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Ukraine 'disappointed' as Austria says besieged nation shouldn't be offered EU membership

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 25/04/2022

Ukraine has been left disappointed after Austria's Foreign Minister said the country should not be offered membership to the European Union.

Speaking at the 14th European Media Summit in Lech,  Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said alternative paths should be considered instead of Ukraine receiving candidate status in June.

A Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson has called the comments "strategically short-sighted."

Here's exactly how it happened.

What did Austria's Foreign Minister say?

In his speech, Alexander Schallenberg called for a "different way" for Ukraine to connect with Europe.

Austrian publication Heute reported that Mr Schallenberg called for models other than full membership and for more flexibility.

Mr Schallenberg justified his position by saying there are countries in the Western Balkans, who the EU calls "enlargement countries," who have come a long way without full membership.

Referring to the war in Ukraine, he said Austria was "militarily neutral, but not politically."

How did Ukraine respond?

Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said the comments "ignore the fact that the vast majority of the population of the EU founding member states support Ukraine’s membership."

“We consider it to be strategically short-sighted and not in the interests of the united Europe," Mr Nikolenko said.

According to Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform, he said his country had every reason to demand that its merits and the strategic role for the EU are recognised objectively.

"Without exaggeration, our state has become an outpost for the protection of EU security, European freedom and European values."

What is Austria's recent history with the war?

On April 12, Austria's Chancellor Karl Nehammer met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to exhaust every possibility for ending the violence in Ukraine.

But he said he had "no optimistic impression" from his conversation with Mr Putin.

In a statement released by his office after the meeting, Mr Nehammer said his primary message to Mr Putin was "that this war needs to end, because in war both sides can only lose".

Several days earlier, Mr Nehammer travelled to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. 

Does this mean Ukraine won't be able to join the EU?

Not necessarily, but it could have an impact on Ukraine's membership process.

For the first step in the process, the European Council will meet to decide whether Ukraine will be declared a candidate for membership.

Once this is done, all EU governments must unanimously agree to start the negotiation process.

Here's how Austria could impact the membership process:

  • Austria would need to agree to start negotiating whether Ukraine could join the EU
  • If Austria does agree, it will be a part of the negotiation process where members will work through whether Ukraine meets certain criteria in line with the EU's values
  • The country's stance could impact the length and process of the negotiations.

The European Council is meant to meet on June 23 and 24, to issue its opinion on Ukraine's membership and declare the country a candidate for membership.

Last month Mr Zelenskyy asked EU leaders not to delay the membership and appealed to Germany and Hungary not to block its bid.

The process to join the EU is lengthy, with its latest member, Croatia, taking 10 years to join.


Video: EU Parliament leader vows to help Ukraine rebuild (Reuters)

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