Commission embarks on ‘unprecedented’ venture with Ukraine

EU - Ukraine Flag montage. [Shutterstock]

Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Štefan Füle will pay a two-day visit to Ukraine starting today (25 March), leading a sizeable delegation that includes Commissioner for Financial Programming and Budget Janusz Lewandowski and high-level representatives of various directorates of the Commission.

The EU executive called the visit “unprecedented” in its ambition, as a follow-up to the signature of the political chapters of the Association Agreement (AA), which took place at the last EU summit on 21 March.

“We will be talking about a number of reforms that are necessary both in the area of democratic institutions and the economy. We will start work on a roadmap for these reforms in different fields,” Füle said. He stressed that it would also be important to continue dialogue with Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, and civil society.

The possibility of accelerating the process of visa liberalisation and issues related to decentralisation and support for the country regions should also be among the topics for discussions between the Ukrainian authorities and the high-level delegation from the European Commission.

One of the issues of concern for the EU is the involvement of Ukraine’s regions, including the Russian-speaking east and south, in the political process and reform. A group of visiting young politicians from the Batkyvshchyna party of Yulia Tymoshenko and the Udar party of Vitaly Klitschko described yesterday the situation in those regions as very volatile, following the Russian annexation of Crimea.

“It is very difficult to do politics in the Donetsk region,” said Vladlen Nebrat, member of the youth organisation of Udar in Donetsk.

The young leaders, on visit to Brussels at the invitation of the Konrad Adenauer foundation, said, however, that they were optimistic that the elections would be held on 25 May and that the new president would be named on 26 May.

However, according to reports, the parties they represent are unlikely to agree on a single candidate and that there will likely be a a second round of elections.

Asked what kind of immediate assistance they thought was necessary for their country, the young leaders specified technical assistance for the Ukrainian army, which, in their words, was deliberately “destroyed” by former President Viktor Yanukovich. They also called for more student exchanges and the lifting of the visa requirement.

Only 15% of Ukrainians have travelled to another country, one of the young leaders said, appealing for the EU offer more, visible help to the Ukrainians.

EU support ‘only words’

“The majority of Ukrainians think the EU won’t help the country, that their support is only words”, one of the young leaders said, echoing sentiments in Ukraine that Brussels was not doing enough to respond to the pro-European upheaval in their country.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Ambassador to the EU Kostyantyn Yelisieiev wrote a commentary, in an effort to respond to doubts about the real value of the EU commitment to his country.

Yelisieiev argued that it was better to have a “bird in the hand” than a “crane in the sky”, and called the signature of the political chapters “a first important step”.

“Someone could say that this is not enough. But let’s not forget that the European Union is a complicated body. The decisions on relations with third countries are taken not by the majority of votes, but unanimously,” the diplomat wrote.

“Some of our partners are concerned about internal instability in Ukraine. Some of them are sensitive to Russia’s reaction to the decisions taken by the EU regarding Ukraine. Some of them are under effects of the Russian propaganda … And someone is just indifferent to Ukraine”, Yelisieiev wrote.    

Ukrainians have expressed disappointment that at their summit last week, EU leaders did not offer the country a “European perspective”, meaning that they did not explicitly say that Ukraine would become EU member state upon fulfilling the membership conditions.

Yelisieiev, however, recalls the experience of the newest EU country, Croatia. Croatia signed its Association Agreement in 2001, and received a “European perspective” within two years, along with other Western Balkans countries.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and EU leaders signed on 21 March the “political chapters” of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA). The  low-key ceremony, orchestrated by Council President Herman Van Rompuy, apparently downplayed the importance Kyiv attaches to the pact.

Van Rompuy called the signature a “gesture”, recognizing the aspirations of Ukrainians “to live in a country governed by values, democracy and the rule of law”, as well as “the popular yearning for a European way of life”. He didn’t mention, however, their aspiration to join the EU, in spite of the fact that the refusal of the previous pro-Russian President, Viktor Yanukovich, had unleashed a pro-European revolution in the country.

Regarding the economic and trade elements of the AA, Van Rompuy said those would be signed “soon”, without elaborating. Ukraine is holding presidential elections on 25 May and is expected to carry out a constitutional reform before holding parliamentary elections. It is assumed that the EU will sign the remaining part of the AA with a government representative of the different regions of the country. 

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