Maros Sefcovic: "We are pleased that Sweden and Finland have decided to join NATO."

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Maros Sefcovic, Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of interinstitutional relations and foresight – in other words, the future of Europe – is the guest of Ici l’Europe. In the midst of the war in Ukraine and while the EU is trying to demonstrate its effectiveness to citizens on several fronts, he is asked about the difficulties encountered with the United Kingdom in the context of Brexit and the application of the Northern Irish protocol, on the sanctions against Russia and their impact on the Member States, as well as on the enlargement of the EU to Eastern Europe.

Northern Irish Protocol

As London challenges divorce deal by threatening to act unilaterally, in the absence of EU flexibility to ease post-Brexit customs arrangements in Northern Ireland, Maros Sefcovic stresses “the importance of respecting international law” because the agreements were “negotiated, approved and ratified by the European and British governments”.

These agreements, he recalls, are intended to guarantee “peace in Northern Ireland and at the same time give it access to the single European market”: “If there is any problem whatsoever, we must find an amicable and joint solution”. He also seized the opportunity of the very first meeting of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, on 11 May, to “stress once again that we must return to the negotiating table to work together on the practical issues of the people of Northern Ireland and avoid any unfriendly talks or trade wars between the UK and the EU.”

War in Ukraine and European unity

The European embargo on Russian oil has been delayed due to the reserves of several Member States. Maros Sefcovic recalls that the EU has “already approved five sanctions packages in six weeks. This is unprecedented and we did it with strong and total European unity, but the oil issue is much more complicated, due to different positions of the Member States”.

“Central and Eastern European countries are more dependent on Russian gas and oil than Western Europe, but we know Germany’s situation is not easy either,” he said. The European Commission will next week give the terms of EU independence to Russian fossil fuels as part of its action REPowerEUin order to “reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian gas by two thirds by the end of the year”, explains Maros Sefcovic, “because it must free itself from this political pressure and be truly free on the world market .”

Since the start of the war, Europe has welcomed around six million refugees on its soil, according to UNHCR figures. “It’s the best proof that we are real Europeans, united, with great passion, Europeans who are ready to help. I am really very proud at this moment to be European”, says Maros Sefcovic. He also recognizes that the institutions must provide financial support to the Member States: “We decided to use money from the European budget, for an amount of 3.5 billion euros, to support the governments, Europeans who are most exposed to the cost of hosting refugees from Ukraine.”

Finally, the European Commissioner would like to reiterate the EU’s full support for Ukraine, “because Ukrainians are fighting for European values, for European security and to prevent this conflict from spreading to other country.”

European security and NATO

Faced with the risk of the conflict spreading to Moldova, as American intelligence has said, Maros Sefcovic confirms that we must be very vigilant and that it is “necessary for member countries to work well together to defend themselves”. Not only by reducing the financial resources “of the Russian war machine” through sanctions, but also by “increasing the defense readiness of states especially in the East”.

This is why he welcomes Sweden’s and Finland’s desire to quickly join NATO: “After what Vladimir Putin did against his neighbor Ukraine, we have to adapt to this new, extremely difficult situation. This is why we have seen this change in public opinion in Sweden and Finland. And of course we are obliged, as European countries, to support them against all possible attacks, cyberattacks or otherwise. This is why we have the EU, that’s why we have NATO, and everyone welcomes this decision by Finland and Sweden to join.”

European enlargement

On 9 May, on the occasion of Europe Day, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed the creation of a European Political Community to integrate Ukraine as well as the other countries which have started the procedure for joining the EU. This proposal somewhat disappointed kyiv.

Maros Sefcovic recalls that the Commission wants “to give a political signal that Ukraine belongs to the European family, even if the accession process has very specific rules and must last as long as necessary.” The European Commission will decide next week on Ukraine’s EU membership with an official opinion ahead of the political debate around this issue – which will take place at the EU Summit on May 30-31.

Program prepared by Perrine Desplats, Isabelle Romero, Sophie Samaille and Georgina Robertson.

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