10th Jun 2023

EU-Ukraine association pact: avoiding ratification

  • The treaty could in this way enter into life even if one or another parliament in an EU country says No to ratification (Photo: thisisbossi)

Before the furore over Yulia Tymoshenko's bruises and Euro2012 Ukraine and the European Union initialed their Association Agreement on 30 March. It seemed like progress, albeit of a technical nature, with the hardest part of the job ahead.

Diplomatic sources say the the ink was put only on the political association part of the pact. Meanwhile, only the first and last pages of the "deep and comprehensive" free trade section were initialled because the two sides are still fine-tuning the legal language in some areas.

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The negotiations started back in 2007. They were announced ended on 19 December 2011.

The pact was not initialled there and then - as planned - because there was lack of political will amid the furore over democratic standards.

The date of intialling became a source of much media speculation in the weeks that followed. The EU kept complaining about democratic values and Kiev kept hoping the problem would somehow go away.

What kind of progress does the 30 March initialling actually mean, however? It was done purely for public consumption because it does not carry any legal weight. After all, there are still many hurdles to overcome before the pact is actually signed, let alone ratified by the 27 EU governments and Ukraine.

For his part, Valeriy Chaly, the deputy head of the Kiev-based think-tank, the Razumkov Center, believes Ukraine has still not made up its mind about whether it really wants EU integration.

"Today there still exists the variant that the initialing could be the last thing that ever happens with the association agreement, and that would be a great loss for Ukraine. The ruling regime must back up its declarations that it has chosen the EU path with real action. In the balance between personal, tactical interests and the national strategic interest, EU integration is the only way - it is supported by the majority of citizens and political parties. There is no alternative," he said.

EU Neighbourhood Commissioner Stefan Fuele told Kiev in February "the agreement would be signed in autumn if the situation changes."

There is little doubt he was referring to some kind of civilised solution to the jailing of ex-prime-minister Yulia Tymoshenko and ex-interior-minister Yuriy Lutsenko.

He was also alluding to democratic standards in the parliamentary elections in autumn. These will stand under a democratic question mark if Tymoshenko, the main political opponent, remains blocked from taking part in the vote.

"The elections will be the final benchmark when EU-Ukraine relations will be defined," Polish right-wing MEP Marek Siwiec has said.

The question of ratification is even more complicated. One EU diplomat has said that because of the political situation "ratification appears to be something that would happen in a very long perspective, if ever."

Germany and France were in the past the most sceptical member states when it came to Ukraine's EU aspirations. But now that camp is getting bigger. The state of democracy in Ukraine gives the sceptics an opportunity to destroy its EU hopes. At the same time, Ukraine is doing nothing to counter this.

Ukraine's ministry of foreign affairs is even considering a plan B. Under this scenario, the EU would after the signature put in place interim measures for applying the economic and political parts of the treaty.

"After signing the agreement, we could temporarily use it before the ratification by the national parliaments. Ratification is a very long process and could last for several years," Ukrainian deputy foreign minister Pavlo Klimkon said earlier this month.

It is possible to take this step under EU law and Ukraine is counting on it.

All it would need is the green light from the European Parliament and the Verkhovna Rada. The treaty could in this way enter into life even if one or another parliament in an EU country says No to ratification.

And it would mean Ukraine could duck EU demands on democracy and "selective justice."

This scenario makes the signature of the treaty the key moment in the process. And I am quite sure the EU understands Kiev's thinking on the interim measures - would it really let the regime off the hook in this way?

There is little to celebrate in the (partial) initialling. The only way toward firm relations with the Union is through reform of legal and democratic standards.

The writer is a freelance journalist in Ukraine

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