Ukraine seeks thaw in relations with the EU

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Ukraine expects EU foreign ministers, who are meeting in Brussels today (19 November), to unfreeze its EU agenda which has been paralysed since the recent parliamentary elections.

Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, the Ukrainian ambassador in Brussels, said on Friday (16 November) that his country had “passed the test” with the parliamentary elections, held on 28 October.

The diplomat met with journalists ahead of today's EU foreign affairs ministers meeting, where EU-Ukrainian relations feature on the agenda.

Yelisieiev added that Kyiv now expects to be able to press ahead by signing an Association Agreement with the Union at a forthcoming EU-Ukraine summit.

Since the 28 October elections, EU representatives have made a few statements, mostly critical, but it looks as if Brussels will provide its overall assessment for the ministerial meeting.

Yelisieiev admitted that not everything had been perfect with the election, but insisted that they should be considered by the EU as fair, as results largely coincided with opinion polls. A proof of the free choice of people was that two new political forces were able to enter parliament, he said.

Yelisieiev drew a parallel with the US elections, held on 6 November, where various irregularities had also been reported. He also mentioned Lithuania, where new elections are going to be held in four constituencies after the 28 October poll triggered controversy. In Ukraine the same will happen in five constituencies, he said.

‘Not with an excellent note, but we passed’

“We passed the test, not with an excellent note, but we passed. So let’s continue with our EU agenda,” Yelisieiev said.

Asked by EURACTIV to comment on the European Commission's concerns over the elections, the ambassador admitted that problems existed.

One of the problems is “tabulation” – the introduction of data from individual polling stations into the central register. According to many reports, irregularities took place at this level.

Another concern of the Commission appears to be “MP buying”. In Ukraine the parties with financial resource often “buy” independent MPs from majority constituencies.

According to an analysis by Ukrainian journalist Sonia Koshkina, which she contributed to EURACTIV, the new Ukrainian parliament will include 185 representatives of the Party of Regions of President Viktor Yanukovich; 101 United Opposition representatives; 40 representatives of UDAR, the party of former boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko; 37 of the far-right Svoboda; 32 Communists; and 43 independent candidates who ran in single-seat constituencies. UDAR and Svoboda are new to parliament.

The current authorities consider the independent candidates a pool for their own majority. The majority must have at least 226 deputies, whereas a bigger majority of 240-245 MPs can basically unimpeded lawmaking activities. As a conclusion, Koshkina says that the victory of the Party of Regions is a "pyrrhic victory", as it could be unable to form a strong majority.

On tabulation, ?Yelisieiev said the that the irregularities did not “influence much” the election result. On MP-buying, he said there was “nothing” the government or anyone else could do against the phenomenon.

EU-Ukrainian relations have neared a freezing point. There has been no EU-Ukraine summit since December 2011, which was marred by tensions over the imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. This year will elapse without a single EU-Ukraine summit, while the EU held a EU-Russia summit despite Russia’s election calendar.

The diplomat said that it was very difficult for him to explain to the Ukrainian people that the EU was able to holds summits with Russia, but not with Ukraine. Yelisieiev also insisted that the Association Agreement would benefit the EU more than his own country.

Russia bribes Germany with cheap gas?

Asked if he thought the EU was too hard on Ukraine, the ambassador said that distinctions should be made between the Union and its member states. He didn’t specifically name Germany, but made it plain that the largest EU country was the biggest obstacle for his country’s rapprochement with the Union.

“Why is gas for certain EU countries much cheaper?” he asked, implying that Germany was rewarded by Russia for its “tough” line on Ukraine. He also stated that his country wanted the EU to have a common strategy with regards to Russia, instead of the current divisions for which Ukraine paid a dear price.

But Yelisieiev praised the German energy firm RWE for selling Russian gas to Ukraine. RWE gets a commission and despite additional transit taxes for re-routing Russian gas from Germany through Poland to Ukraine, this gas was 20% cheaper than Gazprom’s supplies to Kyiv, he said.

Compared to the other countries, Ukraine pays the highest price for Russian gas. Ukraine imports about two-thirds of the gas it consumes from Russia, at a price of $425 (€340) per 1,000 cubic metres.

Asked about the Tymoshenko case, the envoy appeared to indicate there could be a solution if there was a dialogue at the highest level.

The December 2011 EU-Ukraine Summit failed to initial the country's Association Agreement with the Union, largely due to the imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko that Brussels sees as politically motivated.

The five-year long negotiations over the Association Agreement were concluded, but EU leaders made it clear that the deal would not be signed until improvements are made to the "quality of democracy and rule of law" in Ukraine.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy also made it clear that the country's association agreement, which includes a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, would not be signed until the parliamentary elections in Ukraine due in October 2012.

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