EP president in Prague: We must not close the door on Ukraine

Roberta Metsola

A European Parliament delegation headed by EP President Roberta Metsola is in Prague for talks with Czech leaders on the upcoming Czech EU Presidency. Viktor Daněk interviewed Ms. Metsola ahead of her trip to Prague and first asked whether she considered the opening of accession talks with Ukraine to be the main task of the presidency.

Petr Fiala | Photo:  Office of Czech Government

“We are very much looking forward to the Czech Presidency after a challenging few months and I can tell you that your country is ready to take over the presidency of the European Union at a very difficult, but important time. I will be meeting with the Czech Prime Minister Mr. Fiala over the next few hours during the official visit of the European Parliament to your country. I appreciate the leadership that your country has shown in making sure that we do not close the door on the candidacy of Ukraine. Of course, opinions on the matter differ and each country has its own path, but crucially and politically, the European Union is at an unprecedented juncture and we cannot close the door on that opportunity.”

When it comes to accession talks, it is necessary to have a unanimous decision and it is not surprising or unexpected that there are different views on the matter. Even the Czech Republic and other countries in the region do not always see eye-to-eye with leaders such as President Macron who argues that it is important that Russia must not “lose face” and he doesn’t want to make false promises to Ukraine about accession talks. Do you think Czechia has enough influence and experience to convince heavyweights such as France?

2004 enlargement of the European Union | Photo:  European Parliament Office Ireland,  Flickr,  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“I think enlargement processes are never easy. Your country and my country joined the European Union on the same day and the very same argument that you made today was made then – as it is made at every enlargement phase. But my answer to that question is – are we going to close the door or can we open it next week in order to keep the hope and spirit alive? Countries look to Europe as their home, they look to Europe –if the door is closed, they will look elsewhere. Are we ready to allow that frustration, disappointment and eventual indifference to grow? I don’t think we should. Of course, there are different discussions, different realities, different things are said, but I hope the Czech leadership –together with, I would say, new leaders in the European Union – will manage to bring together a consensus next week towards the identification of the next step or steps ahead. Different things have to be done, but let us not close the door.”

You travelled to Kyiv during the siege as the first top-level  European politician shortly after the Czech prime minister and the prime ministers of Slovenia and Poland. Was your trip inspired by them and why did you feel it was important to go there in these dangerous circumstances?

Russian bombardment of telecommunications antennas in Kiev | Photo:  Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY 4.0 DEED

“I went on April 1st when Kyiv was still surrounded. It was a difficult decision to take, but it was necessary. I saw, of course, the prime ministers visiting and when I was invited by the Parliament Speaker to address a special session of the assembly without any hesitation I said “yes”. I went not only to share hope and express solidarity, but to say that the European Parliament –as co-legislator –as an institution of 705 democratically elected politicians has a mandate to bring peace and hope and democracy, financial assistance and logistical assistance to the world. Are we doing enough? No we weren’t.  But I think that we have really stepped up to this task and we will continue to do that and if my visit then inspired the visits of so many leaders that continue to go even today –then it was something that, let us say, introduced a new type of parliamentary diplomacy and democracy that we should be proud of.”

After your election you said you would burst the Brussels bubble to get closer to citizens. Is your trip to Prague part of that – to get closer?

European Parliament | Photo: © European Union 2016 - European Parliament,  Flickr,  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Absolutely. This is something that I insisted on. It is a change to what used to take place before when the Parliament delegation would only meet the leadership of countries. I am going to meet with students. I am going to discuss with young Czechs what they think of the European Union, what they would like to see…We are two years away from the next European Parliament election. We have seen a huge change in how the people perceive the European Parliament and the European Union and my task is to make sure that more Czechs will vote in the European Parliament election. Also, it is not just about what we are doing for them but also what they expect from us and we need to listen before we dictate to them what we think they should say.”

Author: Viktor Daněk
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