Austria has just broken from what was looking like an emerging EU consensus on Ukraine’s membership bid, with Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg announcing Vienna’s opposition on Sunday at the 14th European media summit.
Underscoring Austria’s commitment to neutrality as a central element to Ukraine’s “self-definition”, he asserted that Ukraine’s application for candidate status should be rejected by the 27-country economic and political union.
“We don’t belong to any military alliance and we don’t want to,” he stressed in the speech, instead urging a “different way” for Ukraine to deepen its ties with Europe, strongly suggesting that EU membership for Ukraine would unnecessarily deepen Europe’s involvement in the conflict amid the Russian invasion.
He called Austria “militarily neutral, but not politically” on the issue of the Russian war in Ukraine. Additionally, Schallenberg went so far as to spell out that Ukraine shouldn’t be granted membership even in the future.
As part of current rules and procedures dictating the process, to even start Ukraine’s candidate status, all EU governments would have to unanimously agree.
Schallenberg suggested an alternative that would look something like the EU relationship with Balkan countries:
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.
As expected, Ukraine’s foreign ministry was quick to slam the statements, calling FM Schallenberg’s position “short-sighted” and ultimately “not in the interests of the united Europe.”
“Such statements also ignore the fact that the vast majority of the population of the EU founding member states support Ukraine’s membership,” Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said.
Kiev also suggested that somehow the government under Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer – who came under some degree of criticism in EU corners for his April 11th meeting with President Putin for “direct, open and tough” talks – is being ‘influenced’ by Russia. Nikolenko suggested Schallenberg’s stance represents Austria “indulging Putin’s aggressive plans.” (ER: Or Austria staying out of harm’s way and ensuring other EU countries do, too.)
Current polling in reporting, however, points to the Austrian public generally wanting to avoid confrontation with Russia:
But around 40% of Austrians consider the government’s position on Ukraine as “on the whole correct,” while 23% believe the government is “too pro-Ukraine” and 17% “too pro-Russia,” according to Heute.
At the same time, once-neutral EU governments like Germany have flipped – going from expressing a strictly neutral status on Ukraine to shipping heavier and heavier arms to Kiev.
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