Berlin urged to step in over EU’s relations with Ukraine, Russia


Berlin must take on an active, coordinative role between Brussels and Moscow, said an official from Germany's Eastern European economic relations committee, adding that an EU-Russia summit, like the one that happened on Tuesday (28 January), is definitely not constructive, EURACTIV Germany reports.

“In hindsight it was not very smart, how talks on the association agreement were conducted,” said Eckard Cordes, chairman of the committee on Eastern European economic relations, in a statement to EURACTIV Germany.

On Tuesday (28 January), the EU hosted the biannual EU-Russia summit in Brussels. At the event, President Putin stressed that Ukraine would not dominate discussions, focusing instead on the Eastern Partnership (EaP).

But in Cordes’ view, even the latest EU-Russia summit was not constructive in remedying the situation Ukraine.

“These short meetings – fly in, talk, fly out – are not enough at all and definitely not constructive. Time is needed to form a stable basis for relations. In that regard, there is no difference between economic and political life.

A two-and-a-half-hour summit like that is not what is needed to establish good, friendly relations, the chairman of the committee said.

In a speech at the summit, European Council President Hermann van Rompuy made it clear that the EU’s Association Agreement is compatible with Russia’s Customs Union (see background).

But despite developments at the EU summit, Ukraine is still likely to face an ‘either-or’ decision with regard to economic ties, Cordes said.

“Russia cannot be ignored as a factor in Ukraine”, said Cordes, a solution must be found, in which an association agreement can be concluded with the EU without posing a risk to Ukrainian-Russian economic relations.

Berlin must push for trilateral talks

Cordes said he did not see any potential for a real solution when one of the most important parties, Ukraine, is not present: “A solution can only be reached when all three regions – Ukraine, Russia and the EU – are included. And not under the motto: either you go here or there. That is inconceivable and will not work!”

Nevertheless, according to Cordes, certain positive signals can be interpreted from the summit concerning trilateral talks between Ukraine, Russia and the EU: “I am only cautiously optimistic that, after this Tohuwabohu [confusion], common efforts can be determined to calm the situation.”

Here, the German government must take on an active and coordinative role as an intermediary in the situation between Ukraine, Russia and the EU, according to the committee chairman.

“We must finally enter into trilateral talks,” Cordes emphasised.

The economic repercussions of the Ukraine crisis

In addition, the economics expert warned, Europe should not be allowed to disintegrate into individual economic blocs, the committee chairman warned.

The previous position of Brussels and Berlin, to exclude a member of the Customs Union from an Association Agreement, is the wrong one, Cordes contended: “We must increase talks with Russia and the Customs Union concerning a common economic architecture.”

“The division of Europe into various economic zones is not timely”, emphasised Cordes.

“If Europe wants to play a role in the next twenty years, we must overcome such narrow-mindedness. We need a European area that is fused together and cooperates closely – even with Russia,” Cordes told EURACTIV Germany. “We must throw Europe’s combined economic power on the scale.”

Meanwhile, 40% of companies included in the latest business climate survey conducted jointly by the committee on Eastern European economic relations and the German-Russian foreign trade chamber, believe the political conflict between the EU and Russia over the future orientation of Ukraine will have a negative effect on their business.

The survey was carried out just a few weeks ago, before the escalation of violence and the deaths. No doubt, results would show much more concern if the same study was conducted now.

The Ukrainian government announced on 21 November that it had decided to stop its preparations to sign an Association Agreement (AA) with the EU.

Following the news that Yanukovich failed to sign the AA at the Vilnius summit on 28-29 November, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets demanding his resignation [read more]. The protests, called EuroMaidan, have lasted ever since.

On 16 January supporters of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich hastily pushed through in Parliament new laws, in an attempt to curb anti-government protests. The Commission called these laws “shocking” and “disrespectful to democracy” [read more].

The new legislation, which ran to more than 100 pages and a summary of which in English was obtained by EURACTIV, appeared directed mainly at preparing the ground for action to end the street protests.

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