Lithuanian envoy: Failed deal with Ukraine could hurt EU's Eastern Partnership

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Failure to sign an association agreement with Ukraine at a regional summit in November would be a blow for the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative aimed at pulling six former Soviet republics closer to the EU, Lithuania’s foreign minister said. EurActiv reports from Vilnius.

The association agreement is “not just technical negotiations with just another partner”, it is a “geopolitical process”, Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius said on Wednesday (3 July) in Vilnius.

But he added that Ukraine had a lot of outstanding work to do before the deal can be signed, including addressing EU concerns about governance and democracy.

Linkevičius pointed to the general prosecutor, who in Ukraine is appointed by the president. He said that this post should become independent and no longer be subject to political influence, adding that this requirement was a “must” before the summit takes place in Vilnius.

The association agreement with Ukraine was initialled more than a year ago but its signature is awaiting progress on conditions imposed by the EU, including the release from prison of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The deal offers closer political and economic cooperation.

Ukraine hopes to have the agreement signed at the 28-29 November Eastern Partnership Summit, to be held in Vilnius under the Lithuanian EU presidency. Lithuania, which took over the rotating presidency on Monday, puts high hopes on the success of the summit.

‘Release this sick woman’

But Linkevičius said he has told the Ukrainian leadership that some EU countries see Tymoshenko’s release as a condition for the signature of the association agreement.

“I am saying to my Ukrainian friends: Take it seriously. There are some capitals in Europe who are considering this personal case as a symbol of the rule of law. You can like it, you can dislike it, but the best way [to solve the problem] is to release this sick woman because she needs medical treatment,” he said.

Linkevičius also said the EU would not impose additional conditions on Ukraine, and that all necessary technical preparations for the signature of the association agreement would be done from the Union’s side.

Ukraine, however, has not yet completed the preparatory work needed to conclude an association agreement.

The Lithuanian minister said he had the feeling that the two sides were getting “closer to the goal” of signing their landmark agreement, but that the “window of opportunity” would not be open “forever”.

Asked if there was a “plan B” if EU and Ukraine to ink the association agreement, he said it would be a “bad thing” but “not the end of the world”.

“I think this would undermine seriously the Eastern Partnership programme, it would undermine the reliability, the credibility of that programme. That would undermine our vision of Europe, open and free,” he said.

Forthcoming elections

Laurynas Kasčiūnas, an analyst at the Eastern Europe Studies Centre in Vilnius, said the Eastern Partnership was a “model of EU integration without membership” but that it needed success stories in order to have a future.

“We are not planning to marry, we are planning on just dating,” he told a panel discussion in Vilnius. “So I think we should not expect too much from Ukraine.”

Ties with Ukraine, the second most populous of the former Soviet republics after Russia, are complicated by pressure from Moscow to join a customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern region favours closer relations with Moscow while its western and central areas, including the capital Kyiv, lean more towards the EU.

If an association agreement is not signed in November, Kasčiūnas said it could be sidelined by the EU election in May 2014 and Ukraine’s own presidential contest a year later.

Much also hinges on the German federal elections in September. Chancellor Angela Merkel has been more cautious than some other European leaders in her approach to closer relations with Ukraine.

“Yes, I think the key is in German hands, but we should wait until the Bundestag elections. And also the key is in the hands of Christian Democrats in the European Parliament,” Kasčiūnas said.

  • 28-29 Nov: Eastern Partnership meeting in Vilnius