De Gucht: Ukraine doesn’t make its EU case easier

Karel De Gucht March 2012_picnik.jpg

This article is part of our special report Free Trade for Growth.

The European Commission is concerned about the many “stumbling blocks” which prevent it from proposing member states to sign the Association agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free trade Agreement (DCFTA) with Ukraine, Commissioner Karel De Gucht said yesterday (24 September), in an interview with EURACTIV.

Speaking to EURACTIV’s Editor-in-Chief Daniela Vincenti, after meeting Ukraine’s deputy Prime Minister Valerij Khoroshkovskyi, De Gucht regretted the announcement by Ukraine that the country intended to raise the limit on the tariffs it can legally impose on more than 350 goods.

Ukraine said it was prepared "to enter into negotiations and consultations" with WTO members for the concessions, under WTO rules known as Article 28 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

De Gucht said it would be premature for the Commission to propose that the EU sign the long-term deals with Ukraine, given the tentative political relations with the country. The EU is concerned about the imprisonment of a former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the political climate leading up to next month's parliamentary elections, and Kyiv's latest proposals on tariffs. 

Asked to explain why Ukraine was putting forward such a proposal, seen by many as a threat for the country’s EU integration's ambitions, De Gucht said that “rightly or wrongly”, the authorities in Ukraine were “not happy” with the conditions which the previous government had accepted for the country to become member of the WTO.

Ukraine joined the organization in 2008 after 14 years of negotiations. At that time, officials in Kyiv saw it as a coming of age of the country and an opening to the world, after the decades when Ukraine was part of the defunct USSR.

De Gucht stressed that Kyiv was trying to re-negotiate its deal with WTO, using Article 28.

He explained that this article was normally used when a country wanted to raise tariffs, against compensations with another tariff positions. But according to the Ukrainian proposal, he said that this was not possible, because Kyiv wanted to raise all the important sectors’ tariff positions.

De Gucht added that since it joined the WTO, Ukraine has been been critical about the accession of other countries, especially Montenegro, Yemen, Laos. “What are they trying to achieve with Montenegro, which is such a tiny spot? They wanted to demonstrate that they are not happy,” the Commissioner said.

The Commissioner referred to other ‘stumbling blocks’ standing in the way, not least the case of  imprisoned Tymoshenko, who was denied registration as an election candidate in the parliamentarian elections to be held on 28 October.

He also strongly criticized the recent changes to the law of the Prosecutor’s office in Ukraine, which he said were not consulted with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, the advisory body to Europe’s oldest institutions specialized in providing constitutional expertise to the countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

He specifically referred to the recent statement on the matter by High Representative Catherine Ashton and Štefan Füle, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy. 

The December 2011 EU-Ukraine Summit failed to initial the country's Association Agreement with the Union, largely due to the imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko that Brussels sees as politically motivated.

The five-year long negotiations over the Association Agreement were concluded, but EU leaders made it clear that the deal would not be signed until improvements are made to the "quality of democracy and rule of law"

On 30 March, the Association Agreement was initialed. Although this is only a technical step before the official signature, the Commission said the move was important for "keeping the momentum" in relations with Kyiv.

The EU wants to keep Ukraine in its orbit at a time when Russia becomes more assertive with its neighbours and invites Ukraine to join its Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, as well as the so-called Eurasian Union. However, Brussels insists that it would not compromise on "core EU values".

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