Poland warns EU-Ukraine bilateral agreement ‘clearly’ at risk

Radoslaw Sikorski

The planned sign-off of a wide-ranging EU-Ukraine Association Agreement at the November Eastern Partnership summit is "clearly" at risk, according to the Polish Foreign Minister, Rados?aw Sikorski. He urged Ukrainian authorities to “speed up” reforms and fulfil the EU's conditions by the end of summer, and not to wait until the last moment.

“We are worried that Ukraine might not fulfil the conditions on time,” said the Polish diplomat, whilst attending the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 25 June.

Sikorski pointed to a number of shortcomings in the country's democratic reform process, saying the Ukrainian parliament has neither passed the electoral law nor reformed what he referred to as “its Stalinist era prosecution service”. In Ukraine “there are also well-known concerns about selective justice”, he added in reference to the imprisonment of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Asked by journalists whether signing the Agreement at the November Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius was at risk, the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs replied: “It clearly is."

“If Ukraine does not do what it is supposed to do, there will be no signing," he stressed.

The association agreement, totalling more than 1,000 pages, was initialled more than a year ago but its signature is awaiting progress on conditions imposed by the EU, including the release from prison of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko (see background).

Ukraine hopes to have the Association Agreement signed at the 28-29 November Eastern Partnership summit, held in Vilnius under the Lithuanian EU Presidency.

Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and other EU countries are in favour of signing the agreement, in spite of Tymoshenko's imprisonment, arguing that the Union should not lose Ukraine over the fate of one person.

>> Read: EU countries divided over Tymoshenko case

Sikorski said that Ukraine had “time until the end of the summer, if it wants to sign the Agreement in Vilnius”.

“If it will not meet the conditions, then we will have some plan B," he added.

Diplomats said failure to sign the agreement in Vilnius will likely delay the process by two years because the new European Parliament and Commission that will emerge from the 2014 European election process will probably want to reassess the bloc's future relations with Ukraine. 

The Polish diplomat stressed that “everything is up to Ukraine”.

“It's up to the parliament to pass the laws," Sikorski said, warning that voting on them “at the last moment” would be insufficient. European institutions have to assess the state of preparations in Ukraine, and "assessments take weeks”, Sikorski explained.

He promised that if the Ukrainian authorities meet the conditions, Poland “will do its best to persuade others” to go ahead with the Agreement.

In December 2012, the Council of Ministers, which represents the 27 EU member countries, set conditions for the signature of the Association Agreement, saying "tangible progress" was needed in three areas: compliance of the 2012 parliamentary elections with international standards, addressing the issue of selective justice, and implementing reforms jointly agreed in the EU-Ukraine Association Agenda.

For the European Union, the term "selective justice" refers to the sentencing of opposition politicians, especially former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was found guilty of abuse of office when brokering a gas deal with Russia in 2009. In 2011 she was sentenced to seven years in prison.

At the EU-Ukraine summit on 25 February, Council President Herman Van Rompuy reiterated the three areas where the EU wants to see progress before signing an association agreement with Kiev.

The three conditions are to address the problem of "selective justice" - a reference to the imprisonment of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko - dealing with the democratic shortcomings stemming from the October national elections, and advancing judicial reforms.

Van Rompuy made it plain that the EU wanted to see progress “at the latest May this year”. In April, former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko, a Tymoshenko ally, was freed from jail after receiving a presidential pardon.

President Viktor Yanukovych has said the outstanding issues could be solved in time for the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit in November, during the Lithuanian presidency of the EU. But in the meantime many observers see democracy in Ukraine receding.

  • 28-29 Nov: Eastern Partnership meeting in Vilnius

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