Top MEP: Ukrainians should feel the EU’s solidarity

If the authorities in Kyiv release Yulia Tymosenko and the country’s parliament continues to deliver on reform, Brussels should be ready not only to sing through the EU-Ukraine association agreement, but Ukrainians must make sure that they deliver after receiving this “privileged treatment”, MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski told EURACTIV in an interview.

Jacek Saryusz-Wolski is a former Negotiator of Poland's association agreement with the European Community. A former activist of the Solidarno??  trade union, he is a Vice President of the European people’s Party. In the European Parliament he is a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and chairs the Delegation for relations with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

He spoke to EURACTIV Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.

A Ukrainian analyst for the Gorshenin Institute in Kyiv recently told me that the country’s president, Viktor Yanukovich, will have the association agreement signed at the Vilnius summit in November “under his terms”. He didn’t elaborate, but he implied that the EU had become softer with its requirements on Ukraine, in the context of the Russian pressure on Kyiv to join the Customs Union. Do you subscribe to this analysis?

No, I disagree with this analysis, because Ukraine will have to adjust to the requirements of the EU, which were outlined in its position from 10 December 2012, the conditions being selective justice and the situation of Yulia Tymosenko, second the reforming of the electoral system and third – reforming the judiciary system. The second and third conditions are already been dealt with, there have been processes in the Verhovna Rada [Ukraine’s Parliament], a new impetus was given after this trade war, of Russia against Ukraine.

So on reforms, in terms of legislation, we are on a good path, although the work is not yet completed. The situation was very worrying before the summer holidays, when Verhovna Rada had stopped working on that. But we see new dynamics, with the [governing] Party of Regions and the opposition speaking on the same line, like they did at the extraordinary Foreign Affairs Committee meeting [of the European Parliament] in the end of August.

On Yulia Tymoshenko as a symbol of selective justice work is ongoing, but the time is scarce. Without delivering on that there will be no signature of the Association Agreement.

Let me challenge you. In my understanding, the Ukrainian government strongly believes Tymoshenko is guilty. Why should they release her, if she’s been sentenced, and that they strongly believed it was a fair sentence?

They do not strongly believe that she is guilty. This is exactly what selective justice means. When those who govern put the leader of the opposition in jail under whatever criminal pretext, this is undermining the very fundamentals of democracy. Because this deprives the citizens from their right to choose who governs the country. So it’s not about human rights, it’s about the fundamentals of democracy. Ms. Tymoshenko is in jail not because she did or did not what’s she is accused of, but because she’s a threat to the present governing forces.

And exactly the same situation is with [former Prime Minister Vano] Merabishvili in Georgia [he was arrested last May over an investigation of allegedly misspent public funds]. It is selective, because if they wanted to accuse everybody of whatever wrongdoings, they would have to put half of their country in prison. But they just pick a person because of political reasons, and not because of the accusation.

You mentioned Georgia. There is a lot of crossfire communication on the side of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who claims his country has returned to normality, and from President Mikheil Saakashvili, who says democracy is under threat. What is your view on developments there?

Georgia is on a back track. For two reasons. One is backsliding on democracy, by applying persecutions, harassment of the opposition, including selective justice against Merabishvili. And the second point is that Mr. Ivanishvili has recently shown is true face, by saying that Georgia could also join the EurAsian Customs Union.

I read the interview Ivanishvili gave for RFE/RL. What he said was more nuanced than that.

It was more nuanced, but he still said they had two options [Association Agreement with EU or Customs Union with Russia]. So the EU is not the unique direction they might take. Armenia said – we chose the Customs Union.

We’ll come back to Armenia, but let me ask you: you are Vice President of the European Peoples’ Party, and the EPP is seen as very tough on conditionalities, some see it as a chamber of torture for those countries. Don’t you have a problem there?

No, I don’t think we have a problem, and I’m speaking as the negotiator of the Polish Association Agreement. Poland would have never have obtained the association, which later became ante-chamber for EU membership, if a situation of selective justice similar to the one in Ukraine or Georgia would had happened in Poland. That would be out of question.

 So these are not extraordinarily tough conditions, these are normal conditions that only democratic states, not questioning the fundamentals of democracy, can be offered. An association agreement is a privileged agreement, it is more than half of accession, it’s more than 70% of the legislation of the EU being transposed. It’s a very close relationship and the EU cannot afford to have such a close relationship with a country that doesn’t have clear democratic credentials. That would be irresponsible of the Union.

But still, these countries, Ukraine, Moldova etc., they are preparing to sign association agreements, not accession agreements, and their leaders are not going to sit at the same summit table with the leaders of the 28 EU countries. It looks like your country Poland had an easier accession compared to Ukraine’s association.

No. Our association agreement was less generous, it didn’t have membership perspective either, and the funding of our association process was much lower than the present funding of the Eastern Partnership [the EU initiative covering Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan].

Is Armenia, whose President Serzh Sargsyan said had chosen to join the Customs Union, lost in the EU association process?

For the moment, yes.  The Armenian case is for the moment off the table. The European Union does not insist if the country does not want…

Is Armenia today in the same category as Belarus?

Yes. I mean not in terms of democratic standards, because they are performing better. But if you divide the Eastern Partnership countries in those on their road to association and those you have not, you have three who are on their road to association: Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, the last one with the question marks which I described, and you have other three who are not: Belarus, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

We didn’t say much about Moldova. Can you describe its situation?

I’m the author of the [European Parliament] Vilnius report, I’m assessing the preparedness ahead of the summit [on 28-29 November] and my take on Moldova is that country has led an exemplary process of reform and adjustment to the EU requirements, with some political hesitation, which is cryptonym for its non-successful change of government [Prime Minister Vlad Filat was dismissed by the Constitutional Court last April and his governing coalition failed a no-confidence motion last May. A new government led by Iurie Leanc? was sworn on 30 May]. But Moldova is clearly from the point of view of performance the best pupil in the class. And if they continue so and if they don’t surrender to the Russian pressure which is immense, because it’s about Russia threatening to cut gas supplies in winter, Russia threatening to take away Transnistria, and Russia not threatening, but effectively banning Moldovan imports to Russian markets, staring with wine. So immense pressure, but for the moment – the best performer. If everything goes well, they could be the first to consider the signing of the Association Agreement, after the initialling.

This is the regatta principle, or the more for more principle – those who are better performers should not be slowed down by others.  Eventual Ukrainian slowdown or failure will not have negative impact on the offer extended towards Moldova.

You said the release of Tymoshenko is a condition sine qua non. Let’s imagine that she is sent to Germany for treatment, and the EU-Ukraine association agreement is signed in Vilnius. It seems that Russia has already accepted that, but they are also ready to fight back and reverse this decision, probably after the Ukraine presidential election in 2015. Is the EU ready to help Ukraine under such a long period of Russian pressure?

The EU should be ready. In my resolution I’m calling for de-freezing of programs and loans to Ukraine upon signature, if conditions are met. Which means that they get better treatment once they sign, and they should feel with their skin this difference of treatment, if they, a) fulfil the requirements, and b) if they sign. And I’m calling on the executive branch of the union to proceed to the immediate provisional application of the DCFTA [Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement], which is legally possible [before it is ratified].

Ukrainians have to feel our solidarity. We, the Union, have to be clear that if they engage with us on association, we are politically and morally obliged to defend them. And they have to feel that once they got this privileged treatment, they are obliged to deliver on their commitments. In the medium and longer term, we should help them out of their situation, and here I’m talking about IMF loans and macro-financial assistance, which is a big piece of cake and doesn’t depend only on the Union side. But if they think they can sign and not implement, they are profoundly wrong. This could backfire and compromise the whole idea of Eastern Partnership association.

But if they do implement, there should be consequent implementation of the ‘more for more’ principle. The more delivery, the better treatment.

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