Action first, talk later: PM says aid to Ukraine more important than discussing accession to EU

“Less debates, more practical solutions”, urges António Costa

The EU should focus on providing immediate help to Ukraine rather than engaging in “legal debates” about whether to designate the country as a candidate for membership, according to Portugal’s prime minister. 

António Costa said in an interview with the Financial Times that candidate status — the beginning of an accession process that would take many years — would not solve Ukraine’s urgent problems and risked creating “false expectations”. 

He fears the EU “would only display its divisions over the issue, handing a gift to Russian president Vladimir Putin. His comments underlined the disquiet in some EU capitals about granting candidate status to Kyiv despite the pleas of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who regards a membership path as a guarantee of Ukraine’s sovereignty and an anchor for its recovery”, the FT continues. 

EU leaders are due to decide on the matter at a summit in Brussels on June 23-24. 

Mr Costa says he supports a “European perspective” for Ukraine. He does not explicitly oppose candidate status, but is waiting for a European Commission assessment later this week. 

He told the FT it is “essential to answer the emergency Ukraine and the Ukrainian people are living now”. Even if Ukraine was granted candidate status, “the real problems remain to be solved (…) My focus is to obtain in the next European Council a clear commitment on the urgent support and to build a long-term platform to support the recovery of Ukraine (…) This is my main priority. The most important are not legal debates about Ukraine but practical deliveries.” 

The FT describes António Costa as “the longest-serving centre-left government leader in Europe. In elections in January, his party obtained an absolute majority and no longer requires the support of two smaller far-left parties to govern. He is touted as a potential future candidate for one of the EU’s top jobs”. 

“The best support that the European Union can give to Ukraine is to keep its unity”, the PM told the paper. “The best we can offer is European unity.” 

Ursula von der Leyen, the commission president, has strongly advocated putting Ukraine on the first step towards membership – which the commission is expected to formally recommend on Friday. But EU capitals are divided. Dutch premier Mark Rutte told the Netherlands’ parliament last month that many EU members were opposed. Sceptics have said it would be unfair to give precedence to Ukraine over Georgia and Moldova, for instance. It would also raise questions over the status of Serbia, Montenegro and Turkey, whose candidacies have been stuck for many years – or Albania and North Macedonia, with whom negotiations have not started. 

Mr Costa said the idea floated by Emmanuel Macron last month for a European Political Community, a looser form of association for countries that do not want membership or which do not meet the full entry criteria, “could be a good idea to solve a lot of problems”. 

We need to find different ways to be partners, allies and friends on the same continent,” he said. 

Portugal grants temporary protection to more than 42,000 Ukrainians

Meantime, Portugal has granted temporary protection to more than 42,000 Ukrainians, the vast majority of them being women.

SEF reports that the highest number of temporary protection requests granted continue to be in Lisbon (7,646), Cascais (2,635), Porto (1,630), Sintra (1,495) and Albufeira (1,168).

SEF has also indicated that it has issued 37,881 certificates granting a residence permit under the temporary protection regime.

This certificate – issued after the national health service, social security and tax authority have assigned the respective numbers – is necessary for refugees to start working and access support.

During the process of assigning these numbers, citizens can consult the numbers that have been assigned in the meantime, in their reserved area of the digital platform

SEF also reports that requests for temporary protection have been authorised for 12,743 children and young teens, representing around 30% of the total.

Of those minors, 731 have arrived in this country without parents or legal representatives – cases in which there has been considered to be no “present or imminent danger”.

15 nonetheless were flagged after arriving unaccompanied, “with someone other than parents or a proven legal representative”. Their cases are being treated by SEF as representing “current or imminent danger”.

Source material: Financial Times/ Lusa