Ukraine deserves stronger ties with the EU

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

This article is part of our special report EU-Ukraine Relations.

Ahead of parliamentary elections, Kostiantyn Yelisieiev urges the European Union to strengthen its economic and political ties with Ukraine.

Kostiantyn Yelisieiev is the ambassador of Ukraine to the European Union.

"In early October I travelled to Kyiv to participate in the annual ambassadorial conference – an ample venue to discuss the pressing problems of Ukraine’s foreign policy. For me it was also a chance to view Ukraine on the eve of the upcoming parliamentary election.

The electoral season is always a sensitive time. First and foremost because of the attempts from political forces to overdramatise it, to picture every given election as Doomsday, the last stand of good vs. evil.

And whereas it seems fully expedient politically, there is no doubt that from the point of the nation’s unity and interests – it’s detrimental. Yet it’s a card that gets pulled rather regularly. Ukraine is no exception. The card was played in 2010, 2012 – and, all things considered – might be played in 2015.

So the Doomsday talk might dominate another Ukraine’s election. All that aside, what about the reality? What about the election’s “nuts and bolts”?

First, there is a solid legislative package of rules, which was elaborated and adopted in due time by constitutional majority of the parliament, with inclusion of key opposition forces.

It is clear that the European institutions could have some remarks and recommendations for further improvement. But they should also concur that these rules present the general consensus of the Ukrainian political elite on the conduct of parliamentary elections as of 2011-2012.

Second, the electoral environment is extremely competitive. There is a diverse group of opposition forces running either united or separately. There is an ongoing global economic crisis, taking its toll on Ukraine’s economy.

There is a set of painful, but overdue political and economic reforms launched by the government. The government is fully aware of the political challenges in the 2012 election. This compels it to be a disciplined, mobilised and a vis-à-vis process of elections.

Any ruling party that is caught in the middle of unpopular reform enters the election as underdog. The opposition got the good cards.

They got to trumpet the economic difficulties. Despite the imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko, they managed to unite, agreed to participate in the election and run on equal footing with the others. They also enjoy the moral support of many in the West.

And yet the “United Opposition” lags in the polls. The new winning force seems to be the Boxing World Champion Vitaly Klitchko and his party “Udar”, who according to the latest polls fares second after the pro-presidential Party of the Regions.

This is another evidence of the election’s as unpredictable – and hence – uninhibited process. 

Here comes an important question – what will the international observers make of the election? Their word will truly matter.

Fully aware, the government is open to international observation missions. Even now, at this rather early stage, there are more than thousand of observers already in the field, working meticulously and, as I can judge, uninhibited by the authorities.

On the other hand, I believe there should be no place for any sort of premature, especially politically motivated assumptions on their side.

Ukrainian politics is a tough field – sadly, not unfamiliar to provocations and manipulations. And it wouldn’t be fair to observers to be sent in with a higher mandate than the one they already have.

Let them be the judges of the 2012 elections and not of Ukraine’s democracy per se.  And by a long run – not of Ukraine’s European future.

On 28 October there will be an election. And there will be “the day after” – when the country will come to terms with its sovereign choice and the deriving political landscape. As Ukraine will analyse the polls – the world will analyse Ukraine.

Unfortunately, the expectations in the run-up are unjustifiably low. At times it feels like déjà vu all over again. Like there have not been all Ukraine’s impressive strides in democracy in the 2000s and even more impressive reform agenda of the recent years.

Like Ukraine wasn’t carrying for years the repressive burden of the natural gas price imposed by Gazprom – and still didn’t give up the path of the EU integration. Like there haven’t been dozens overdue bills passed by the Parliament and new EU-induced regulations passed by the government.

Like the Association Agreement, including Free Trade Area, and visa liberalisation aren’t pending within reach.

Ukraine is standing its ground as EU-oriented democracy. We aren’t about to build the Ukraine-EU relation from scratch. It will be a good election. And Ukraine will stand its European course – for one simple reason: it’s the course of reforms that Ukraine needs.

And because this transformation seems in everyone’s interest, once again, I urge my EU colleagues: Sign the Association Agreement! Not because we want it, but because we deserve it. Because it is the best possible guarantee of Ukraine’s way to European standards and its future as an independent and sovereign state."

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