EU-Ukrainian Association Agreement: To sign or not to sign?

  
Disclaimer: all opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EurActiv.com PLC.

The leak of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA) turns the focus of their relations to a Shakespearean question: to sign or not to sign. And since Ukraine is ready to sign, it puts the onus on the EU, in the complex geopolitical games of Russia, Europe, the US and other influential international players, argues Roman Rukomeda.

Roman Rukomeda is an independent political analyst in Ukraine.

"The success of the Association Agreement is also vital for the Eastern policy of EU. Developing relations with the rest of the Eastern Partnership countries (Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) would without any doubt receive additional impulse by the example of EU-Ukraine relations.

At a time when the world doubts EU’s capacity to think strategically, it could be a rare example that important parts of the continent are in fact strongly attracted by the Union’s political and economic model. That can have a much-needed positive impact on the process of solving the internal European crisis.

As it is noted in the leaked AA “one of the aims of the Agreement is to support Ukrainian efforts to complete the transition into a functioning market economy also through the progressive approximation of its legislation to that of the European Union."

If EU will launch this process through the AA with Ukraine then the rest of the Eastern European countries (not members of the EU) will obviously see the effectiveness of the European Union’s regional policy.

The government’s position (the current government is dismissed and is fulfilling its duties in a caretaker capacity until the appointment of a new Cabinet of Ministers) about AA is clearly expressed by outgoing Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. He assured that AA will soon be signed.

But he also mentioned that it would be incorrect to present the EU-Ukrainian relations as a zero-sum game with its relations with Russia as the countries of Customs Union, which make almost two thirds of Ukraine’s foreign trade.

Some Ukrainian political experts propose the opposition parties which are represented in the new Parliament to create and announce joint approach towards the AA with the EU and proposing the other parliamentary parties (especially Party of Regions) to join the European choice of Ukraine.

It can unite almost all the big political parties in Ukraine around the concept of European integration and give the EU optimistic signal after the controversial parliamentary elections.

Other Ukrainian experts appealed directly to the official EU institutions and their presidents with the argument that if the AA will not be signed in 2013, then Ukraine will definitely join Russian integration projects and will turn into a second Belarus.

But both experts and authorities are admitting that Ukraine is recognised according to the AA as a European country that shares a common history and common values with the member states of the European Union (EU) and is committed to promoting these values.

At the same time, the population is over-busy with trying to survive and most of the population is not touched by the geopolitical choice between the EU and Russia which will be taken care of by the elite as usual.

For example, according to the information of Ukrainian civil organisations, each day Ukrainians pay between €300,000 to €1 million on different bribes (for the children in schools, kindergartens, in hospitals etc).

Transparency International has proven this, showing statistics of Ukrainian corruption from this year. They claim that the situation worsened and Ukraine took 144th place out of 176 countries by the level of corruption this year.      

The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement: pros and cons.

Pros:

  • The best way for the European Union to influence Ukraine is to integrate it step by step to EU agreements and structures. The brightest working example is the membership of Ukraine in the European Energy Community which gives additional possibilities against the pressure from “Gazprom”. The key word is involvement. Involvement of Ukraine to the AA will speed up the work of Ukrainian bureaucracy on the European integration direction. According to the Agreement Ukraine will be obliged to defend the democratic values and principles (as it is defined in General Principles and Title II – Political Dialogue and Reform, Political Association, Cooperation and Convergence in the Field of Foreign and Security Policy of leaked text of AA) which will be the biggest gift from the EU to the Ukrainian people who are suffering the most from the violation of law now.  
  • The signature of AA by EU member states and Ukraine (even without complete ratification by all the EU members) will finally define the Ukraine’s geopolitical choice which will be in favour of Europe. It is possible to conclude so because after signing the AA Ukraine will not be able to join the Customs Union and Common Economic Space with Russian Federation, Belarus and Kazakhstan. It will be impossible to be a member at the same time of both regional organisations.
  • The signature on the AA will be a step of the EU towards the Ukrainian People and ordinary citizens whilst the political demands before the signature will be a direct signal to current political establishment of Ukraine. EU will demonstrate an open door policy (instead of double standards) for Ukrainians. It will also push other processes of integration between EU and Ukraine, for example, the visa issue. The special benefit Ukraine will receive from launching Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (in leaked AA text it is defined as “DCFTA shall contribute to further economic integration with the European Union Internal Market”). 

Cons:

  • Russia will by all means strengthen the pressure upon Ukraine in order to bloc the progress of the direction of signature of AA. It will be done through a series of trade wars. Ukrainian export to the Russian Federation which is more than 30% will be strongly reduced (here Ukraine can defend its positions via the WTO rules). The price on Russian gas will remain the same in spite of recent gas price discounts to all big gas clients of the RF (Ukraine is the exception because of the geopolitical reason). The political pressure could become stronger through possible Russian financing of different political parties of Ukraine (especially the Communist Party).
  • By signing the AA, EU member states will legitimise the current policy of the Ukrainian political administration and their violations of democratic values, principles and norms. A possible answer to this problem – to define the number of key problems that Ukraine shall resolve before receiving the signature from EU countries under the AA (as it is in the Agreement text – eliminating “selective justice”, adopting new Electoral Code etc).
  • The signing of AA between the EU and Ukraine can be evaluated as the violation of opinion and position of those Ukrainians who support the strong ties with Russia including the integration to its regional structures. But sociological surveys persuasively show that the number of Ukrainians who support EU membership never decreased below 50%, so the majority of Ukrainians are supporting deep integration with European Union (in the leaked text of AA in Preamble there is a mentioning about strong public support in Ukraine for the country’s European choice) .      

The best way for the European Union to influence the Ukrainian authorities and to keep Ukraine on the path of European integration and European values is to sign the Association Agreement in 2013. It is understood that the process of its ratification will take much longer time and will need efforts from EU and Ukraine sides. Or else Ukraine has a strong risk of sliding deeply into the economic crisis in 2013 that will be smartly used by Russia to get access to the rest of Ukrainian resources and economic assets.

As the very probable result Ukraine can finish 2013 by joining the Russian-led Customs Union and Common Economic Space. The only real alternative is the AA with the EU and deepening of further integration and cooperation.

The possibility to develop Ukraine as an all-sufficient state is possible, but requires the clear strategy, annual plan of steps and measures and the effective team of political and economic managers. All these components are absent now so it is hard to forecast the prospects of a strong and independent Ukraine and regional player.

The main global trend laying in the consolidation of regional organisations and the creation instead of a global US domination in the the polycentric world with strong regional groups of countries is also playing against an all-sufficient Ukraine. Ukraine, as it was before in its history, again shall make the geopolitical choice between Europe and Eurasia."

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