Diplomats polemicise over Ukraine’s EU membership perspective

EU ambassador to Ukraine Jan Tombi?ski

But EU ambassador to Ukraine Jan Tombi?ski

Speaking at a conference organised by the European Policy centre (EPC) yesterday (2 June), Kostyantin Yelisieiev, the Ambassador of Ukraine to the EU, made an appeal for his country to be given a clear membership perspective to the European Union.

In principle, the signature of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA) could be accompanied by a preamble, in which the accession perspective could be included.

The bulk of the EU-Ukraine AA is expected to be signed at the 26-27 June EU summit. Ukraine signed the political chapters of the AA last March [read more], but the main text, containing a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) was left for signature after the presidential elections, which were held on 25 May. Moldova and Georgia are also expected to sign their AAs at the summit.

Yelisieiev said that the current EU crisis was a “confrontation of two civilisations” which was a litmus test of whether the Union had a united common and security policy.

He said that in his view, the EU needed to come with “a smart combination of actions”, including “Iranian-type of sanctions” cutting Russia from the global financial system. He explained that the sanctions adopted so far were “good, but not enough”, as they had been anticipated by the Kremlin.

But more importantly, it was necessary to support Ukraine “generously, in a well-coordinated manner”, and also for “revitalising discussions” on a clear membership perspective of his country to the EU.

For Ukraine, he said that the membership perspective would be “the light at the end of the tunnel” that was so badly needed. The lack of membership perspective, he said, was not only a matter of frustration, it was about “betraying Ukraine”, he said.

Ukraine has “paid by blood” the concluding of the AA, Yelisieiev said, referring to the dramatic events that took place after the former president Viktor Yanukovich ditched the agreement. With the sacrifice of their lives, the people of Ukraine deserved a membership perspective, the Ukrainian ambassador argued.  

But Jan Tombi?ski, EU ambassador to Ukraine, took a more cautious stance concerning the accession perspective. He also conveyed the message that it had not been an easy task to convince EU member states to open discussions leading to the beginning of negotiations on the AA.

Tombi?ski also gave the example of his own country, Poland, which in his words started its EU association without membership perspective in the early 1990s, and received it only in 1997.

But Marc Franco, an Associate fellow at Egmont, the Royal Institute for International relations, a Brussels think tank, and former EU Ambassador to Russia, took the view that without an EU membership perspective, it was unlikely that Ukraine would be able to succeed in undertaking necessary economic reforms.

A hara-kiri for oligarchs

Franco said that the AA implies an export of the societal model that implies “a hara-kiri of the previous regime”. The export of the EU’s economic model implies a hara-kiri of the economic elite of Ukraine, and a fundamental geopolitical change, a disturbance of old alliances and economic links, he said.

The former diplomat argued that the difficulties in Ukraine should not be underestimated. The main questions, he said, is if the new leadership is strong enough to tackle economic and political vested interests, if the population is ready to suffer the hardship of reform, if the country is strong enough to withstand external pressure from Russia, and how it would handle the issue of the eastern regions of the country.

The situation now is more difficult than when Central and Eastern Europe began its path reform in the early 1990s. These reforms were possible thanks to the EU membership perspective, Franco said.

The Union has been “a bit over-enthusiastic and going too far, but at the same time we didn’t go far enough”, Franco said.

“Because if we really wanted this process to succeed, if we really believed that it is going to happen, we need a membership perspective,” he added. “Without a membership perspective, I don’t believe any of this is going to be possible”, the former diplomat stated.

Franco also explained the differences of the approach of the EU and Russia, with the fact that the Union’s foreign policy is not built on geopolitical thinking, but of economic integration and cooperation. This is not the case for Russia, which is a 19th century empire, he said. 

The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.

Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than 10 towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate. 

  • 26-27 June: EU summit during which the Association Agreements with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are expected to be signed

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