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MEP Viola von Cramon: Wobbliness of some EU heads of states makes Putin stronger

MEP Viola von Cramon: Wobbliness of some EU heads of states makes Putin stronger Viola von Cramon-Taubadel (Vitalii Nosach / RBC-Ukraine)

MEP Viola von Cramon-Taubadel talks about when to start negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the European Union, European military assistance, the mood of political elites and EU citizens, and Ukraine's victory in the war in an interview with RBC-Ukraine.

MEP Viola von Cramon-Taubadel is a German politician and member of the Green Party. She is well versed in Ukrainian issues, having worked in the German government's advisory project on Ukraine's economic policy back in 1996. She is currently a member of the European Parliament's delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee and is, in fact, the spokesperson of her group in the European Parliament on the topic of Ukraine.

RBC-Ukraine spoke to von Cramon-Taubadel during the visit of a group of MEPs to Kyiv. As early as June, voters across the EU will elect its new composition, and the election campaign is likely to postpone the start of official negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU. In addition, various far-right and Euroskeptic parties, which often have a lukewarm attitude toward Ukraine or even take a pro-Russian stance, are expected to significantly strengthen their positions in the new European Parliament.

Nevertheless, even after the next elections, a clear majority of MEPs will remain on Ukraine's side. According to von Cramon-Taubadel, the key problem for Ukraine is the indecisive position of some leaders of EU member states, in particular German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

When may the formal negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU start? May it happen before the June elections to the European Parliament? And how may the likely success of different far-right eurosceptic parties reflect on the prospects of our integration in the future?

Regarding your first question, I would say we are very much pushing for this because Ukraine clearly has fulfilled all the criteria. And it's in our interest to finish as much as we can before the European elections. We clearly see that the upcoming Hungarian presidency might not be in favor of pushing for this. So what we need to achieve is either before the European election, which would be ideal, or before the 1st of July. So something which gives here the government and the interlocutors, but especially citizens, the right signal that we mean business, that we take this accession talks seriously, and this is not just an empty promise. And I think now it's up to us, it's up to the European Council to deliver.

Regarding your second question, I would say it is very likely that the far right, so-called anti-democratic parties, new parties, and single-issue parties will be on the rise. I mean you can see this cross-nation wide, that there is a fatigue in many countries, the democratic parties come more and more under pressure because we cannot offer simple solutions.

When you look at Ukraine, I mean, one simple solution is to deliver more weapons, but that's not all. We have to be very active on all fronts. Humanitarian, technology, sanctions, military, EU accession, but also environmental, and all the points have to be taken into consideration. And only then will there be peace and stability in the European Union. I think for most of the anti-democratic, anti-European, right-wing forces, of the populist forces, it's super easy to say: let's conserve what we have...

'Let's get to the table of negotiation and it's over'

Yeah, 'let's have the national interest in the focus and that's enough'. But it's not enough, especially for countries such as Germany. We highly benefit from the EU integration. We are the biggest exporters, we are the biggest importers. We are the biggest beneficiary of the internal market and so on. So to withdraw from the EU institution means suicide for Germany, for Germany's economy, and so on.

MEP Viola von Cramon: Wobbliness of some EU heads of states makes Putin strongerViola von Cramon-Taubadel (Vitalii Nosach / RBC-Ukraine)

The Ukrainian authorities declare that we are ready to complete our EU accession 'homework' in two years. Do you think that such a deadline is realistic? And how do you generally assess the reform process in Ukraine during these 2+ years of full-scale war?

I think we can show respect to all the colleagues in the Rada, to all the colleagues working on the executive side, for drafting their respective bills, then for voting on this, then for implementing. So a lot is being done. And it's much more than many people in the European Union had expected. So I think there's clearly unity in reforming the country, putting the right bills forward, making sure that everything is according to the European track. So from our side, there is no criticism, I would say.

But there's also a second angle and that means governance and governance means inclusiveness, means rights of the opposition, parliamentary pluralism, means inclusion of civil society, means working with, let's say, experts on the ground and not just with very few people in the presidential administration.

So do you see some troubles with this?

Not trouble, but I see that there is room for improvement. There is potential for improvement. It's about governance, it's about the question of democratic standards in the parliament, here in the country, and we see some, let's say worrisome indications, and we see some crazy draft bills which do not fit in the EU acquis, which do not fit in this ambition of becoming a member. So yes, the reforms are there, but institutional-wise and democracy-wise, they have to be as ambitious as the other parts of the reforms.

In light of Ukraine's problems with obtaining support from the US, is Europe generally capable of taking America's place within a reasonable time frame?

Probably we have to, but we cannot react as swiftly as needed. And so for us and Ukraine, it will be extremely difficult now to catch up with the deficit, the monetary deficit, the financial deficit in the long-term planning, but especially and first and foremost on the ammunition, on the military side.

It came without any pre-warning from the US that they would not deliver. So we actually expected a vote before last summer break in July. And when that didn't take place, I expected that it would happen in autumn in a slightly amended form.

But now, after nine, or ten months of not delivering on this very important bill, I think this is a huge disappointment for all of us. And I think that many people here try to adapt, but it's not easy.

This week, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said that among European leaders, 'the understanding is growing that we have to defeat Russia because otherwise there will be a continuation of this tragic story'. Do you agree with this assessment?

That's for sure that the war comes closer. I think this is very obvious. I mean, we just got the numbers on the ratio of ammunition that is used by Russia at the moment with a tendency to even increase the number of shellings per day and we cannot even come close to that at the moment.

So nobody was ready but I think also all through Putin's speeches and statements and with a bit of disgraceful mockery of many member states and so on and now with the twisting of all the truth and the facts… I mean everyone is very much aware of what kind of threat Russia means for us, not just for Ukraine, but if Ukraine fails this will be horrible and it will also be a signal to other autocrats and other dictators

So I mean, actually we do not have an alternative to the fact or to the request that Ukraine has to win, Ukraine has to succeed. It is in our genuine interest to make this happen.

And do your colleagues, your fellow MEPs also think so?

I don't think MEPs are the biggest problem here. The biggest problem is the member states. If you hear Chancellor Scholz, if you hear other heads of state, they are so wobbly. They are super unclear about what they are actually heading for. And that makes Putin stronger, that emboldens him. And this will in the end, I'm afraid if we cannot speed up, if we cannot react more strongly, this will have terrible consequences.

To what extent does the European Union understand the need to develop its defense industrial complex and to increase military budgets, perhaps to the detriment of other socio-economic programs?

It's a super difficult discussion that only started now. I think we started much too late because at the beginning of the war there was like, okay, we allocate 100 billion and then it's over. I mean Germany, the case of Germany is good because we were always seeing ourselves as a pacifist country. We did not want to be involved for good reasons. We didn't want to repeat histories, we brought so much tragedy that everything related to war and aggression and military force, and we tried to keep a distance.

But now we see that actually, protection is something else than aggression. Of course, the victim needs to be protected and for that, you need military equipment. And you have to make sure that this NATO shield and the NATO promises really can be kept.

And here I see that the discussion has fortunately started. Public opinion is actually in favor of that, but when it comes to concrete proposals, where to save the money and how to readjust the budget for the military, then it will become, I'm afraid, very difficult. So abstract, it's okay, but concrete titles and figures and the budget will be difficult.

MEP Viola von Cramon: Wobbliness of some EU heads of states makes Putin strongerViola von Cramon-Taubadel (Vitalii Nosach / RBC-Ukraine)

As for public opinion, how do you assess the current trends in public opinion regarding the Russo-Ukrainian war, the support of Ukraine, and so on, among all of Europe, not only Germany?

It very much depends on the leadership. So in some countries where we have strong leadership, favor of Ukraine, and not just lip service, I see that there is also the majority of the public behind that. But I mean if you have a leader who tells you: yes we already do a lot and we have our own problems – how can the public be on the other side and say: we need to put all the resources we have at the moment for our security but also for Ukraine security. That's not easy at the moment.

So far I think we are still on the safe side. But you see Hungary is a spoiler. Slovakia is very much a spoiler. Fico now uses a lot of pro-Russian rhetoric. He blames Ukraine for beginning the war and so on. It's clearly the Kremlin narrative. But the majority I would say is still in favor and support of Ukraine.

Overall how do you assess the current state of affairs in this war? Do you see that it may drag on indefinitely and is Europe ready to support Ukraine 'until victory'? I emphasize this, until victory.

Well, we have not really spoken about what victory means.

1991 borders, perhaps the easiest answer.

That is, I think at the moment, very wishful thinking. I wish we could go close to that. But with the current ammunition deliveries and with the current situation globally, I think expectation management is needed.

Both in Ukraine and the EU?

Absolutely, but not to say that we have to distance ourselves. No, this must be our goal.

1991 borders?

Yes, absolutely. I'm fully in line with this. But the realistic situation might look different and we can still declare this as a victory. So here I think we have not really started a discussion of what a victory is and this might start in Ukraine because it's not up to me to define anything.

But for me, 1991 is the goal we should be heading for. There is no question about it, no discount on this.

And I do hope that Biden will be re-elected. I do hope that we have a different situation in Washington. We can still get the ammunition and the material that is needed. I think we need to reach out to more countries such as South Korea, Australia, Japan, and other countries that financially and with military equipment would be ready to support and we need to beef up even if the US stays out for a while, we need to beef up the rest of, let's say, democratic states to support your country.