Jacek Saryusz-Wolski is the vice-president of the centre-right European People's Party parliamentary group, president of the EPP Group in Euronest and member of the European Parliament for Poland. He spoke to EurActiv’s Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.
The situation in Ukraine doesn’t inspire optimism. Probably the protests at Maidan will loose steam and then the opposition leaders will concentrate on preparing the presidential election. But as it is expected only in 2015 and a lot of things can happen in the meantime, the Ukraine-Russian relations will continue to develop. How do you see the situation?
The situation in Ukraine doesn’t look optimistic in the short run. In the medium and the long run it is very optimistic. Because the true democratic society has awaken, the Euromaidans in more than forty cities are functioning and there is spontaneous activity of civil society, demanding freedom, more democracy fighting corruption, And this is rooted somehow in the traditions of cosaque’s Sitch [traditional camps of which the democratic decision-making institution was the Rada]. The way the Euromaidans are functioning is a very special way of democracy, which is somehow rooted in those 17th-18th century traditions. So I think overall democracy tendencies in Ukraine are strengthened.
But this does not mean that these movements cannot be crushed and that they don’t risk falling victim of martial law-type law and through the ten years of darkness.
A Belarus-type of scenario?
I’m referring to a Jaruzelski-type scenario [General Wojciech Jaruzelski was the communist leader of Poland who imposed martial law on 13 December 1981in an attempt to suppress the Solidarność (Solidarity) movement]. But the society is very much awake, there is this new generation, very active, very promising, open-minded, modern, Europeanised, which gives new dynamic to Ukraine’s political scene. And this movement contradicts the common stereotypes saying that Ukraine is condemned to divide into East and West. We saw that Euromaidans from 40 cities met in Kharkiv, the stronghold of blue regions [President Yanukovich Party of Regions’ colour is blue], and this movement covers both East and West.
So in the middle and long term Ukraine is bound to this or that way join Europe, and here I’m quoting [former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew] Brzezinski: “and then Russia will follow”, if this development shows Russians that prosperity and freedom can work, even in post-Soviet space.
But in the meantime the process will go through convulsion, drama, difficulties. Nothing is simple.
But is the EU doing enough to help those young pro-European Ukrainians you just described? One thing the EU could do for certain is offering them visa-free regime.
It should be done. But it would not impact on the situation today. Ukrainians have to fight themselves for their freedom to choose. I think there are similarities between their movement and the Solidarność movement in Poland. They say they want to have ten million of people organized. They are a political movement aiming at freedom, democracy and fighting corruption, but which will in due time convert into political party, or parties, as it happened with Solidarność.
But in the meantime, the [presidential] elections in 2015 may be difficult to win, because the authorities may resort to the use of force. Or to the use of administrative resources to falsify the elections. So the main task now for the Euromaidan movement, for the opposition, is to safeguard the fairness of elections.
Can we consider that the previous elections which brought to power Yanukovich in 2010 were fair?
The previous elections were not fair. And there is an important constitutional problem raised by the opposition – to return to the pre-Yanukovich constitution. Because President Yanukovich was elected during a different constitution, which provided for limited powers for the president. And then this constitution was abolished not by the parliament, not by referendum, but by a court decision. We know how courts in Ukraine operate, and the new constitution gave him absolute power. This raises the question of legitimacy, as there had been a judicial ‘coup d’état’, and second, that he was telling the population that he wanted to pursue the European course. And without any democratic legitimacy he changed the course, which was rightly questioned by the population. So there are two big question marks regarding the legitimacy of the present administration. This could indicate that early elections would be justified, as the opposition in fact asks.
The problem is that at the moment the authorities control the administrative resources, they block the work of Verkhovna Rada [the parliament], they play some strange diplomatic games with the Union [saying that they still want to sign the Association Agreement], which is totally incredible, and progress on the basis of ‘fait accompli’ with Russia – on trade, on energy, on selling assets and so forth. Even they preside the Commonwealth of Independent States [a regional organization of former Soviet republics] of which Ukraine is not a member [it has a lower-level statute, called ‘participating state’]. And this is very very strange.
So in the short term the question his how long they will use Berkut [the special anti-riot forces], jailing people, beating people, using blind force as instrument for finding solutions.
Protestors wave waiving the EU flag. Let me return to the question: what can the EU do?
Not too much. As I said, it’s for the Ukrainians to take responsibility for their country, as Solidarność did for Poland. We had various words of sympathy, we had humanitarian aid after the martial law, there were [Western] sanctions against the Jaruzelski regime after the martial law. But the main job was done on our own. And Ukrainians have to do that on their own.
What the EU could do: I think the offer of the Association Agreement is a good one and is generous. If properly implemented, it could offer Ukraine more than half-membership with all the benefits and profits. It’s not easy; I know how difficult it is to make such a profound transformation, again looking at the Polish case. As point of departure, Poland and Ukraine were on the same stage, and look now at the difference between these countries in terms of standards of living, political and economic society and standards and levels. The same would happen in Ukraine, if the country is properly governed.
The Ukrainian authorities keep saying that Poland “got money”, that it was given billions…
This is totally untrue. I was myself responsible for aid coordination during eight years. All G-24 money went to my office. The offer to Ukraine is three to four times more generous than the one that was given to Poland.
Answering your question what the EU should do: yes, the EU should liberalise visas, it should multiply various actions, but the essence of the answer to your question can be found in my European Neighbourhood policy Vilnius report. [see article 15].
We can do things to bring the societies together, to multiply the horizontal linkages, to decentralize the integration process, and in concrete terms to open all programs starting from Erasmus and so forth. All the possible openings to society with a much harsher policy vis-à-vis the regime if it does not comply with the standards expected.
On 28 January EU leaders will; meet again with Russian President Vladimir Putin for yet another EU-Russia summit. In spite of the Ukraine problem, in spite of difficult energy relations, here I’m thinking about conflicting views regarding South Stream pipeline, diplomats claim that this summit is still “business as usual”. Is it?
I don’t expect this summit to be any better than previous ones, which to a great extent were deprived of any content and progress. I would even say that the forthcoming one risks being even more fruitless, because of the number of conflicting issues that have happened, and added to the rather long list of other conflict issues like trade, energy, transport, visas and so forth. And now we have this confrontation or collision course with Russia on neighbourhood. The neighbourhood policy of the Union has suddenly been questioned and undermined by Russia, in spite of the fact that Moscow has for many years been in favour of this neighbourhood policy. In fact, Russia was contesting NATO, but had never contested the EU as such. But now it has put itself on a confrontational course, contesting the whole European Eastern Partnership policy though various means of coercion.
Basically you say that this hostile position of Russia towards NATO which we remember well from the recent past is now replicated vis-à-vis the EU?
Yes. And we can understand why commentators such as [Carnegie’s] Lilia Shevtsova say that these EU-Russia summits are useless. Because they don’t bring any results and they should not be continued, and work should be done on technical level.
But no EU politician has proposed cancelling this summit.
Indeed, we can hear voices from think-tanks, politicians are not eager to give up such meetings at the top level. Although nobody will deny that these top level talks since some time now bring no results.
How about the Sochi games? Should we watch and applaud?
Those who love sports should watch on their own TVs. No boycott in sports then, but there should be a political boycott. Meaning that a country which violates so many rules and principles of international relations should not be honoured by the presence of top politicians. They don’t have to go there, and they should not go there out of their own will. Sports events, fine, but no political tribute!