Friday

26th Apr 2019

Opinion

Ukraine-EU: the final count-down

  • Pro-Tymoshenko protesters at the Ukrainian parliament (Photo: byut.com.ua)

Ukraine has been a significant factor behind the EU’s progressively increased engagement in its eastern neighbourhood, with Kiev repeatedly pushing the EU to bring more to the table.

While a clear EU membership perspective has been off the menu, Association Agreements, Deep and Comprehensive and Free Trade Areas (DCFTA) and visa liberalisation have been proffered. Indeed, all the other countries in the region have gained from Ukraine’s endeavors. Unfortunately, it would now seem there is a real possibility that while all the others (except Belarus) continue to have progressive relationships with the EU, even though a number of these states are far from democratic, Kiev's European integration process risks derailment.

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With just over three weeks until the EU-Ukraine Summit, where the recently finalized Association Agreement is supposed to be initialed, the future of EU-Ukraine relations hangs in the balance. The trial and imprisonment of former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, for abuse of power while in office, has turned Ukraine’s EU soup toxic.

Not only has it damaged Ukraine's image, it has given those that have always opposed Ukraine's further integration with the EU, ammunition to block Kiev. The EU has always been adamant the case is politically motivated and therefore linked signature of the Association Agreement to the case, signaling it expected Ukraine's President, Viktor Yanukovych, to find a way to release Tymoshenko and allow her to re-enter political life.

Not surprisingly Yanukovych has claimed that if he pressures the judge he would directly violate independence of judiciary, although few believe in the independence of Ukrainian courts any way. Moreover by doing this, the EU has contradicted itself by demanding independence of the judiciary while at the same time suggesting Yanukovych should intervene.

The Tymoshenko case is currently in the Court of Appeals. While the court is due to give a verdict in December, it is unclear whether or not this will be before the 19 December summit. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that Tymoshenko will be released, not least because of new charges brought against her for her involvement in the Scherban murder case. Rather it is far more like that former interior minister, Yurii Lutsenko will be released.

However, in light of what is at stake in terms of the EU’s relationship with a key strategic partner, and more broadly for its entire Eastern Partnership policy, it seems that most member states are prepared to initial the agreement - signature will almost certainly not happen until after Ukraine's crucial Parliamentary elections in October 2012. However, while France is still wavering, Germany, which has recently been pushing for closer relations with Russia, is continuing to insist that Tymoshenko's release must be a pre-condition.

Moreover, the EU should take a look at the approach of its own institutions which often display an unprincipled approach, in particular in the European Parliament. The European Peoples Party (EPP) seems to be demonstrating a policy of supporting its members.

The most recent example of this was the recent passing of two different resolutions. One on Ukraine, condemning Ukraine's leadership for its "selective justice" while a second on Georgia was totally devoid of reference to the decision of Georgia's leadership to revoke the Georgian nationality of presidential hopeful Bidzina Ivanishvili, which many observers have labeled as politically motivated.

Both the Yulia Tymoshenko Blok and the UNM Party of Georgian President Saakashvili are associate members of the EPP. The EPP, the biggest group in the EPP, has considerable influence, including in the drafting of such texts.

The EU will gain nothing from disengaging with Kiev other than helping to contribute to an increasingly unpredictable and unstable Ukraine, which will only serve to undermine its policy to increase democracy and freedoms in this region.

The EU should not delay the Association Agreement which ideally should also include a reference to Article 49. The inclusion of such an reference will create a far stronger instrument in facilitating the reform process, including in Ukraine’s jurassic-like judicial and legal system, which is in urgent need of attention.

Indeed, the EU should create a specific monitoring instrument to ensure Kyiv’s commitment in this area which could also be presented at the December summit. When real incentives are put on the table, progress usually happens. This has already been proved with Ukraine's efforts in implementing its Action Plan for visa liberalization which is proving to be a success story for Ukraine’s leadership. The Association Agreement could be used in the same way.

The writer is an analyst at the European Policy Centre think-tank in Brussels.

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