Ukraine tests its lobbying power in European Parliament
The European Parliament postponed for a second time yesterday (10 November) a vote on a resolution seen as hostile by the authorities in Kiev. MEPs told EurActiv that in order to counter the resolution, Ukraine was applying lobbying techniques that were "very similar" to those of the Kremlin.
For the second consecutive session, the European Parliament has postponed its vote on the resolution, originally initiated by the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) group, which in its early version voiced concern about "the rise of attempts at intimidation [and] growing undemocratic and authoritarian tendencies in Ukraine".
The idea for such a resolution developed as opposition parties in the Ukrainian parliament last October condemned a court decision which strengthens President Viktor Yanukovich's control over the country by returning to him key presidential powers lost to parliament in 2004.
The EPP draft expressed concern over perceived concentration of power by the new authorities in Ukraine, and also "about the increasing number of credible reports of undue involvement by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in domestic political affairs, including pressure put on journalists and party and civil society activists and their relatives".
In the following days, journalists witnessed heavy lobbying by the Ukrainian side, with active diplomatic and parliamentary contacts. There was a visit to Brussels by Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, during which Yanukovich's Party of the Regions signed a cooperation agreement with the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament.
On the sidelines of the Azarov visit, a high-ranking Ukrainian diplomat told EurActiv he hoped the resolution would "never" be adopted.
During the European Parliament's 18-21 October session in Strasbourg, the EPP pushed hard to hold a debate and adopt a resolution on Ukraine. The S&D group said it would vote against it, or vote for its own version: a much softer text. Finally, the S&D group won the support of other groups to postpone any vote on the resolutions in order not to influence regional elections that were held in Ukraine on 31 October.
The same happened again yesterday, with the Socialists pushing to postpone the vote on a consolidated text drafted under EPP leadership and supported by the Liberal, Green and Conservative groups, which MEP Kristian Vigenin (S&D; Bulgaria), one of the authors of the Socialist version, called "unbalanced".
This time, the argument was made that the vote could upset the EU-Ukraine summit, to be held in Brussels on 22 November. A majority of MEPs considered that before the vote, the Parliament should see the report by Polish MEP Pawel Kował (European Conservatives and Reformists group), who led a small group of observers to the regional elections on 31 October. Finally, MEPs decided (by 171 to 130) to put back the vote to the plenary session of 13-16 December.
Members of the EPP group conceded defeat, but accused other groups of having been influenced by Ukrainian lobbying.
MEP György Schöpflin (EPP; Hungary) told EurActiv that the Socialists were "clearly making whatever concessions they can to Yanukovich".
"If they want to do this, fine, but it means that they are undermining their credentials in terms of human rights and democracy," he said.
Schöpflin, who used to work for the BBC during the Cold War (1967-1976), said the Ukrainians had learned "a great deal from Putin" about how to handle Western audiences.
"It sounds like what the West wants to hear, but actually, the content is very different," he said. Schöpflin argued that the new Kiev leadership conveyed the message that "order" in Ukraine was in the interests of the EU, in contrast with the previous instability and in-fighting the between former allies of the 'Orange Revolution'. Under Stalin, there was order too, he added.
Schöpflin said that from his personal insight, he had seen that Kiev had conducted a remarkable lobbying campaign to kill the resolution.
A recent visit to Brussels by Valeriy Khoroshkovskyi, the head of the SBU, could be seen in the context of this lobbying effort. On 9 November, Khoroshkovskyi, whose services are directly targeted in the EPP resolution, spoke on the record with selected journalists in a Brussels restaurant.
Khoroshkovskyi said that he had been demonised by the Western media and said he hoped his meetings with MEPs would help alleviate the excitement fuelled in his words by the Ukrainian opposition.
Speaking to EurActiv, Bulgarian Socialist MEP Vigenin denied that the S&D group had been influenced by Ukrainian lobbying.
"We are also critical of some of the actions [of the Party of Regions]. This is a long-standing process. We shall continue cooperation if they are able to align with us, if they don't take any wrong direction. They may become a partner, but this will not happen fast," Vigenin said.
Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich, who is labelled by the Western press as pro-Russian, made his first foreign trip to Brussels in March. He declared that the key priority for his country is European integration and received strong support from EU leaders.
Yanukovich has also moved to strengthen ties with Moscow. Last April, a deal was struck to cut the price of gas supplies to Ukraine by 30% in exchange for allowing the Russian navy to continue using the Crimean peninsula.
Recently, the European Union and the United States have expressed concern over the disappearance of a Ukrainian journalist and urged Ukraine to do all it can to protect journalists.
On 1 October, a landmark ruling by Ukraine's Constitutional Court buried changes to Ukrainian law, made during the Orange Revolution in December 2004, that restrict the president's power.
Yanukovich now has the right to choose his own government and rule in a presidential system similar to Russia's, rather than in a parliamentary one.
The European People's Party group published an official communiqué following the decision to postpone the vote on the resolution until the December session:
"Given numerous reports about inconsistencies in the elections of 31 October, the European Parliament as a standard bearer for democracy has to raise its voice. The Socialist group is dragging its feet, however, preventing the vote of a Joint Resolution to remind the government of Ukraine to adhere to European standards of democracy and electoral laws," said the EPP group co-ordinator on the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, German MEP Elmar Brok, and the EPP group co-ordinator on the sub-committee on security and defence, German MEP Michael Gahler.
The EPP MEPs called on the Socialist & Democrats group to stop preventing the European Parliament from speaking up for democracy. "The issue of the nature and conduct of elections is far too serious to play party-political games. The Socialist refusal to vote on the Ukraine resolution weakens those political forces working towards democracy, accountability and freedom of the press. They are obviously delivering on their co-operation agreement with the ruling Yanukovich Party of the Regions, signed on 14 October 2010."
The fact that the plenary failed to put the resolution on the agenda prevents the European Parliament from voicing its position ahead of the EU-Ukraine Summit, scheduled for 22 November.
"Ukraine is an important European country, and its European perspective needs to be maintained. The Resolution called for visa liberalisation and more trade with the EU. By obstructing the vote on the Resolution, the Socialists have damaged the interests both of the European Union as well as the Ukraine itself," Brok and Gahler emphasised.
They also criticised the chairman of the Ukraine delegation of the European Parliament, Pawel Kował MEP (ECR Group), who has not yet tabled his report on the elections: "With the elections already two weeks ago, the report is long overdue. Such a delay undermines the democratic credentials of the European Parliament."
In reaction to the statement by Elmar Brok and Michael Gahler, MEPs Paweł Kowal (European Conservatives & Reformists; Poland) and Jan Kozłowski (EPP; Poland), who were the European Parliament's observers at the recent Ukrainian elections, sent to EurActiv the following clarification:
"First of all it needs to be stressed that the resolution does not only concern 'the local elections in Ukraine' but mostly the EU-Ukraine relations.
"Secondly the words by two German MEPs stating that 'the elections [took place] already two weeks ago' are inconsistent with the fact they were conducted on 31 October 2010.
"MEP Paweł Kowal and MEP Jan Kozłowski from the EP Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee came to Kyiv to observe the elections on 30 October 2010. The mission ended on 2 November and was immediately followed by the 15th EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee (PCC) on 3-5 November. During the whole previous week many meetings with coalition and opposition politicians as well as with experts and journalists were held which delivered a substantial basis for the report.
"The preparation of the document started on Monday 8 November 2010. On 10 November, after the careful analysis of materials which are deposed in the Secretariat of the EU-Ukraine Delegation, the draft report was sent to MEP Jan Kozłowski. The final, 15-page document with attachments gathered throughout the previous week was sent today to President Jerzy Buzek, Commissioner Štefan Füle and High Representative Catherine Ashton as well as to the members of the EP Delegation to the EU-Ukraine PCC," the two MEPs said.
"I would like to point out that it would be wise to always give the honest and accurate information for the sake of the fruitful, future cooperation. Therefore I kindly ask Mr Brok and Mr Gahler to clarify their statement," said Kowal.
- 21 Nov.: EU-Ukraine summit, Brussels
- 22-25 Nov.: European Parliament plenary session, Strasbourg.
- 13-16 Dec.: European Parliament plenary session, Strasbourg.