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Germany's Scholz pledges to support Ukraine "for as long as it takes"

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By Reuters
Germany's Scholz backs EU enlargement to include Ukraine, others
Germany's Scholz backs EU enlargement to include Ukraine, others   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2022

By Sabine Siebold and Jason Hovet

PRAGUE -Germany will keep up its support for Kyiv “for as long as it takes”, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Monday, calling for an enlargement of the European Union to eventually include Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

Faced with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Scholz urged the EU’s 27 members to “close ranks, resolve old conflicts and find new solutions”, setting out his vision for the future of Europe in a speech at the Charles University in Prague.

“Our Europe is united in peace and freedom and is open to all European nations who share our values,” he said.

Germany had undergone a “fundamental change of heart” in recent months on its military support for Ukraine, he said.

“We will keep up this support, reliably and, above all, for as long as it takes,” he told the packed university audience.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen echoed the “as long as it takes” promise to Kyiv in a speech in Slovenia, calling for “a new strategic thinking” to uphold European values.

The COVID-19 pandemic and now the war in Ukraine have prompted concern among leaders about Europe’s vulnerability to economic shocks, its struggle to wield political clout and the risk of losing credibility with its neighbours.

Scholz announced a paradigm shift in German foreign and defence policy in February, pledging to ramp up military spending, but his junior coalition partners have grown vexed that Berlin has been too slow to send Ukraine heavy weapons.

Scholz used his Prague speech, entitled “Europe is our future”, to promise that Germany would send Ukraine state-of-the-art weapons, such as air defence and radar systems and reconnaissance drones, in the coming weeks and months.

Germany could also could assume responsibility for building up Ukraine’s artillery and air defence capacities, he said.

Pressing the case for EU enlargement, he said a gradual transition to majority voting was a stepping stone to growing the bloc.

He underlined Germany’s commitment to EU enlargement and said the countries of the Western Balkans, Ukraine, Moldova and eventually also Georgia should join the bloc.

ACCESSIONACCELERATION?

Calls are growing for the accession process for EU candidate countries in the western Balkans to be sped up to keep them from running out of patience and coming under the influence of Russia and China.

Von der Leyen, speaking at a strategic forum in the Slovenian resort town of Bled, said the progress of western Balkans’ countries towards membership has been slowed “by international actors, including Russia, who seek to undermine democratic institution-building and the rule of law”.

Critics say the long wait for these countries is as much due to reticence among many of the existing 27 member states to expand further.

Scholz acknowledged that an expanded EU would bring greater differences between member states, and suggested a reform of its voting practices.

“Where unanimity is required today, the risk of an individual country using its veto and preventing all the others from forging ahead increases with each additional member state,” Scholz added.

“I have therefore proposed a gradual transition to majority voting in common foreign policy, but also in other areas, such as tax policy – knowing full well that this would also have repercussions for Germany,” he said.

Scholz’s call for key issues within the EU to be agreed with a qualified majority rather than by unanimity, while not new, is a further signal of concern that many of the bloc’s initiatives to tackle crises – such as the pandemic and the Ukraine war – are vetoed by individual member states or watered down.

A requirement for unanimity would be even more likely to frustrate EU ambitions in a union of more than 30, but smaller states and, in particular, Hungary and Poland are not likely to relinquish their power of veto any time soon.

French President Emmanuel Macron said separately in Paris on Monday that there would be a first discussion in coming weeks of an idea he has floated to create a European Political Community, a club that would bring together EU candidate countries and those outside the bloc – even recent leaver Britain – to foster regional solidarity and safeguard European values.