Lithuanian MEP Rasa Jukneviciene:

  • 2023-07-04
  • Linas Jegelevicius

"If Ukraine, which is still at war, could be admitted to the European Union in this decade, it would be a great achievement," MEP Rasa Jukneviciene, vice-chairperson of the European People's Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament (EP), which is the EP's largest political grouping, told The Baltic Times Magazine. 

Clearly, here in Strasbourg, in the EP session, the debate and passions on China have been particularly fuelled by French President Emmanuel Macron. The French President , during a visit to Beijing in early April, said that Europe must not follow the example of the US or China with regard to Taiwan, pointing out that the bloc risked getting involved in crises that were not of its own. Who is right?

It is not the first time that Emmanuel Macron has painted pictures and visions of Europe's future. Unfortunately, most of them had no real basis. Now he is nodding to the President of China, and until recently, he was sitting at the end of a long table, far away from Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the Kremlin. The idea of the European Union's strategic autonomy in the field of defence and security is not new. Only this time, Macron spoke about it at the wrong time and in the wrong place. Fortunately, the vast majority of European leaders are aware that our transatlantic relationship with the United States is vital and indispensable in the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine. The idea of European strategic autonomy has never been very popular in Eastern and Central Europe, including Lithuania - but I think Macron's reminder of it in Beijing simply killed it. I am in favour of the European Union playing a much greater role in defence, and we need much more European investment in defence. In the worst case scenario, without American and British help, Europe alone would not be able to fight Russia. Here in the European Parliament and beyond its walls, Macron's thoughts on Beijing have been most popular with the far-left and far-right followers. That is saying a lot.

The European Union's strategy towards China has long been on the table. It was drawn up even before the war in Ukraine, but it was not endorsed in the European Parliament. Since the war, much has changed. The need for a new strategy has also been stressed by Joseph Borrell (EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – L.J.). This debate in the European Parliament was intended to provide the basis for a new European Union strategy towards China. In the debate, I sensed that most of my fellow MEPs see China as a challenge and, in some cases, a threat.

According to some analysts, the war in Ukraine is at a stalemate: the aggressor Russia is not attacking in new directions and Ukraine (interviewed on 18 April - L.J.) has not reached a breakthrough. What should the European Union do to make the breaktrough happen and for Ukraine to win?

The European Union is just one part of the overall pro-Ukrainian coalition. It is clear that Ukraine does not have enough weapons now. When the war broke out, some countries were hesitant about helping Ukraine with arms at all. Bearing that in mind, we are now seeing a major breakthrough in that sense. However, generally speaking, the European Union's financial assistance to Ukraine is very substantial. I do not know whether we would still see a Ukrainian state today if the European Union had not already helped Ukraine so much. This year, Ukraine and the European Union are looking forward to the start of accession negotiations. This is a crucial step, as is Ukraine's accession to NATO. Of course, the aim remains the same: to expel Russia from the occupied Ukrainian territories.

If the war drags on, is there a danger that the hedonistic Western society will be struck by war fatigue, which will pave the way to power for extreme political forces?

Of course, this is what Putin hopes for the most. Here in the European Parliament, I can clearly see that my colleagues from Western Europe are very impressed by the public’s support for Ukraine; for example, even in Portugal. I am not even talking about the northern countries, where support for Ukraine has been and remains very strong. We know that there are other examples, such as Bulgaria, where support for Ukraine is rather passive, because of the particular political distribution in that country.

I am also watching with concern the situation in Poland, a country that has been one of Ukraine's biggest supporters until now. And now Poland is announcing that it has temporarily banned imports of Ukrainian grain. Polish farmers are demanding a complete halt of grain transit through Poland. They claim that cheaper Ukrainian products are still entering the Polish market, thus undermining local producers. Some other countries have also taken such action.

I am afraid that the Polish example could have a domino effect. Given the size of Ukraine and its influence on markets, opening borders, harmonising customs, allowing free movement of goods are some very big and important issues that will not be easily resolved. We have a long and difficult road ahead of us in terms of admitting Ukraine to the European Union. There is talk in the European Parliament that if we could do it in this decade, it would be a great achievement. No one is hiding the fact that with the current decision-making mechanism in the European Union - any MS veto right in the Council - it will be difficult.

You are a  member of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly (The Euronest Parliamentary Assembly is made up of a delegation of 60 members of the European Parliament and 10 members from the parliaments of each Eastern Partnership country. Its mission is to create conditions for cooperation between the EU and Eastern Europe and to strengthen economic integration - L.J.). It has very different members - from Ukraine to Azerbaijan - with different interests. How has the war changed their positions on the European Union?

Not only the war in Ukraine, but also the changes in Moldova. There the pro-Western Maia Sandu was elected president and her pro-Western political force entered the Parliament, pushing the pro-Russian oligarchs out of power, prompting the three Euronest countries: Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia - to declare their pro-European orientation even more clearly. Armenia, which is also a Euronest member, is frustrated by the renewed military conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, because Russia has done little to help it, and it cannot be ruled out that it too will take a pro-European path in the future.

The situation in Georgia, until recently the leader among Euronest members, is worrying. Its oligarchic government, headed by Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has amassed his wealth in Russia, declares a pro-European direction in words and does the opposite in actions. Salome Zurabishvili, the President of Georgia, was due to speak at the Plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg in April, but it was announced that she would not be attending. Apparently, she did not receive the support of the political forces for such a visit. If she had come, she would have received many unpleasant questions here in the European Parliament.

Will Russia without Putin be even more dangerous and unpredictable?

I really don't think Russia could be more dangerous without Putin. Whether Putin or someone else will be in the Kremlin is not so important. What is important is that Russia itself undergoes positive changes, that it becomes at least a non-aggressive country. To create the conditions for this to happen, Ukraine must first win the war. Secondly, the European Union itself must do its homework - increasing its support for Ukraine, setting up a special international tribunal to investigate the crimes of Russian political and military leaders and their allies in Ukraine. The containment of Russia must continue. It is essential that the European Union and the United States of America agree on the future strategy for Russia. We are now talking a lot about a strategy towards China, but we also need a strategy towards the future Russia, a Russia without aggression and imperial ambitions.

You have set up an informal MEP (Member of European Parliament) Group on European Remembrance. The Group operates on the basis of the EP resolution on the "Importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe". What is its purpose?

The resolution adopted in 2019  states that the Second World War was started by both Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. The Resolution sent a strong signal from the European Parliament and sparked a debate, not only in the Central European countries (with the adoption of respective resolutions in the Polish and Latvian parliaments), but also in the Southern European countries, with the adoption of a similar resolution being debated by the Portuguese Parliament.

The adoption of such a resolution by the EP has also been met with a strong reaction from the Kremlin. We see Russia's desire to rewrite history, to use it as an element of information warfare, to divide the European Union by attacking neighbouring countries and spreading lies. Even before the war, Russia was already blatantly rehabilitating Stalin, silencing Communist crimes and accusing entire peoples who are critical of the current Kremlin of anti-Semitism and even nazism.

One of the most visible initiatives of our informal Remembrance Group was prompted by a noble tradition in Lithuania – on 14 June, the Day of Mourning and Hope, a traditional action of reading the names of the victims of exile is held , entitled "Utter, hear, preserve".

The tradition has also been brought to Brussels, where the names of all victims of forced Soviet deportations are read out in Solidarnosc Square in front of the European Parliament each June for the past two years. This year, in June, for the first time, such an action will take place in Strasbourg. Importantly, this year it will be an official event hosted by the European Parliament as an instution. At our initiative, the commemmoration of forced Soviet deportations has become an official annual event. 

Neglected historical events have a tendency to resurface, including the war on Ukrainian soil. Only by remembering and properly evaluating historical memory can we hope to succeed in our efforts to tackle Europe's growing intolerance, radicalism and anti-Semitism.