Ambassador: Ukraine committed to European integration

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In a conversation that included the Tymoshenko trial and the Euro 2012 Football Championship, Ambassador Nataliya Zarudna says Ukraine is committed to European integration as a 'civilisational choice' and argues that the German authorities should be more understanding of her country's difficulties.

Nataliya Zarudna has been the Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany for three years. She is now joining the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe at its mission in Kazakhstan. She spoke to EURACTIV Germany's Chief Editor Ewald König.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

At the last EU-Ukraine summit it was made clear that the initialling of the Association Agreement was not yet possible. Why was it postponed?

The initialling of this document has been postponed because till the last moment there were hopes that we could find a formula which will give Ukraine if not the European perspective [for EU membership] then at least the sense of orientation about which way we go. Because, by this Association Agreement, Ukraine has pledged to implement up to 80% of the EU's acquis communautaire. It will require a lot of effort – and a lot of money.

If we do it, we will have to explain to our people that we do it for the cause. The purpose is to get prepared for membership in the EU. We are not talking about any concrete terms, it might take many years before we will be able to implement all this and meet the Copenhagen criteria.

To what extent are the EU and Germany interested in Ukraine's perspective?

In any case we were trying to get a formula which, on the one hand, gives us the sense of orientation and, on the other hand, would make the EU decide what exactly it wants of Ukraine. Do they see us as the prospective member? Do they really care for which way Ukraine goes?

So it wasn't a one-way road, it was important for both sides to agree on a compromise. A kind of compromise was found in the wording on the European identity of Ukraine. Surprisingly enough, it was difficult for Germany to admit that we have a European identity.

Hence we have a very interesting situation, for what other identity has Ukraine if it not a European one? We are located in the heart of Europe if you look at the map, and we have always been a part of European processes, we even participated in the developments of the European values.

Due to certain events in the last centuries we were partially driven away from the main stream political development in Europe, but we are coming back to it. That's why European identity already indicates that we potentially might be considered as a European country and, as it is stipulated in the article 49, we would be entitled to have the possibility to become one day a member of the EU.

Therefore, since this issue remained outstanding until the very last moment, both sides didn't have a right to declare these negotiations completed.

And at the summit both sides agreed on the formula that mentions the European identity of Ukraine which opened the way for finalising the text of the Association Agreement.

There was some confusion in the media, including in the Ukrainian media, about the words 'initialling' and 'signing'. Well, at the very beginning of our talks five years ago we were hoping to sign this agreement one day, but we always knew that before signing we would have to initial it.

It means that we completed the talks and both sides agreed on the text. After that the technical work will begin because the text is only in English. Therefore, this agreement must be translated into all languages, including the Ukrainian language, and each country must see to the adequacy of the texts and prepare it for signing.

It might take several months. It is a very long agreement – about 2,000 pages with all the annexes. So it is a huge technical work.

So when will the agreement be initialled and signed?

We hope to be able to put in order the document for initialling in a month or two which will enable both sides to prepare it for signing. Hopefully, the signing will take place this year. After that the process of ratification will be opened, including for the European and Ukrainian parliaments.

To what extent is this process supported by the Ukrainian people?

The majority of Ukrainians support the idea of Ukrainian integration into the EU. All major political forces welcome and support this process, too.

Nevertheless, once this document is initialled civil society in both Ukraine and the EU will launch a campaign aimed at explaining to the people what this agreement is about. 2,000 pages is something to be understood and digested by everybody involved in its implementation. This agreement does not concern only certain political forces, government or business circles, it concerns everybody.

Why do you have this support for the agreement in the society?

Because it gives us hope that Ukraine will continue developing in the right direction. Under this agreement Ukraine has pledged not only to implement drastic reforms in economic sectors but in democracy and the justice system too. That's why all the opposition forces and the current government agree on this agreement as guidance for the country's further development.

Was the Tymoshenko case the real reason for postponing the agreement?

The Tymoshenko case has a high profile in the West as a symbol. But essentially the EU was concerned with certain developments in Ukraine regarding state of democracy in general.

Ukraine has made a lot of progress in the last years but it is still far from being an ideal case in this respect. There are certain deficits in every country. Nobody is perfect. There is still a lot to do in this regard in Ukraine. One of the major concerns of the EU and of the Ukrainian society is our justice system.

The Tymoshenko trial revealed certain shortcomings in our judicial system. It is very important that the president and the government are willing to take drastic steps to change it and move forward.

For example, we have recently received the draft law of the Criminal and Procedure Code with positive assessment from the Council of Europe, and the president promised to submit it to the parliament. This code will be very much in line with the European standards for court trial procedure.

Second, we have a draft law on legal defence or the Bar. It has been positively assessed by the Venice Commission [of the Council of Europe]. When we adopt this law, it will enable the legal defence to better protect rights of the defended.

There is a special task force set up by the president to prepare all the proposals for reforming the justice system including the general prosecutor's office. It is one of the pledges Ukraine took joining the Council of Europe but it will require some amendments to the constitution.

Our constitutional assembly is under formation now to consider overall changes to the constitution. That will take time and efforts. One should not make it too fast in order to meet the demands of the day but should approach it strategically.

So these are the lessons that Ukraine had to learn from the recent developments: if the system has insufficiencies, improve it now. If you really care for democracy you must insist not on a particular case but on changing the system.

And there is a demand from the people. We hope to have the support of the EU and of the Council of Europe on this way.

As to the Tymoshenko case – I am not a lawyer, I am just a diplomat – so I am not going to make any comments on the process. Though as a citizen I have many questions concerning both the trial and the professionalism of Tymoshenko's lawyers.

Why?

I have the impression which is shared by some people in Ukraine, that they do not try to defend her on the essence of the charges but bring a lot of politics in this case, a lot of speculation, trying to use different legal gaps or inconsistencies to acquit her.

As a citizen I wished I could hear more about the essence of the case and an explanation why she did it and which were the circumstances and not about some details which actually do not concern the core of the problem.

How would summarise your 3 years and 3 months in Germany?

As in every career, there were ups and downs in my work in Germany, mostly resulting from the complicated situation back home which sometimes affected bilateral relations. I have tried hard under every circumstance to keep our relations in very good shape.

In general, we have good dynamics in our bilateral relations. There were many meetings and events which furthered the advancement in our cooperation in various fields.

For example?

We had practically brought back the positive dynamics in our trade and investment cooperation, and I am happy to say that this year we will probably see a nearly 50% increase of our bilateral trade.

We are also pleased that in spite of all troubles and concerns of our times German business looks strategically on Ukraine's potential and views it as a good opportunity for mutually advantageous cooperation, and it was confirmed during the Sixth meeting of the High Level Group [HLG] on Economic Cooperation which took place in Kyiv on 13-14 December 2011.

I would like to single out a proposal to enhance energy efficiency in Ukraine through the so called Green City Project. The HLG has already agreed on the first city – Zhovkva in Western Ukraine where big German companies together with Ukrainian partners will demonstrate what exactly can be done with new technologies in this respect.

Another possibility is the production of agricultural machinery in Ukraine. There are certain changes to the current law under consideration in the parliament which would make such opportunities for the German companies much more attractive.

We are grateful to Germany for its support in such areas as agriculture and agribusiness. We are proud that Germany sees Ukraine as a strategic partner in this area.

We have really great potential in using a unique Ukrainian soil and century-long experience of our people to significantly increase food production – not for the European Union which probably doesn't need it that much, but for other countries, thus contributing to the food security in the world.

I could not but mention here the financial and technical assistance provided by Germany to Ukraine in order to help modernise my country in different areas. We are glad that even in times of financial crisis the German assistance to Ukraine did not diminish.

In the last years it even increased, most notably for the sake of helping us to better prepare for the European Football Championship that we will host together with Poland next year.

I am extremely happy that in 2012 a lot of Germans will discover Ukraine as a big and beautiful European country – just next door to Poland – which is regretfully still a terra incognita for many Germans.

I am pleased to note an intense cooperation on environmental issues and nuclear security. We are grateful to Germany for its additional donation to the Chernobyl funds. Without your support Ukraine alone would not be able to cope with this huge problem and meet that potential threat.

Here I must also mention intense contacts between representatives of civil society of the two nations, there are hundreds of different NGOs which cooperate very closely. We have a growing number of cities and regions which enjoy good partnerships. The successful conference of twin-cities in Leipzig last October confirmed a huge potential for such cooperation.

We are working also on youth exchanges and many other projects. In particular, I am grateful to the city of Leipzig which last year became closer to Kyiv than ever before due to the celebration in great style of the 50th anniversary of its partnership with Ukrainian capital, the highlight of which was the opera ball 'Good Evening, Kyiv'. We hope that other sister-cities will keep up this good practice in both countries.

Because it is essentially about bringing people closer to each other and promoting better understanding. If people know and understand each other they become friends and partners and closely cooperate to successfully meet the challenges of our time and make Europe a real common home for all of us.

I hope that Germany – as many politicians here claim – is a real friend of Ukraine. As with every friend, one sometimes can be critical but will always keep trying to help a friend to become better, will share one's ideas and exchange experiences, and render him assistance and support.

Are the Germans too critical?

Frankly speaking, I would like to see a little bit more understanding in Germany of Ukraine, its realities and developments. And I would like them to appreciate more what has already been achieved and view Ukraine as a potential member of the European Union and treated adequately.

The Ukrainian people made their strategic choice 20 years ago: in its first declaration on December 20, 1991, the Parliament of Ukraine proclaimed as an ultimate goal of our foreign policy the return to Europe and the joining of the European Communities, as [the EU] was then called.

And in all these 20 years, despite all changes of power, this goal has remained the main strategic priority of the Ukrainian governments and not only in foreign policy. For us European integration is a symbol of the modernisation of the country and society in all aspects. In other words, it is a 'civilizational' choice.

I believe that Ukraine should be viewed as an asset for the European Union. It is a big and rich country with industrious people in close vicinity to the EU and with a society willing to go that way. 

Analysing these years in Germany I must admit that there was room for improvements though I have always been very committed and tried real hard to improve relations between our two nations, to foster partnership and mutual support in the international arena. 

I am pleased to note that in the 20 years of our bilateral diplomatic relationship, marked on 17 January 2011, Ukraine and Germany have developed a ramified and diversified system of fruitful cooperation in practically all areas of mutual interest. But we would like to see more understanding of the great challenges that Ukraine is facing and have a little bit more of support for our efforts and aspirations.

But is the EU in its current condition still attractive enough for the Ukrainians?

Strange as it is – yes. First of all, I would like to recall the words of Chancellor [Angela] Merkel who this year more than once reiterated that no country – strong as it is – can withstand all the challenges of the globalised world if it cannot rely on the support and backing of its partners.

For the same reasons Ukraine needs support and partnership to weather hard times and enjoy prosperity and security on the basis of shared values and common principles. We need allies. We want to be part of this Union of nations which jointly work for the better for the sake of their peoples and the whole world.

Therefore, Ukrainians want to join the European family of equal partners who trying so hard now to overcome the difficulties and really help their members in trouble.

How does the Customs Union with Russia and the other partners work?

Well, in this regard we see a somewhat different picture: some countries are facing hard times and others care more for their own interests trying to take advantage of the situation. So, the Ukrainians can compare and draw conclusions.

In spite of all current difficulties in the EU and contrary to all doomsday scenarios which we hear now and then from some experts, Ukraine still believes very much in this project and is absolutely sure that the EU is strong enough to weather all these difficulties. It is still very attractive for us because this is a Union of equal partners.

The Ukrainians are quite sure that they might not only enjoy the support of the EU, but they have also so much to offer and share with it. 

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