Thursday

6th Oct 2022

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

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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

Ukraine comic-president invited to EU capitals

EU leaders have invited Ukrainian TV comic Volodymyr Zelensky to Berlin and Brussels after he became the country's new president in a landslide victory on Sunday.

Opinion

Rethinking the Eastern Partnership

A majority of the Eastern Partnership countries are plagued by the security deficit and overall political stability in the region is not a given. Wars are a reality, borders are contested and poverty and underdevelopment are facts on the ground.

Opinion

Eastern Partnership must now improve media freedoms

The EU can hardly criticise Eastern Partnership countries for disrespecting media freedom. Five EU member states, including current presidency Croatia, came below Armenia and Georgia in the 2019 RSF Press Freedom Index. Bulgaria ranked nine places behind Ukraine.

Column

The Iranian regime's expiration date

This 'headscarf revolution' is about women's rights and human rights in general, plus police brutality. Moreover, it is a leaderless revolution that is not driven by a leader or a group, but erupted spontaneously.

News in Brief

  1. Sweden: Nord Stream probe points to 'gross sabotage'
  2. Orbán rails against Russia sanctions at Prague summit
  3. MEPs urge inquiry into Mahsa Amini killing and Iran sanctions
  4. Thousands of Hungarian students and teachers protest
  5. Swedish MEP cuts hair mid-speech to support Iran women
  6. Danish general election called for 1 November
  7. Slovenia legalises gay marriage, adoption
  8. Russia's stand-in EU ambassador reprimanded on Ukraine

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  2. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  4. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  5. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”

Latest News

  1. What actually happened at the 'most complicated election in the world'?
  2. Europe lays aside quarrels to isolate Putin
  3. Spyware-hacked MEPs still seeking answers
  4. EU leaders discuss gas price cap — amid rationing fear
  5. Germany braces for criticism of national €200bn energy fund
  6. The fossil-fuel agenda behind EU's carbon-capture plans
  7. Four weeks to COP27 — key issues and challenges
  8. EU wants to see US list on Russia financing of politicians

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us