Wednesday

20th Nov 2019

EU court blow to 'Eastern Partnership' credibility

  • Viktor Yanukovych's former mansion was turned into a "Museum of Corruption" by Ukraine (Photo: aleksandr.andreiko)

An EU court in Luxembourg has annulled sanctions on Ukraine's former regime in a symbolic blow to European foreign policy in the former Soviet region.

Asset freezes imposed on Ukraine's ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, his son Oleksandr, and five others in the ruling clan that was ousted from power in a revolution five years ago breached their "fundamental rights" on "effective judicial protection", the EU's General Court said on Thursday (11 July).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Ukraine's former president Viktor Yanukovych (c) refused to sign EU association treaty (Photo: president.gov.ua)

The EU sanctions were based on "letters" sent to the EU Council in Brussels by the post-revolutionary authorities in Kiev.

But "none of the information contained in the letters ... makes it possible to consider that the Council had sufficient information to verify that those rights had been complied with," the court noted.

The other five members of the Yanukovych regime cleared by the ruling were his former revenues minister Oleksandr Klymenko, former prime minister Sergej Arbuzov, former prosecutor general Viktor Pshonka and his son Artem, as well as Yanukovych's former chief of staff Andriy Klyuyev.

Ukraine sought their EU listing because they were accused of embezzling billions from the state.

There is little doubt they were guilty after raids on their luxury homes found piles of cash and gold bullion.

The EU verdict said nothing on their actual culpability and any money frozen in EU states will remain so, because the court annulled sanctions imposed between 2014 and 2018 only, but not their latest renewal - until March 2020.

The EU Council can also appeal the General Court ruling at its highest tribunal, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, in the next two months and 10 days.

And the EU foreign service said on Thursday: "We will analyse carefully the judgments and decide on ... the way forward".

Symbolism

But despite its limitations, the verdict dented EU soft power in the six former Soviet states on its eastern flank - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

An EU plan, the so-called 'Eastern Partnership', launched in 2009, envisaged signing political and economic "association treaties" designed to put relations with those countries on as close a footing as the EU enjoyed with Norway or Switzerland.

When Yanukovych refused to sign, he faced a popular uprising, which saw him flee to Russia.

Russia then pushed back by invading Crimea and east Ukraine, starting a conflict which has claimed 13,000 lives and which shows no sign of ending despite EU diplomacy.

For his part, Ukraine's new president Volodymyr Zelenskiy phoned Russian president Vladimir Putin also on Thursday to propose a peace summit in Minsk with Russia, France, Germany, the UK, and the US.

"We never refused to hold any kind of talks, including the expansion of the Normandy process," Putin said the same day in Moscow, referring to former peace summits in the so-called 'Normandy format', which had included Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany only.

The Russian leader wanted to wait until Britain had a new prime minister and until EU powers and US had made clear their intentions, however.

"What was the reaction of the US administration? We don't know. How will German and France respond? These are the questions that need answers," Putin said.

Ukraine aside, the Eastern Partnership process has also struggled in the other five countries in the past decade.

Armenia and Belarus joined Putin's "Eurasian Union" instead under Russian duress.

Georgia and Moldova are under partial Russian occupation in three breakaway 'republics' and Azerbaijan is ruled by a petro-dictator who has no interest in pro-European reforms.

Blessing

Some progress was made in the teeth of obstacles, EU Council president Donald Tusk said also on Thursday.

"When looking at the Eastern Partnership's first 10 years, it is evident that thanks to it and through it, our relations have become deeper, more structured, and more predictable", he said in Batumi, Georgia.

"You remember when the Russian president said in 2005: 'We should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century'?," Tusk added.

"Today in Georgia I want to say loud and clear: the collapse of the Soviet Union was a blessing to Georgians, Poles, and Ukrainians, as well as to the whole of central and eastern Europe. And I'm convinced that also to Russians," he said.

Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine want to join the EU.

And Tusk said that future "EU membership ... remains currently on the agenda" in the former Soviet region.

But he warned that "there are many in Europe who have doubts about further enlargement", referring to French and Dutch-led opposition to expanding the EU for now.

Opinion

My vision for the upcoming Ukraine-EU summit

Former Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko writes on the prospects for Monday's EU-Ukraine summit - the first under his successor Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and against a backdrop of ongoing Russian aggression

Feature

Colonisers speak - 60 years after Congo's independence

Belgium is in the midst of a nationwide reassessment of its colonial past. Under pressure from a younger, more activist, generation and a growing African diaspora, the former colonial power has taken some steps over the past year.

Magazine

EU diplomacy 2.0

MEPs on the foreign affairs committee ought to be like second-tier EU diplomats on the Western Balkans and Russia, according to its German chairman, but foreign policy splits could bedevil its work.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us