After British Prime Minister Johnson, Prime Minister Rutte was today the second foreign head of government to address the Ukrainian parliament since the war. The speech ended with a standing ovation. But Nieuwuur speaks a disappointed Ukrainian MP. Because although the Prime Minister expressed his support broadly, he was talking about possible EU membership on the plain.
“It is important that we take every opportunity to advance the cooperation between Ukraine and the EU,” Rutte said in his speech. “We need to work towards recovery and reconstruction in such a way that it brings Ukraine closer to the EU.” This was followed by lukewarm applause, and Ukrainian MP Yevhenya Kravchuk understands that – she reacts badly disappointed.
“I expected more, a clear signal is needed about joining the EU,” says Kravchuk. “That is important for the Ukrainian people. It is crucial for our country to become a full member of the EU. We are currently defending European values, we have written our request with our own blood. If those values mean anything to the Dutch, we hope for your support.”
Look below for a summary of the speech, the whole speech can be viewed back here:
Rutte did promise to continue to support Ukraine militarily. Until now, the Netherlands sent anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, but also armoured howitzers will follow soon. But there was no commitment from Rutte about an accelerated membership. “Whether that is painful, I don‘t know,” says Wouter Zweers, Europe expert at the Clingendael Institute. “It was to be expected. Rutte said when Ukraine applied in March that he believes it is more important to focus on military and humanitarian support.”
In the House of Representatives, the reactions are variable, also within the coalition, which CDA and VVD are against. “We are now also seeing with Poland and Hungary that the rule of law is something you should support,” says CDA MP Agnes Mulder. “If that’s going to wring, you‘ll have a hard time in the EU. We have to deal with that carefully.”
D66 and PvdA do believe that Ukraine should be granted candidate membership status – even though it may still take decades before the country can truly become a member. For example, Serbia has been a candidate for ten years and Turkey received this status even in 1999. “It is a symbolic step,” says PvdA MP Kati Piri. “If those reforms have ever been implemented, we are ready to include you in the European family.”
But for the time being, there is no commitment from the Dutch government yet. “What Rutte said: Ukraine is part of the family,” says VVD MP Ruben Brekelmans. “We need to look for ways to help Ukraine reform and take steps towards the EU. How that continues is something of the coming months.”
Last March, Ukrainian President Zelensky sent an official application for EU membership to Brussels. In June, Member States have to take a blow to that. French President Macron came up with a sort of compromise last week: a new European ‘political community‘, to which not only Ukraine but also countries such as Georgia and Moldova could join. Macron said right away that a country does not automatically get EU membership.
“The Netherlands and France are both countries that are not keen on allowing new member states quickly,” says Zweers. “This has to do with the fact that in recent years we have seen democracy, the rule of law and media freedom deteriorate in a number of European Member States. That really has a negative effect on the functioning of the European Union.”
These are considerations that Member of Parliament Kravchuk can do little with. “Macron’s plan is a big disappointment. We need to become a full member. It is now or never, or Putin will never stop. Your cities are not being bombed, but mine will. It‘s my daughter who can’t go to school.”