• 'It [the signature] is a sign of our solidarity,' EU Council chief Van Rompuy (r) said (Photo: Consilium.europa.eu)

EU and Ukraine sign 2% of association treaty

21.03.14 @ 16:46

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - EU and Ukrainian leaders have described as “historic” the signature of what amounts to 2 percent of an association and free trade treaty.

The 28 EU Prime Ministers and Presidents, Ukraine’s interim PM, and top EU officials in Brussels on Friday (21 March) put ink on the same accord that was rejected by ousted Ukrainian chief Viktor Yanukovych last November.

“The refusal to sign the association agreement with the European Union created a popular uprising, a political and cultural shift. We pay tribute to those who gave their life for freedom … It [the signature] is a sign of our solidarity,” EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy said.

Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk noted: “This deal meets the aspirations of millions of Ukrainians that want to be part of the European Union.”

In concrete terms, Friday’s signature covers 21 out of the 1,378 pages (excluding annexes and protocols), or some 2 percent, of the full accord.

The 21 pages contain a preamble, some general principles for bilateral relations, and plans for joint foreign and security policy, for instance, on arms proliferation.

They also bind the EU to respect Ukraine’s “territorial integrity.”

The other 1,357 pages - a far-reaching alignment of Ukrainian commercial law and standards with the EU rulebook, or acquis - are to be signed on an uspecified date after Ukraine’s presidential elections on 25 May.

Amid the flowery words in Brussels, some EU diplomats fear the part-signature will be greeted with disappointment by average Ukrainians.

“People have died for the EU, and this is the solution we come up with,” one EU diplomat said.

Despite Yatsenyuk’s comment on “aspirations,” the treaty preamble designates Ukraine as “a European country [which] shares a common history and common values” with EU states.

The formula, which makes no reference to EU enlargement, effectively puts the topic on ice for several years.

When asked on Ukraine’s accession prospects, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday: “We need to see how the discussion in Ukraine progresses.” Polish leader Donald Tusk said: “That’s not for today. Let’s face it, Ukraine has more serious problems to tackle [now] … There is no need to rush the course of history.”

The EU commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity comes on the same day that Russia formally annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

EU leaders blacklisted 12 people and cancelled a summit with Russia in protest. But they said Russia can keep the territory without incurring more painful economic sanctions. “This [the annexation] is not an element to trigger stage three [of sanctions],” Van Rompuy noted.

Aside from disappointing Ukrainian people, the delay of the full treaty signature carries other risks.

It means Ukraine is not yet legally bound to stay out of Russia’s Customs Union.

It is unclear if Ukraine’s next president will want to sign.

Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of the Pravyi Sektor, a militant nationalist group, on Friday said he will run for the post. He also said Ukraine should have a “non-aligned status,” rejecting both EU integration and Russia’s Customs Union.

It also remains to be seen what levers Moscow will pull in the next few months.

Russia on Friday said it wants the nearly-bankrupt Ukraine to pay $11 billion of gas debts.

One EU diplomat voiced concern that if Ukraine’s former PM, Yulia Tymoshenko, returns to power, she might make a deal with the Kremlin: “She could try to become a hero by going to Moscow and winning concessions, on the invasion or on other issues, in return for an EU treaty-lite.”

Why not sign the whole thing?

There are different versions on why the EU split the pact.

EU officials say it was so that Ukrainian politicians can muster popular support for the trade deal, which comes with painful reforms, in their election campaigns.

Merkel said Yatsenyuk, Tymoshenko’s ally, came up with the idea: “Ukraine wanted to sign the political part only. We are willing to sign the second part on trade, but it has implications for Ukraine-Russia trade, so we respect their wishes.”

The EU diplomat cited two other motives.

The contact said large member states, including Germany, favour postponement in light of Russia’s military action because “there is a feeling it might provoke the Russians if we sign the whole agreement [now].”

The source added that anti-enlargement states, such as France, are wary of the treaty implications.

“The trade and economic parts of the agreement would make Ukraine into an 80-percent member state in terms of acquis compliance. It would make them closer to the EU than the Western Balkan countries [which have an accession promise]. So if they one day applied for membership, it would be very hard to say No on objective criteria,” the contact said.