Europe and Ukraine: Deal or no deal?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

If no progress is made at the upcoming EU-Ukraine summit on a trade and association agreement, the country risks failing to democratise and falling into Russia's orbit, argues Vladimir Mishchenko.

Vladimir Mishchenko is an analyst with the Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy 'People First'.

"Europe often declares its interest in approaching Ukraine in the economic sphere, but only on the basis of general European values of democracy.  In practice, when moments of decision come, European leaders often turn away from Ukraine.  This, ultimately, contributes to the strengthening of authoritarian tendencies inside the country.

The present situation on the eve of the December Ukraine-EU summit somewhat reminds us of the events of 2008, when Ukraine was refused a Membership Action Plan (MAP) with NATO.  What was at issue was a possible granting of a reforms programme in the military and political sphere (democracy, personal freedom and rule of law) and also in the economy (economic freedom and social justice) to Ukraine.

It should be stressed that the MAP participation would have in no way guaranteed a future membership of Ukraine in NATO.  In a similar way, initialling of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement (AA) may not lead to its coming into force.  For instance, in case at least one out of 27 EU states doesn't support it.

In 2008, European politicians and experts explained the refusal by claiming that the idea of joining NATO had a low level of support among the people in Ukraine.  They were silent about their unwillingness to spoil relations with Russia.  By the way, Ukraine did not have any such desire either.

Today, when the possible preliminary signing of the AA is at stake, the Ukrainian government lacks political will to demonstrate to the European Union their commitment to the rule of law principles in the Julia Tymoshenko case.

However, the EU leaders should remember that unlike NATO membership, the idea of European integration is supported by the majority of Ukrainians (according to many sociological polls, this number amounts to more than 51%).  Today, 47 % of Ukrainians support Tymoshenko's release from prison for the sake of the association with the EU.

But the fact that 31% of people don't support her release in this connection also deserves consideration.  European leaders should understand that citizens of Ukraine, unfortunately, are extremely limited in methods of influencing upon their own power because of imperfection of Ukrainian democracy.  And Europeans' refusal of the AA initialling, as a matter of fact, is equivalent to refusing the whole Ukrainian nation a "road map" for democracy development.

The latest developments in relations between Ukraine and the EU (finalisation of a technical part of negotiations on the creation of a Free Trade Area amid the refusal of chief EU officials to meet with President Viktor Yanukovych) give grounds to assume that the European party may offer Ukraine a dubious compromise at the December summit in Kyiv, which could be signing of the FTA agreement, with the indefinite postponement of a political association agreement.

This will help European leaders, on the one hand, to formally preserve political face and, on the other hand, to solve a task of utmost importance for the European business in opening access to Ukrainian resources and markets.  Meanwhile, Europeans should take into account that exactly such a scenario is favourable to the authoritarian Yanukovych and his environment.

Oligarchs close to the president, who represent export-oriented industries such as metallurgy and chemicals, will at last receive a desired entry to the markets of the European Union.  Thus, Yanukovych himself wouldn't have to make any commitments in the area of democracy and human rights. 

The worst scenario for the future of Ukraine-EU relations is that the Kyiv summit on 19 December will end in a fiasco.  Then the Ukrainian authorities could only join the customs union led by Russia. Ukraine would be admitted there with pleasure and without any 'examinations'…"

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