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EU aid to Ukraine could be under threat by Rassemblement National’s rise to power

With the French legislative elections on 30 June, the far-right Rassemblement National’s (RN) long-standing friendship with the Kremlin is causing concern in both Brussels and Kyiv

By: EBR - Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Bardella has made assurances that he does not want to “call into question the commitments made by France on the international stage,” but this does not stop many EU diplomats and officials from expressing concern.
Bardella has made assurances that he does not want to “call into question the commitments made by France on the international stage,” but this does not stop many EU diplomats and officials from expressing concern.

by Laurent Geslin

With the French legislative elections on 30 June, the far-right Rassemblement National’s (RN) long-standing friendship with the Kremlin is causing concern in both Brussels and Kyiv.

For a long time, Marine le Pen and senior members of the RN proudly published photos of their trips to Moscow and excursions into the territories occupied by the Kremlin in Ukraine. Now that it is on the possible verge of power according to opinion polls, it aims to be more accommodating.

A few days ago, RN party leader Jordan Bardella announced France should “allow Ukraine to defend itself”, but stated that he was against “any risk of escalation with Russia”.

In the event of victory in the French legislative elections, Bardella has drawn up two red lines that can’t be crossed. Firstly, supplying Kyiv with long-range missiles that would enable it to strike deep into Russian territory. Secondly, sending French troops on the ground, as French President Emmanuel Macron has suggested earlier this year.

Last February, France and Ukraine signed a security cooperation agreement providing for up to €3 billion in military support for 2024, but it has not been formally ratified by the National Assembly and therefore is not yet legally binding.

Concerns in Brussels

Bardella has made assurances that he does not want to “call into question the commitments made by France on the international stage,” but this does not stop many EU diplomats and officials from expressing concern.

“I don’t see how the RN ministers who will sit in the European institutions can be forced to follow the line defined by (French President) Emmanuel Macron,” a European Commission source, responsible for Ukraine aid programmes, told Euractiv.

In February, EU member states agreed to provide €50 billion in aid to Kyiv, a package denounced by the RN members of the European parliament (MEPs).

The EU’s €50 billion, in the form of loans and grants, is intended to support the country’s recovery and reconstruction until 2027.

“A financial transfer to Ukraine is made every quarter, and it is the member states of the Union that have to validate it, by qualified majority”, said the same European Commission source.

“The RN could be tempted to join forces with Hungary, Slovakia and other countries to obstruct the process,” they added.

Liberal Renaissance MEP Bernard Guetta, however, said he “doesn’t think that the RN would take the risk of immediately blocking transfers of funds and weapons, especially during the first few months of a (…) government.”

“On the other hand, it will have the capacity to slow down all decisions, stir up controversy in France and put pressure not to grant further aid,” said Guetta.

EU member states on Monday (24 June) approved the use of €1.4 billion in windfall profits from frozen Russian assets for Ukraine, by circumventing Hungary from the vote.

“The example of Hungary shows that if certain countries refuse to send aid to Ukraine, there are creative solutions to get round these blockages,” Gesine Weber, defence researcher at King’s College London told Euractiv.

“However, the situation would be far more complicated if France were to obstruct, because we are talking here about the second most powerful country in the Union,” she added.

Ukraine’s EU integration at risk?

Ukraine and Moldova officially launched accession negotiations with the EU on Tuesday (25 June), marking the beginning of a process of reforms that is likely to take years.

It appears, however, unlikely that there will be further progress onto the next step in the coming six months, when Hungary is expected to hold the EU’s rotating presidency from 1 July onwards.

As Budapest unveiled the official programme for the Presidency last week, Hungary’s European Affairs Minister Janos Boka said “the issue of opening the chapters [which make up the six thematic groups of the accession negotiations] will not be raised at all during the Hungarian presidency”.

If the RN comes to power, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban will be able to count on Bardella’s unconditional support concerning the Ukrainian issue.

The RN leader has always said he was “opposed” to any further enlargement, which in the case of Ukraine, “could mean the end of French agriculture,” as he explained during a debate last May.

The opening of each chapter must be voted on unanimously by all EU member states. A government led by the RN in France could therefore hinder the process.

*first published in: Euractiv.com

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