In what appears to be a further toughening of Germany's position on Ukraine, a leading MEP close to Chancellor Angela Merkel has opposed the Commission’s move towards a visa facilitation agreement.
MEP Elmar Brok, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and a member of Merkel’s CDU party, warned that the European Commission should cancel its plans for a visa facilitation opening with Ukraine, at least until after the 28 October elections.
Brok said in a statement yesterday (2 July) that the conclusion of a visa facilitation agreement with Ukraine “would be the wrong thing to do. EU policy towards Ukraine should be firm and consistent and continue to insist on clear commitments from the Ukrainian authorities towards democratic values and the rule of law.”
The European Parliament has serious concerns about the rule of law and cases of selective justice and political persecution in Ukraine, Brok said.
Without naming Yulia Tymoshenko (see background), Ukraine’s imprisoned former prime minister, Brok said that any engagement with the current Ukrainian authorities should not have the effect of rewarding the government before the autumn parliamentary elections.
He also said that any moves should be conditional on the conclusions of a report by the European Parliament’s envoys to Ukraine – former Parliament President Pat Cox and former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. The two senior politicians were appointed last month by the Parliament as observers to the appeal proceedings involving Tymoshenko, which began on 26 June.
But the Parliament doesn’t appear to be united behind Brok’s appeal. The head of the Parliament’s delegation for relations with Ukraine, Polish MEP Pawe? Kowal (European Conservatives and Reformists group), urged the Commission and the Council to sign the visa facilitation agreement with Ukraine “without delay”. The Socialist and Democrats group also favours keeping alive a “positive agenda” with Ukraine, which includes visa facilitation.
Many MEPs across political lines also believe that ordinary Ukrainians should not be punished for the authorities’ handling of issues such as the Tymoshenko case.
For Ukraine, a dialogue leading to visa liberalisation was launched on 29 October 2008. An Action Plan for Visa Liberalisation was presented to Ukraine at the EU-Ukraine Summit on 22 November 2010. Recently, the second progress report on the action plan was adopted.
Visa facilitation should not be confused with the lifting of the visa requirement, which could only come at a later stage (see our Links Dossier ‘Visa-free travel for the EU's East: The next frontier’).
The European Union said it was "disappointed" with the sentencing of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in prison over allegations that she abused her office in relation to a gas deal signed with Russia in 2009.
The trial was "politically motivated" and did not respect international standards, the EU has said, adding that it "would reflect" on its policies towards Ukraine.
The December 2011 EU-Ukraine Summit failed to initial the country's Association Agreement with the Union, largely due to the imprisonment of Tymoshenko.
On 30 March, the document was initialled, but full signature depends on changing the system of "selective justice" and the parliamentary elections in Ukraine due on 28 October 2012.