Ukraine initialled today (30 March) a landmark Association Agreement with the EU and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. Although this is only a technical step before the official signature, the Commission said the move was important for "keeping the momentum" in relations with Kyiv.
Both EU and Ukrainian officials welcomed the initialling of the documents, totaling more than 1,000 pages. The event concludes five years of difficult negotiations, and there is no certainty when deals would be formally signed.
At the EU-Ukraine summit, held on 19 December in Kyiv, Council President Herman Van Rompuy made it clear that the new legal base of EU-Ukraine relations would not be signed until the parliamentary elections in this country, due in October (see background). Another important hurdle is the case of the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko who is serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of power.
Commission officials said that the initialling was "a low-key event", but still insisted that it was important for "keeping the momentum" in relations.
The EU wants to keep Ukraine in its orbit at a time when Russia becomes more assertive with its neighbours. At the same time, Brussels insists that it would not compromise on "core EU values".
Rule of law, independence of the judiciary, selective justice, politically motivated justice, free and fair elections, comprehensive constitutional reform – these are the issues of primary importance which the EU will consider before deciding if the political atmosphere in Ukraine is conducive for signing the text, a Commission official said.
The most difficult problem ahead of the initialling was reportedly the drafting of the preamble, and more specifically of the text defining Ukraine's EU perspective. The text has not been made public, but EU officials explained that the formulations related to the EU support for Ukraine, acknowledging Ukraine's adherence to EU values and identity, as well as the strong support of the Ukrainian public for EU integration.
Ukraine's wish had been that the preamble states that the EU recognises Ukraine's European roots and perspectives, not only acknowledging Kyiv's ambitions.
Asked by EURACTIV to comment on this point, Pavlo Klimkin, the country's deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, said that more importantly, the Association Agreement went "much further than the famous Europe agreements" signed in the recent past with would-be EU members.
Klimkin explained that the Association agreement was "European integration in itself", as by its scope and depth it "changed the paradigm" from cooperation to integration.
"The substance of the agreement is the best reflection of European integration," he said.