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22nd May 2022

Juncker: No more delay on Ukraine free trade

  • Maidan memorial: The trade deal has symbolic value (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has said EU-Ukraine free trade should start next year, despite calls for another delay.

He told press in Kiev on Monday (27 April) “it’s important” for the trade pact to be fully implemented from 1 January, even though “others want to postpone the entry into force".

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  • Tusk said an EU military mission isn't realistic at this point (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

"We don’t think this would be a wise or a good idea. It’s already been postponed once, so if we keep postponing, postponing, and postponing, we will never reach the end”.

The so-called DCFTA is designed to reorient Ukraine exports from Russia to the EU and to open the Ukrainian market, of more than 40 million people, to EU products.

It also has symbolic value after the “Euromaidan” revolution toppled the former regime, in part, over its decision to abandon the pact.

EU countries, last year, deferred its full application in an effort to mollify Russia, which says it'll see cheap EU products flood the Russian market via Ukraine.

It continues to object to the treaty, with Germany, earlier this month, urging Juncker to show “maximum flexibility” on implementation in order to accommodate “Russian concerns” and with the commission, on 20 April, restarting EU-Russia-Ukraine trade talks.

The DCFTA, which aligns Ukrainian law with the EU single market, is also seen as a precursor of Ukraine enlargement.

Speaking alongside Juncker, Ukraine leader Petro Poroshenko said: “We're building a new democratic country with European standards, which will become a member of the EU in the near term."

Neither Juncker nor EU Council chief Donald Tusk, a Pole whose native country favours accession, endorsed Poroshenko’s aspiration, however.

European state?

Asked by press if Ukraine is a “European state” - a designation used in the EU treaty on the eligibility of any “European state” to apply for membership - Juncker said only that it’s “part of the European family”.

The EU also rejected Ukraine’s appeal for a military mission to monitor ceasefire compliance on the model of the EU mission in Georgia.

Tusk said he'll send an “assessment team” to look into expanding an EU civilian mission, which began work last year on reform of Ukraine’s internal security forces.

“For sure, today, we can only talk about a civilian mission, not a military one”, he noted.

Juncker added that the commission is paying out another €250 million in macro-financial aid and launching a third-wave of assistance worth €1.8 billion.

He also pledged €70 million for the defunct Chernobyl nuclear plant.

The EU summit, the first in Kiev since the Euromaidan, took place amid a flare up in fighting.

The OSCE, an international monitoring group, reported on Monday there were “numerous ceasefire violations”, involving mostly small arms and mortars, in south-east Ukraine, as well as mortar and artillery fire further north. It described the situation as “volatile”.

Volatility

It also says tanks, heavy artillery, and armoured personnel carriers are again massing on the Russian side of the contact line.

The EU has, in the past, shied from referring to “Russian forces” in Ukraine amid Russian claims its forces were never there.

But Juncker on Monday spoke of "Russian aggression in this part of Europe".

Tusk said: “We expect the Russian Federation to take its responsibility for fulfilling its obligations, this includes withdrawing Russian armed forces and equipment”.

“It's worth recalling that our sanctions and restrictive measures are linked to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements".

The Minsk agreement is a 13-point ceasefire plan endorsed by France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine in February.

EU economic sanctions on Russia expire in July.

EU leaders agreed, in March, to extend them for six months, but to adopt the legal step at an EU summit in June.

Unity?

Tusk noted, amid growing criticism from Russia-friendly EU states such as Cyprus, Greece, and Hungary, that “it’s not an easy job” to maintain EU unity.

He added: “I hope that in June we’ll remain united in our reaction against the possible bad behaviour of Ukraine’s neighbour”.

Speaking the same day in Warsaw at a meeting with Polish PM Ewa Kopacz, German chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU took “a clear political decision” in March to tie sanctions to Minsk compliance.

But she also hedged her bets on the June summit, adding: “We'll devote ourselves in June to this question, and, I think, decide such an extension of the sanctions”.

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