By Jan Strupczewski
BRUSSELS, May 23 (Reuters) – Lithuanian Finance Minister Gintare Skaiste on Monday urged the European Union to set up a fund that would help countries hosting thousands of Ukrainian refugees deal with the financial burden, just like the EU l did for Turkey in 2016.
The United Nations estimates that some 6.5 million Ukrainians have left their country since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24. Most of them, some 3.5 million, entered Poland and almost a million went to Romania.
“In Lithuania, Ukrainians now make up around 2% of the population,” Skaiste told Reuters in an interview. “In Estonia it’s around 2.5% and in Poland around 6-7%, so the numbers to support them are quite large. We are asking for additional funds, which would be helpful in this situation,” he said. she stated.
The estimate of the average cost of a refugee for the host country is around 500 euros per person per month, Skaiste said, which represents a significant number, which will increase further depending on the length of stay of the refugees. refugees.
In response, the Commission has offered EU governments flexibility in using EU funds they would have received under the last or current long-term budget, but not new funds. .
Skaiste said this was not helpful for many Eastern European countries who have already spent their EU allocations from the last EU budget and did not want to abandon the projects they were planning to d be funded by the EU under the current plan.
“I’m not asking for flexibility, I’m asking for additional funding,” she said.
“I ask if we could perhaps reflect on the instrument that was used before in the migration crisis when migrants came from Turkey to Greece and the countries of the European Union decided to set up additional funds and donate that money to support migrants,” she said. .
To help tackle the 2015 migration crisis, the EU in 2016 offered Turkey a total of €6 billion to host 3.7 million refugees from Syria. Half of the money came from the EU budget and the other half from national contributions from EU countries.
Skaiste also said Lithuania was open to any proposal for long-term funding for Ukraine’s reconstruction after the destruction wrought by Russian troops, including through new common EU debt.
Germany is opposed to any new joint EU borrowing, but the sums needed for Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction, estimated by kyiv at $600 billion on May 3, may be too large for the EU can manage them without a new common debt project.
Lithuania, Slovakia, Latvia and Estonia will call at a meeting of EU finance ministers on Tuesday for the confiscation of Russian assets frozen by the EU to finance the reconstruction of Ukraine, according to a letter joint written by the four.
Skaiste said the reconstruction should go hand in hand with the process of accepting the country into the European Union.
“The reconstruction of Ukraine must absolutely go in the direction of Ukraine’s admission into the European Union because there could be synergies between these two processes – the reforms implemented in Ukraine and the funds for the reconstruction,” she said. (Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Hugh Lawson)