"I Cannot Imagine Postwar Europe without Ukraine as NATO Member." Interview with EPP President

Tuesday, 7 March 2023 — , European Pravda

MEP Manfred Weber is one of the most influential politicians in the European Parliament. He headed the European People's Party (EPP) last year, the main inter-party union in the European Union, replacing Donald Tusk, who is well-known to Ukrainians. Besides, he has been heading the EPP group in the European Parliament since 2014.

Weber is a German. He is a member of the Bavarian CSU, a long-time partner party in the CDU/CSU bloc until recently led by Angela Merkel. However, now he does not hold back in criticising the mistakes of the then-German government.

His statements may seem uncharacteristically harsh, as for a German MP - both on the commitment to Ukraine and the future of Russia. However, if not dominant, such a position is common among Brussels politicians. The EPP quickly turned into a centre of support for Ukraine.

We talked in Kyiv, where Weber arrived last week at the head of a European People's Party delegation.

 "Europe has to transform into a kind of war industry"

- You planned a trip to Ukraine in February 2022, a few days before the invasion.

- No, it was planned but cancelled a few days before due to the security situation. I was the one who waited for something big to come.

We had planned three times to come to Ukraine but it was always something and we had to postpone. I'm happy to be here now after one year of this horrible and terrible war.

I was at the Munich security conference right before the invasion. I met a lot of politicians there and everybody told me: "No, he will not do it." I was pretty sure he would because nobody would invest so much in the troops on the border. His history showed us he could do it. We saw what happened in 2014. We saw what happened in Georgia. We saw what happened in Syria. You saw it. If you wanted to see it, it was possible to see the nature of this system. That's why I was sure about this. I had the feeling that this would happen.

Angela Merkel resigned. Macron had an election. He was waiting for this situation when we were weak. I think he was expecting that we are not as strong as we were.

I admit, I asked myself afterward: would anything have changed if we had imposed all these sanctions on him before the invasion, if we had shown that Europe remained strong? But history does not know the answer to the question "if."

- Was the EU reaction after the invasion sufficient enough?

I don't think it is sufficient. First of all, the support for Ukraine, from me, from my party, is unconditional. Especially the most important, let me say measures, is about the weapons delivery to fight the fight you want to fight. In this regard, I think all decisions were too late and too little.

That's why I see a real lack of leadership,

especially in Berlin and Paris, to take the necessary steps. The second dimension is about sanctions toward Russia. I am happy that we agreed on ten packages. That is again better than expected because we have the precondition of a unanimous vote. On the other hand, it is not enough to be strong against Russia economically. The impact is there, but it is not as strong as I wish to see it.

- What is lacking?

- Well, I see the demand from the Ukrainian friends. They have to ask us Europeans and Americans for ammunition and the necessary support.

I think it is already showing weakness if there is a need to tell us this publicly. It must simply work. I also told the European media that Europe has to transform, especially the military sector, into a kind of war industry, in a situation where we have extraordinary procurement. All these things have to be faster and quicker, to deliver what is needed. When it's about weapons, I'm also in favour.

What I hear also in Kyiv that it is also about the long-range missile systems, the long-range artillery systems. I understand this well from a logistic point of view. For the Russians, it would be a big problem. That's why let's do it. What are we waiting for? We don't have to take Russia's irrational behaviour into account. We have to do what is needed to support Ukraine.

"Еhe NATO summit in Bucharest was a mistake and we have to fix it"

- You represent the CDU/CSU alliance, which many accuse of slow support or even unwillingness to support Ukraine before this war. Don't you think your alliance shares responsibility for Europe's mistakes?

- I mean, especially in the defense sector, procurement, and military goods there. It is a tragedy that Chancellor Scholz proposed to spend €100 billion in Germany one year ago; not much of this money is now spent. That's a tragedy for Europe or Germany. We are not quick enough. We cannot bring the money to the ground and deliver what is now needed.

First of all, I'm president of the European People's Party. I have the honour to speak on behalf of the centre-right party in Europe, the biggest party of the European Union and for us. We were always on the side of Ukraine. We were always on the side of those who said publicly that Nord Stream-2 was not a good idea.

I personally said this already in 2014 when we had the Crimea invasion. That was the moment to understand that this was a historic moment.

When you look at the German perspective, it was naïve. It was the hope that if we find that cooperation, if we do a deal with Putin, we can please him and bring him back on the table again. This approach was probably driven by a hope to avoid further escalation. That is a positive perspective.

The negative is that it was driven by naivety. So that is the reality after having the development in mind. That's why what we need now is to learn from history. For me, on the European side, it means that now it's the moment to build up the European Defence Union to be strong, capable of confronting all possible scenarios for the future.

We Europeans also need to get rid of our naivety about China. We are increasing our dependence on China, although soon, the same thing happening to Ukraine may happen to Taiwan. So all European decisions on China should be based on the fact that we should be prepared for the worst scenario - a military attack on Taiwan.

- What do you think about Ukraine's NATO membership? Were there mistakes here too?

- Of course, I think we have to heal the mistake of Bucharest. And Bucharest was a mistake not to have guaranteed a full security assurance to Ukraine. If we invite Finland and Sweden to NATO, it is fundamentally clear that Ukraine has the exact same right! Finland has about 1,400 kilometres of border with Russia, so I am sorry, but

no one can say now that Ukraine's accession 'will make Russia closer to NATO.'

But it is obvious that Ukraine has to survive the war to join NATO

The key question is the free will of our free democracies.

- Does that mean that Putin currently retains the right to veto Ukraine's NATO membership?

- It's politically discussed. I ask European politicians, I ask our leaders to be brave, to be strong, to show leadership now. We are a strong Union.

All the Ukrainian friends also know that before the enlargement, we need peace. That's clear because country at war cannot join. That's basic, but I cannot imagine any long term security architecture for the European Union without a strong European NATO pillar, that includes Ukraine.

At the interview with EP
Credit: EPP Office

- Do you think it is enough to end the war for Ukraine to join NATO simply, or are there other preconditions to fill?

- You know, one of NATO criteria for membership is strengthening security. Ukraine is doing it now. Ukraine shows it literally every day by withholding a horrible Russian war machine. You have proven your security capacity.

In addition, your conformity to the values of the Alliance is more than obvious. So, these prerequisites are fulfiled.

"We lack historical leadership nowadays"

- Let's talk about EU membership. Your EPP party has long supported Ukraine's European future. Last year, you said that Ukraine should get membership prospects immediately. Now we have it. How do you see the further path to accession?

- It was an extremely emotional moment for me when last year, a few days after the invasion, President Zelenskyy was addressing online the European Parliament.

His main question and message were: "Russia is attacking us. They want to occupy Ukraine and destroy our country. Please tell us if we win, are we welcome? Can we be Europeans? Can we be equal to you? In other words, is it worth fighting?"

I had the honour to answer as the first speaker, as speaker of the EPP. I said: "Yes, you are welcome."

Our answer is solid – we are waiting for Ukraine.

We have to deliver and now it's our task to deliver. We must learn from the mistakes we made in the Western Balkan in the enlargement process. We have to stop seeing the enlargement process only as a bureaucratic process where we make this article and this article.

I see the readiness from the authorities here in Ukraine to deliver, to change things. We really need to see the historical dimension and use the momentum. We should now start the talks in 2023 on concrete subjects.

For example, why not start Erasmus now or energy cooperation in a way based on the different chapters in the enlargement? We have to be practical. We have to be complete now but let's start now.

- At the same time, we hear the opinion that a new EU expansion will be possible only after the EU reform, which is difficult to achieve. How to solve this problem?

- This is when we need historic leadership of top European leaders. This is decisive.

I grew up when Helmut Kohl told Germans to forget about the Deutschmark and introduce euro. That was extremely unpopular.

Or Adenauer a few years after losing the Second World War and being liberated by the Americans stood in front of Germans and said we needed an army again to protect ourselves against communism.

About 80% of Germans would have said no weapons anymore, no army anymore. The leader had to make difficult decisions, sometimes even against public opinion.

We have found ourselves in a historical moment now. Ukraine has to do its homework, but we must also do our homework. So both sides need fundamental reforms. It's about Macron and Scholz now to leadership in historic moments.

- Just Scholz and Macron?

Yes. There are 27 Member States, but everybody in Europe knows we need Germany and France to show direction for the European integration process. To be very precise, you need especially two pillars. The first is common European security, up to a common EU army. The second is to get rid of the unanimous vote on foreign affairs. We should establish a "European Foreign Ministry" with authority to speak on behalf of the entire continent based on European values.

Yes, these changes will require amending the EU treaty.

So Scholz and Macron should initiate this reform.

"We shouldn't be afraid and we have to learn this from Ukraine"

- Can we say that the EPP fully supports Ukraine?

- Yes, but we have individuals who also have different opinions. For example, Silvio Berlusconi.

- That was my next question.

- I understood this, so I want to inform you right away: after Berlusconi's well-known statements, we announced that there could be no room in my party for a different interpretation of Russia's war.
It's crystal clear that the EPP stands for Ukraine and supports Ukraine.

I was happy that Forza Italia supported us and Ukraine. It is important that Antonio Tajani, as Foreign Minister, and Giorgia Meloni, as Prime Minister, clearly assured their full support for Ukraine. That is decisive.

- Let's talk about Russia. One day Ukraine will win the war...

- Yes, absolutely.

- Will there be a new reality and security architecture of the world afterward? How do you see Russia's place in this world? What will happen to Russia? Does anyone think that Russia may collapse after defeat?

- Realistically, we do not have many tools to influence the inner Russian development. There are two pillars.

The first is Ukraine belongs to NATO and is fully integrated into the security system in the after-war security architecture. The second thing is that I cannot imagine that we come back to cooperation with the Putin system as a new normal. I cannot imagine this after Bucha. We have to continue to isolate this Russia, this Russian system economically. And it will last as long as this Russia exists.

I think many people in Russia are not stupid and know about the value of freedom. The substance of the whole war is that Putin really hates how we live. He wants to build up a firewall and Crimea was his first one. The second firewall is the war to stop democracy and freedom that have been expanding to the East over the last decades on the European continent.

I am sure that people in Russia who also dream about living in peace, freedom and democracy exist. That's why nobody can predict what will happen there.

- Many people in Ukraine believe that when Putin loses, Russia will fall apart due to this harsh defeat. Will the West try to stop this process?

- We don't currently have many means or ways to influence this development. We can support all those who believe in our values. That is what we can do. It must be driven by our beliefs, not our fears.

Yes, Russia is a nuclear country. But we should be afraid. We should protect what we stand for. Don't be afraid. It's a lesson we can learn here in Kyiv.

- Don't you assume the opposite approach from the West? There will be attempts to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, the EU, the return of Crimea, etc., just so that the defeat would not be too painful for Russia.

- This is a very wrong approach.

- But some in the West choose it.

- I think some people really consider in their mind Putin would say. That is not acceptable. The future of Ukraine will be decided in Kyiv by the free will of the people of Ukraine. Period. Not in Moscow, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, or Washington. It's Kyiv's to decide about the future.

How aggressive or not aggressive would Putin react if we support Ukraine, for example? Then he's always playing with the nuclear option. We cannot change what we believe based on the threats from Moscow. It must be our free will. We should be convinced of what we are doing and not even consider whether it will become a provocation for the Kremlin.

I can only add one thing here: the debate about this in Europe is ongoing. And the European People's Party will fight for this logic to prevail. 


Interviewed by Sergiy Sydorenko

"European Pravda," Editor

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