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Geopolitics

Why Macron's New EU Membership Scheme Is All About Appeasing Putin

French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed a new European Political Community, with support from Germany's Olaf Scholz, that would include Ukraine in a second-tier union. No, this is not about European "core values" — it's just the latest attempt by the EU's two biggest players to be sure not to upset Vladimir Putin.

Photo of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron stand in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on May 9

Macron and Scholz in Berlin on May 9

Daria Badior and Ksenia Bilash

-OpEd-

KYIV — French President Emmanuel Macron said that Ukraine's accession to the European Union will take years, if not decades. He also proposed the creation of a new union on the continent — the European Political Community, which may include countries that must wait to join the EU, or which have left (like the UK).

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At the same time, according to Macron's plan, joining the new union will mean other states cannot gain membership to the European Union.


German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the "biggest supporter" of Ukraine's European integration in Europe, has already signaled his approval of this initiative. It is clear why: this new union is not about an accelerated procedure for Ukraine's accession to the EU, nor is it about helping rebuild Ukraine.

This is a cop out for countries unwelcome in the European Union. Its two most powerful states have only one purpose in mind — not to irritate Putin.

No hope for Ukraine of full membership

The ban of Ukrainian state symbols and flags by the Berlin authorities on May 8-9, along with Macron's current statement about the need to create a new political union, confirmed the ongoing policy of appeasement of Putin. Berlin and Paris have been doing it since 2008, if not earlier.

Macron proposes a new union in Europe, which gives no hope of full membership.

The leaders of Germany and France — one to a greater extent, the other to a lesser — do not want to irritate the aggressor. Thus, they make statements or take actions directly harming Ukraine and encouraging Russia to commit even more cruelty.

Let me remind you that in Versailles, when EU leaders gathered to decide the future of Ukraine's European integration and determine whether the procedure for joining the union can be started, Macron was among those who initially opposed accepting the country at war into the European Union. Eventually, according to Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda, the summit said a clear “yes” to Ukraine's future in Europe.

Kyiv has already submitted two parts of the EU questionnaire to the European Commission. Recent poll results have shown that most Europeans support Ukraine's EU membership. We have come close to obtaining the status of a candidate country, which may mark the beginning of our rapid path to the EU. And then suddenly, Macron proposes a new union in Europe, which gives no hope of full membership.

The French president's two points

Macron made two important statements.

The first one is: “Even if we were to grant Ukraine candidate country status tomorrow – I hope we are moving fast to achieve this goal – we all know very well that the accession process will take several years indeed, if not decades.”

The second one is: “We need to create what I would call 'the European Political Community'. This new organization of Europe would let democratic European countries that adhere to our core principles have new opportunities for cooperation — political, security, energy and transport, investment, infrastructure, border crossing. Joining it would not necessarily mean joining the EU in the future. Similarly, it would be open to those who have left the EU.”
Photo of \u200bUkrainian refugees in an evacuation bus from Kramatorsk to Dnipro on May 9

Ukrainian refugees in an evacuation bus from Kramatorsk to Dnipro on May 9

Andriy Andriyenko/SOPA/ZUMA

A complete change for Kyiv

There are several important nuances that completely invalidate this approach.

First, there are no set deadlines for how long a country must wait for accession. No need to cite Croatia or Poland as an example, which, after receiving the status of a candidate, took 10 years for full membership of the European Union. No need to talk about Turkey, which has been discussing membership since 1987. There are Austria, Sweden and Finland, which only took two years to do so. This is not about comparing Ukraine with developed Sweden, but about the fact that there are no clear deadlines.

Ukrainian society is now ready for a complete change of the post-Soviet system.

Second, there are still criteria that a state must meet in order to join the European Union. It is not enough to create a certain number of anti-corruption bodies and start judicial reform. The country should have a really good investment climate, a transparent judiciary, customs reformed according to European standards, effective anti-monopoly regulation etc. Without this, joining the EU single market is impossible.

At the same time, Ukraine is currently at war. It will need to rebuild a lot from scratch, including revising the structure of the economy. Moreover, Ukrainian society is now ready for a complete change of the post-Soviet system, which has hindered European progress for years. Kyiv will be able to adopt rapid reforms. We have no other option.

Accelerating EU application

Third, the EU countries themselves, including France, can join the process of rebuilding Ukraine. Not just to verbally declare something about the reconstruction of certain Ukrainian regions, but to give written guarantees or assurances. In this way, Ukraine will soon be able to meet the infrastructure and transport standards of the European Union.

Fourth, the EU itself is in a position to reconsider its policy. By the way, the EU leadership is already discussing it. In particular, the introduction of an accelerated accession procedure and the abolition of the consensus rule which obliges any important decision to be taken unanimously. And one should not think that this is unrealistic.

The German and French elites are out of touch with reality.

France, by the way, can declare that it supports the accelerated procedure for Ukraine's accession to the EU. It is strange not to hear this from French colleagues, because even Hungary, which is definitely not our best friend, has stated that it supports an accelerated procedure for obtaining membership.

Fifth, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. If you want to create better conditions for Ukrainians to move and cross the border, open the opportunity for our country to join the Schengen area. If you want domestic products to be better standardized, speed up the procedures and help with obtaining an “industrial visa-free” regime.

If you want to form a solid continental security system and create a common European army, help Ukraine in that respect. Provide it with modern weapons and open up the opportunity for us to participate in new EU security programs. This list is almost endless.

It would be another matter if Macron had offered real help, not a political cop out. It would be another matter entirely if Ukraine could become a participant in the EU's economic and security initiatives to speed up accession.

Scholz and, unfortunately, Macron seek to appease Putin. But the German and French elites are out of touch with reality.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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