Ukraine still ‘very far’ from EU membership – Macron

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The French president said that he will defend existing members’ interests during talks with Kiev

The EU will need to substantially reform its rules before Ukraine can join, French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters on Friday. Macron backs Kiev’s accession to the bloc, but warned that Ukraine must not be allowed to undercut EU industry.

The European Council agreed on Thursday to open accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban – who opposes Ukraine’s membership – abstained from voting on the decision. Council President Charles Michel hailed the decision as “a very powerful political signal,” but Orban and other skeptics like Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico have argued that the move has little practical significance.

Macron echoed their statements on Friday, telling reporters that Ukraine is still “very far from” joining the bloc.

During a press conference, Macron was asked whether the admission of Ukraine would threaten the livelihoods of French farmers, who would be massively undercut by cheaper produce from their Ukrainian counterparts.

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Viktor Orban talks to the media after arriving at the European headquarters for the EU-Western Balkans summit in Brussels, Belgium, December 14, 2023 Hungary can still block EU membership for Ukraine – Orban

"We are very far from effective enlargement to Ukraine and, in any case, enlargement, whatever it may be, will require an in-depth reform of our rules,” he said.

Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia have already banned Ukrainian grain imports, defying an EU policy put in place after the conflict broke out in order to give Ukrainian farmers a market for their produce. Additionally, Ukraine’s accession to the EU would see farm subsidies to existing members slashed by 20%, further boosting Kiev’s competitive advantage, the Financial Times reported in October, citing EU documents. 

“I am committed to the sovereignty of Europe in terms of agriculture,” Macron continued. “We will continue to protect it [and] maintain our production capacity," he added.

Aside from a looming showdown over subsidies, EU officials privately fear that the prevalence of corruption in Ukraine could derail Kiev’s membership bid, Politico reported in September. Since then, Orban and Fico have publicly stated that Ukraine’s endemic corruption makes the country ineligible for membership, as does its involvement in an active conflict.

READ MORE: Only 35% of EU citizens want further expansion – poll

Even European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – a vocal supporter of Kiev who declared in September that Ukraine’s future lies “in our union" – cautioned last week that the council would only be voting on “the opening of accession negotiations, not accession itself.” The latter, she added, is likely to “take time no matter what.”

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