All the major political parties in the European Parliament united yesterday (24 May) to back a resolution putting pressure on Ukraine to free the jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
In response, Ukraine's deputy prime minister, Valeriy Khoroshkovskyi, said that his government would take a “responsible attitude”, but insisted that any solution would require a legislative change that could take some time.
The Parliamentary resolution was adopted at a crucial time in EU-Ukraine relations.
The Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told the European Parliament a few days ago that Kiev was being taken hostage by the Tymoshenko case (see background) as part of a “foreign plot” to prevent it from getting closer to the Union.
A week ago, some EU ministers warned of the risk of “losing Ukraine to Russia” if too much pressure was put on the country over the Tymoshenko case.
But the adopted Parliamentary resolution calls on on the Ukrainian authorities to distinguish between political and criminal responsibility, and change Kiev's existing criminal law accordingly. This is set as a condition for the signing and ratification of the EU-Ukraine Association agreement, which was initialed in March.
The Enlargement and European neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Štefan Füle said that Tymoshenko herself had asked that her case not be used to slow the association process.
“We respect that," Füle said. "But at the same time we demand that Ukraine shows that it respects the spirit of our new agreement, before we can confidently open the way to allow its entry into force.”
A series of interventions by MEPs provided Füle with a rare opportunity to outline the Commission's view of what he called the "complex situation" in the Ukraine.
It was not the first region that the EU was trying to transform, Füle said. He compared Ukraine to the Central European countries which joined the EU in 2004 and 2007, and with the Western Balkan countries currently in the accession process.
“Thanks to the prospect of enlargements we have been successful,” Füle explained, but hinted that the EU might not be able to provide similarly powerful incentives for transformation this time.
‘We should not play geopolitics’
“I have no illusions on Ukraine. Sooner or later, we will be able to be bold toward this country and we will help them in this transformation,” he said.
Referring to fears that EU hesitancy could push Ukraine into Moscow's sphere of influence, he added:“I think we need to be aware of geopolitics, but we should not play geopolitics. We should be flexible, innovative, creative. We should not look at the picture as black and white. But we should never compromise on our values and our principles.”
The resolution brings some clarity to the EU position vis-à-vis the Euro 2012 football championship, which Ukraine is co-hosting with Poland from 6 June to 1 July.
It clarifies that the EU is not calling for a “political boycott” of the championship – and has never used the term, according to Füle.
Instead, it calls for European politicians visiting Euro 2012 to do so in a private capacity, and to seek opportunities to visit political detainees in prison, or otherwise raise awareness about the country's political situation.
The Commission President José Manuel Barroso has no intention of traveling and attending matches, and this position is shared by the Commissioners, Füle added.
Ukraine is due to go to the polls in parliamentary elections this October, and Füle said that the EU's Kiev delegation has already begun coordinating with mission heads to train observers and finance exit polls.
Other projects in the pipeline would support media monitoring and analyse political party marketing and outreach projects to vulnerable voters, he added.
The Ukrainian media quoted Khoroshkovskyi as saying that the authorities would take a “responsible attitude” as to the European Parliament's resolution.
But Khoroshkovskyi went on to call for more time before the country’s legislation could be changed to allow for a “legitimate solution” to the Tymoshenko case.
“I want to confirm that we are willing to solve this problem. In other words, we will be looking for a solution in any case,” he was quoted as saying.
In the meantime, Bloomberg quoted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who played down reports about EU leaders boycotting Euro 2012.
"Do you think nobody is coming?" Viktor Yanukovych was quoted as asking. "All the tickets have been sold, the excitement is incredible," he said.
"Euro 2012 will take place and there will be fans."