Wednesday

24th May 2017

Opinion

EU and Ukraine: closer ties despite backsliding?

  • Central square in Kiev: if Ukrainians see more of EU democracy, they will demand more at home (Photo: wikipedia)

The political situation in Ukraine remains tense.

Last autumn’s parliamentary elections were supposed to be a litmus test, a chance for Ukraine to show that it is on track towards European integration.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But restrictions in the election run-up and manipulation of vote counts took place on a massive scale, seriously damaging the country’s image. The election watchdog, the Vienna-based OSCE, and the EU observation mission concluded that the vote constituted a step backwards compared with those of 2008 and 2010.

The new electoral law virtually invites manipulation.

Access to the media was not equal, particularly in the case of Ukraine’s top information source - television. Leading opposition figures are still in prison, with Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuri Lutsenko as the prime examples.

But at the same time, the strong approval for two totally new parties reveals a desire to turn away from the old elites. The Ukrainian people want leaders who are ready to think of their country first.

Unfortunately, the members of the governing elite of this country, home to 40 million people, are thinking of themselves, and of ways to sideline their political opponents.

The flow of fresh accusations and charges against ex-PM Tymoshenko and, recently, her lawyer, Sergei Vlasenko, exarcebate the situation further.

Ex-interior-minister Lutsenko, sentenced to a four-year prison term for a questionable minor offence, also remains in prison despite being seriously ill.

Add to this, the exertion of direct influence over the work of the remaining free media: the case of the axed political talk show at TV broadcaster Inter, for instance, or the case of online news agency Unian, which is under threat of closure.

This is why a far-reaching, previously-negotiated EU association agreement, with an accompanying deep free trade agreement, has been put on ice for some time.

The EU has attached three conditions to the signing of this pact, which is important for both sides: electoral law reform, including implementation of the OSCE and Council of Europe recommendations, additional major reforms and an end to politically motivated justice.

None of these conditions has been met.

The EU must not simply sit and watch as the country is misused to benefit a corrupt elite.

It must act to strengthen pro-European forces and offer other forms of assistance to the country to tackle problems with rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

The EU has compiled a list of a dozen specific issues on which Ukraine must take action by May in accordance with previous agreements.

These include reforms in the justice system, in criminal law, in the criminal procedure code, the fight against corruption and the implementation of the recommendations of the Cox-Kwasniewski mission.

The European Parliament charged Pat Cox, its former president, and Alexander Kwasniewski, a former president of Poland, with investigating the politically-motivated proceedings against Tymoshenko and others.

The findings of the election observations and the European Parliament mission have now resulted in specific demands placed on the Ukrainian leadership.

In the eyes of the EU, these are non-negotiable. If Ukraine wants to sign the association agreement at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November, it must finally demonstrate the necessary political will and take action on the agreed reforms as swiftly as possible.

But for its part, the EU should better communicate the advantages of closer ties and promote people-to-people contacts.

This would entail, for example, publishing the text of the agreement with an explanation of the advantages and development opportunities it entails for Ukraine. Once the Ukrainian people and civil society understand what is at stake, they will put more pressure on the elite.

A good visa agreement is also necessary.

In the coming weeks, the European Parliament will approve visa facilitation for certain groups, such as students, scholars and business travellers.

But the actual application of the existing visa regime remains at the discretion of the EU member states, and here there is considerable need for improvement, in Germany, for example.

Despite this, it is primarily delays on the part of the Ukrainian government which stand in the way of progress towards the complete elimination of visa requirements.

A roadmap to visa-free travel has already been agreed, it calls for important new legislation, such as data protection directives and anti-corruption and anti-discrimination laws.

Not only has this legislation not been enacted, but, in clear contrast to the call to ensure protection against discrimination, there are two laws targeting “homosexual propaganda” in the pipeline, laws which would violate people's rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

The EU should also engage more actively in co-operation in the energy sector, for example, on energy efficiency or the diversification and modernisation of Ukraine's decrepit power grid, as well as in the difficult negotiations with Russia over a new gas agreement.

Extending the Erasmus student exchange programme is also important, because it gives students in particular the freedom to travel to countries where they can see democracy at work.

We cannot and must not set aside our values and standards. On the contrary: we must give people the opportunity to come to understand and appreciate freedom and democracy so that they will demand it in their own country.

Werner Schulz is a German Green MEP, who sits on the foreign affairs committee and the EU-Ukraine parliamentary committee on co-operation

Media crackdown ahead of EU-Ukraine summit

Alleged sabotage of a news agency, the axing of a top TV show - days ahead of an EU-Ukraine summit, diplomats fear a new media crackdown in Kiev.

Ukraine: the book scandal that never was

Ukraine's President is getting millions of euros for books he never wrote. But Ukrainians have stopped believing that any kind of scandal will bring change.

Why the EU doesn't get China's Belt and Road

It is not enough for European officials to simply tell the press that they do not understand the Belt and Road – the vision is clear enough, the point is to decide how to engage with it.

Development serving the purpose of migration control

While the EU is sacrificing development aid to serve short-term migration interests, it is important to realise that enhanced border controls will not solve the root causes of forced migration and displacement.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild Alert on Myanmar: Fruits of Rapid Development yet to Reach Remote Regions
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBecome an Explorer - 'Traces of Nordic' Seeking Storytellers Around the World
  3. Malta EU 2017Closer Cooperation and Reinforced Solidarity to Ensure Security of Gas Supply
  4. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceHigh-Intensity Interval Training Is Therapeutic Option for Type 2 Diabetes
  5. Dialogue Platform"The West Must Help Turkey Return to a Democratic Path" a Call by Fethullah Gulen
  6. ILGA-EuropeRainbow Europe 2017 Is Live - Which Countries Are Leading on LGBTI Equality?
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWhen You Invest in a Refugee Woman You Help the Whole Community
  8. Eurogroup for AnimalsECJ Ruling: Member States Given No Say on Wildlife Protection In Trade
  9. European Heart NetworkCall for Urgent Adoption of EU-Wide Nutrient Profiles for Nutrition & Health Claims
  10. Counter BalanceInvestment Plan for Europe More Climate Friendly but European Parliament Shows Little Ambition
  11. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi: China's Belt and Road Initiative Benefits People Around the World
  12. Malta EU 2017EU Strengthens Control of the Acquisition and Possession of Firearms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Cost of Speaking Out: Human Rights Violations Committed in Belarus
  2. ACCABanishing Bias? Audit, Objectivity and the Value of Professional Scepticism
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Oslo Climate Declaration Focuses on Rising Temperatures in the Arctic
  4. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceAbdominal Obesity: A Causal Risk Factor for Cardiometabolic Diseases
  5. EU Green Week 2017Discuss EU Environmental Policies With Industry Experts and Thought Leaders
  6. GEN Summit 2017Join the World's Leading Media Summit for Thought-Provoking Talks and Experiences
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTogether for Human Rights: A Year in Review
  8. Malta EU 2017EU All Set for Free Roaming Starting 15 June
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersRefugee Unemployment Biggest Drain on Public Purse, Says New Nordic Studies
  10. Dialogue Platform17,000 Women, 515 Babies in Turkish Prisons, a Report Reveals
  11. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCharlotte Hornets' Nicolas Batum Tells Kids to "Eat Well, Drink Well, Move!"
  12. ECR GroupSyed Kamall: We Need a New, More Honest Relationship With Turkey