EU-Ukraine relations: the road ahead

27 February 2012

 “EU integration isn’t easy. We’re talking about the total transformation of our political system,” said Andriy Klyuyev, recently appointed secretary of the Council of National Security and Defence of Ukraine.

“The Association Agreement is a first step towards integration and sets the course for the next ten years. The EU will play a key role in security issues too,” said Klyuyev, a former First Vice-Prime Minister of Ukraine.

He said Ukraine’s top priority was delivering “domestic political stability in line with EU values,” starting with ensuring that parliamentary elections due on 28 October 2012 are free and fair.

“The second priority is constitutional reform: we need an efficient administrative system that allows the sustainable development of Ukraine,” said Klyuyev, a former Minister of Economic Development and Trade.

The third priority is judicial reform, he said, expressing hope that a new criminal charter drafted with EU help would be approved in March.

He admitted that the Yulia Tymoshenko situation was having “a negative effect on our image in the EU,” and identified finding a satisfactory solution as a fourth priority.

He also insisted that Ukraine was keen to sign its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU.

“Let’s stop with the paradoxes of the end of 2011 and eliminate them altogether in 2012,” said EU Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Štefan Füle.

“EU-Ukraine relations are at a critical point. Putting in place the Association Agreement and the DCFTA last December were major achievements, showing that we can work together on issues of substance,” he said.

“But at the same time, progress has fallen below our expectations regarding selective justice, the business climate and constitutional reform,” he lamented.

Commissioner Füle identified six key areas in which action is needed:

  1. It is essential to recognise that the justice system is failing.
  2. Laws governing freedom of assembly must be amended, along with rules governing the appointment of judges.
  3. Parliamentary democracy must be reformed. Observers must be invited to monitor elections.
  4. Constitutional reform must be monitored by an independent body. The opposition must play a constructive role in achieving change.
  5. Civil service law and economic stability rules must be amended to bring them into line with EU standards.
  6. The gas transit system must be reformed. The Energy Community Treaty and all Ukraine’s agreements with the EU and Russia must be fully respected.

“We need to get EU-Ukraine relations back on track. We must reset relations. Let’s learn from our mistakes. The necessary strong political will in Ukraine and in the EU to move forward together is there,” said Ukrainian First Vice-Prime Minister Valeriy Khoroshkovskyi.

“We’ve invested a lot in EU-Ukraine relations in recent years. We now have on the table the most far-reaching agreement between the EU and any other country. But it remains on the table – that’s the problem,” said Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Bildt.

Bildt said it was essential for Ukraine to restore the credibility of the rule of law. “There can be no democracy without it,” he warned.

“The upcoming elections are critical. Ukraine’s long-term economic potential is huge, but without improving the business climate, no-one will invest there,” the Swedish minister said.

“Until 2010, the relationship between the EU and Ukraine mostly depended on the EU. We’ve always expected the EU to say ‘yes’ to Ukraine. But since 2010, progress in our relations has depended for the first time on answers from Kyiv,” said Borys Tarasyuk, a member of the opposition in the Ukrainian parliament.

“Why are we in this situation where the overall relationship depends on Ukraine? Because of the Ukrainian authorities,” said Tarasyuk, who heads the parliament’s Committee of European Integration.

“We’re at a critical point. Our problems are Ukrainian-made. Whether it’s about the DCFTA, visa liberalisation or something else, all the answers lie in Kyiv,” he said.

“There’s no alternative to Ukraine’s Europeanisation. No-one in history has successfully lived ‘in between’,” said Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Minister Audronius Ažubalis.

“You either Europeanise or be absorbed by anti-democratic forces. The EU doesn’t simply absorb neighbouring countries. It offers long-term integration to those who reform to its standards, and it supports their transition,” Ažubalis explained.

“All enlargement countries have had to adopt reforms that respect the basic European values of human rights, freedom, democracy and the rule of law. It’s not just about joining the EU, but also about making progress at home,” said Czech Socialist MEP Libor Rouček.

“Without such progress, there can be no orderly, long-term economic growth, because there won’t be enough foreign investment,” Rouček warned.

“I sincerely thank all of you for supporting Ukraine’s European agenda. I thank you for your objective and sharp criticism, which shows how important you consider Ukraine to be,” said Petro Poroshenko, president of the Council of the National Bank of Ukraine.

“We cannot take all this in cold ignorance and isolate ourselves from the European continent,” Poroshenko warned.