Moscow, Putin warned that their sanctions against Russia would rebound by raising the price of food and energy. He said: “These sanctions would have been imposed in any case. There are some questions, problems and difficulties, but in the past we have overcome them and we will overcome them now.
“In the end, this will all lead to an increase in our independence, self-sufficiency and our sovereignty.”