Open doors of EU market to Ukraine, Metsola says over future membership

In Guardian interview, Metsola says Ukraine should be granted membership benefits before full accession

Roberta Metsola and Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky at European Summit
Roberta Metsola and Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky at European Summit

Roberta Metsola has reaffirmed her commitment to see Ukraine become a member of the European Union, with even the removal of trade tariffs and internal market access before full membership.

The president of the European Parliament told the Guardian that she expected member states to begin formal negotiations with Ukraine as soon as December.

Metsola warned against “pushing the can down the road” on enlargement, saying this would fuel nationalism and the far-right. “It increases the extremes on the political spectrum, the Euroscepticism. Campaigns in accession countries are fought, and lost or won, on the basis of the dream and hope of the EU.”

But it will be EU ministers, who meet formally in December, to start talks, after going over a public report on Ukraine’s progress in reforming its judiciary, curbing corruption and opening its markets.

Metsola said she expects a “concrete outcome” for the country, which has a population of 44 million. If Moldova and Albania also join, the EU’s membership would jump from 27 to 30 states. “Of course the economic model that we have today is not one that would survive with 32 or 33 [member states]. But now is when we need to have that conversation. We’ve already started in the parliament,” said Metsola.

But she said candidate countries should still be given access to the mobile phone free roaming in the EU, a popular policy, or access to EU funds, universities, student travel, and tariffs removal. “We said for years Ukraine could not be connected to the European electricity grid. It took us days to do that once the war started. At the end of the day it was always about political will.”

Such access – a Turkey-style tariff-free customs union – could also include agriculture, given that Ukraine is a major supplier of poultry and wheat.

Since war broke out, Ukraine has been trading freely within the EU after tariffs and quotas were suspended in June 2022. The concession will continue up until June 2024. But EU farmers fear the increase in supply of poultry from Ukraine, which pushes down prices: Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have warned they will continue to ban sales of Ukrainian grain to protect their own farmers.

Metsola, 44, will be running for MEP in the 2024 elections, but her name has been mooted as a potential successor to Ursula von der Leyen as president of the European Commission, or returning to Malta to lead the Nationalist Party.

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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