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PRAGUE: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday pledged emphatic backing for Ukraine and other hopefuls to join the European Union, but stressed that enlarging the bloc to “30 or 36” members would require reforms.
Scholz said he was “committed to” having the six nations of the western Balkans, Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine accede to the EU.
But as the bloc widened, each member’s veto right would have to go, he added, with a transition to a “majority voting” system so as not to slow EU decision-making down.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 was already putting the system of unanimity to the test, at a time when swift action was all the more necessary.
“Let’s seek compromises together. I could imagine, for example, starting with majority voting in areas in which it is particularly important that we speak with one voice — in sanctions policy for example, or on issues relating to human rights,” the German leader said.
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He also said that member states were not faced with only two options of voting yes or no, but can also adopt “constructive abstention.”
In the speech on his vision for the bloc at Charles University in the Czech Republic’s capital Prague, Scholz also underlined that the war in Ukraine has laid bare the “uncoordinated shrinkage of European armed forces and defense budgets,” which has to be rectified with “coordinated growth.”
This meant greater cooperation between European businesses on armaments projects, joint manufacturing and procurement.
Germany, he said, will be ramping up “very significantly” on its air defense system, and also design it in a way that it could also be a shield for European neighbors from the Baltics to Scandinavia.
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Scholz did not give details about the system, but he had in March revealed plans to purchase an Israeli anti-missile shield system that could also offer protective cover for neighboring EU states.
While that will be a long-term project, Berlin was already coordinating with the Netherlands on a “division of labor” on arming Ukraine, the chancellor said as he urged other allies to join in the coordination.
“I can, for example, imagine that Germany would assume special responsibility in terms of building up Ukraine’s artillery and air defense capacities,” he said, vowing support for Kyiv for “as long as it takes.”