After a European Union summit ending February 10 that offered strong support for Ukraine — and calls for stronger measures against illegal migration — the bloc is now challenged to act on its rhetoric. But on both Ukraine and migration, European member states are not marching in complete lockstep.
EU membership, fighter jets and fences counted among the top three buzzwords of a summit, featuring the standing-ovation presence of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and talks about curbing a sharp influx of so-called “irregular migrants” from places like Africa.
Zelenskyy got a rousing welcome from European members of parliament and leaders, as he reiterated calls for more weapons and for fast-tracking his country’s EU membership application.
Ukraine’s leader also called for more EU sanctions against Russia — which European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said will shortly become reality.
“First, we will impose sanctions on a number of political and military leaders,” she said. “But also, dear Volodymyr, we listened very carefully to your messages when we visited you last week in Kyiv – we will target [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s propagandists, because their lies are poisoning the public space in Russia and abroad.”
Despite the show of unity, there does not appear more movement on speeding up Ukraine’s accession into the bloc. And while Zelenskyy said some EU countries appeared receptive to sending fighter jets, it is unclear how much support that proposal has within the bloc, with many nations fearing an escalation in the Ukraine conflict.
Speaking to reporters, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin appeared open to the idea.
When asked if she would rule out fighter jets, Marin responded, “I don’t want to rule out anything in this stage.”
Europe’s traditional heavyweights — France and Germany — were less receptive. French President Emmanuel Macron said he does not rule out sending fighter jets to Ukraine, but that it does not correspond to today’s needs.
In terms of overall weapons deliveries, timing is critical, said Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior analyst at the German Marshall Fund policy institute.
“It is clear, or appears to be clear, that Russian government is determined to push an offensive around the one-year anniversary of the invasion — and hopefully from their point of view before lots of the new western heavy weaponry arrives. And of course, Ukraine has previously said it is their intention to launch their own counter-offensive,” Kirkegaard said.
EU divisions were also apparent on another hot-button issue: migration. European border agency Frontex says last year’s number of so-called irregular migrant crossings into the bloc — 330,000 — was the highest since its 2016 migrant crisis. Many more were asylum-seekers, although EU officials suggest many of those do not merit refugee status.
While the bloc is moving toward tougher policies to curb migration, countries are divided over methods to do it, and whether to use EU funds to build fences — a concept that was largely dismissed not so long ago.