Kostiantyn Yelisieiev is the Ukrainian ambassador to the EU. A longer version of the op-ed was first published here.
"We have entered a year which will certainly decide the fate of the Association Agreement (AA) between Ukraine and the European Union. Ukraine and the EU have never been so close to the signature of the AA. This is indeed the moment of truth, the choice which will determine the vector of Ukraine’s development for the next decades.
In my recent article published by the leading online media Ukrainska Pravda, I exposed the seven myths that circulate in Ukraine around the future Association Agreement.
I doubt I shall convince readers that the EU-Ukraine AA is the most ambitious association agreement ever concluded by the EU with a third country, or that a successful implementation of the AA will bring Ukraine in compliance with membership criteria even if the agreement is not about EU membership as such.
Nor shall I dwell on the reports that the AA has not been signed so far for political reasons and crisis of relationship, as the translation into 23 official languages and legal screening of the document will be finalised only in the coming months.
The prospects of the AA signature will become one of the points of the Ukraine-EU Summit agenda on 25 February. But I will not focus on these allegations, even if ballooned in Ukraine, as they are fruit of a purely democratic public discussion which sometimes lacked informed opinions.
Meanwhile, more harmful are the pseudo-scientific myths which result directly from manipulation of the public opinion. The most exemplary are the stories that the AA and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) will destroy the whole sectors of the Ukrainian economy, and that therefore the Russia-led Customs Union is more profitable and safer for Ukraine.
Against his background, we witness the birth of one more myth: according to some sociologists, the level of public support for the European integration in Ukraine is decreasing.
Today, it seems that one seeks to artificially impose a choice on Ukraine: either in favour of the EU or of the Customs Union. Paradoxically, the most categorical statements in this regard come from the Customs Union. These myths are exaggerated in Ukraine and obviously go beyond borders, getting the ear of our attentive EU partners.
My answer to them is that all pros and cons of the European choice are clear. Achievements of the EU are obvious, as well as its challenges.
Instead, the achievements of the Customs Union are yet hypothetical and virtual. They are all in the future, in the plans and desires of its masterminds.
Despite the current crisis, the EU continues to be one of the most successful economic and political projects. It has proven its viability and effectiveness in more than 50 years of history. EU states have traditionally taken high positions in various indices in terms of quality of life, competitiveness and welfare.
Of course, Ukraine understands that once the AA and the DCFTA with the EU are in force, the Ukrainian economy will struggle for survival. Systemic transformations always lead to short-term losses.
In this context short-term dividends in the form of a few billion dollars that, according to Moscow, will be achieved by Ukraine when joining the Customs Union might seem attractive.
However, what is the most important about the EU integration is the path of economic and social modernisation. Thanks to the DCFTA Ukrainian manufacturers will be able to win a place in the 500-million-strong European market and promote high-quality Ukrainian products on it at a competitive price (compared to 170-million market of the Customs Union with significantly lower purchasing power and raw material-driven export-oriented economy).
Domestic consumers, in turn, will have access to high-quality European goods in Ukraine at affordable prices. The most sensitive sectors of our economy will obtain certain transitional periods and favourable adaptation conditions that will prevent shocking dislocations.
The AA will transform Ukraine’s commitments on systemic reforms into a legal obligation. Therefore, its signature will significantly increase the country’s attractiveness as a place to invest, which will help to offset the current trade deficit with the EU.
This is in the interest not only of the directly involved parties – Ukraine and the EU – but also in the interests of Russia. Confidence in Ukraine as a reliable international partner with a strong rule of law and predictability will favour all investors, Russian included.
The AA with the EU also provides explicit legal and political guarantees of sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that Ukraine needs to find a compromise between the pro-European and pro-Russian foreign policy. It is equally obvious that the price of this compromise should not be the rejection of European course.
Cooperation with the Customs Union does not mean integration. Ukraine cannot allow itself to make a U-turn on its civilization choice for the sake of few billion dollars in exchange for the loss of sovereignty in trade policy and rejection of the modernisation – something that Russia and other members of the Customs Union also desperately need.
If Russia as the leader of the Customs Union equally cares about the interests of its partners, it will be cooperative in finding ways to combine European integration of Ukraine on the one hand and the partnership with the Customs Union on the other. If it will not, then question arises whether this alliance is of equal partners.
Ukraine is not an object of big partners’ struggle for the spheres of influence. We have made our conscious choice in favour of the European model of development.
And if the sociologists formulated their questionnaires in a non-ambiguous way, they would find that the support for the European standards of the rule of law, business competition, products and transport safety, medical care, environment, digitalisation – which all make the heart of the AA and the European integration of Ukraine – continues to grow constantly in Ukraine.
And yet another artificial myth would therefore be dispelled."