Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

What Has been Written in the Agreement between the EU and Ukraine?

Adelina Marini, December 20, 2011

The European Union has again found a way to protect the wolf satiated and the lamb alive. The big news from the EU-Ukraine summit, which took place in Kiev on December 19th, is that the final text of the Association Agreement is finalised, of which an important part is the first of its kind Deep and Comprehensive Trade Agreement. The news was announced with an appropriate tone by the EU leaders, Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso, as well as by Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine's president, as a big success, and the day was described as "big" for the EU-Ukrainian relations. But what is written in the text? During the negotiations, which Mr Barroso admitted were extremely difficult, Kiev insisted Ukraine's perspective for EU membership to be enshrined.

This is what President Yanukovych stressed: "I am considering the Association Agreement not only as a document which will take our relations with the EU to a qualitatively new format of political association and economic integration, but also as a key tool for the realisation of the strategic goal of our relations with Europe - getting membership in this union. Ukraine bases its assumptions on that, that every European country can ask for EU membership, given that it fulfils all the necessary criteria, enshrined in the founding treaties of the EU".

From the words of Barroso and Van Rompuy it is not very clear how precisely Ukraine's ambition for European membership is expressed, but there is a hint for something like that.

Herman Van Rompuy: "Today, we can publicly announce that negotiations on the Association Agreement have been finalised. It was difficult work, but your government's declared European choice and dedication has made it possible to conclude the talks with success. This is a giant step for our relations".

Jose Manuel Barroso: "This Agreement will contribute to our shared goal of furthering political association and economic integration. It also represents the best guarantee that Ukrainian citizens can enjoy a future based on European values and standards".

So far so good, but when will it be initialled?

This is the next very important question for the development of the relations between the EU and Ukraine, in which, though, the tone is not that solemn. President Van Rompuy answered to this question by quoting the joint statement of the 15th summit between the two sides, in which it is explicitly stated that the initialling and ratification of the agreement will start when Ukraine clearly demonstrates that it respects common values like rule of law, democracy and minority rights. This includes also handling the risks of politically motivated justice. "Tymoshenko's trial is the most striking example", he added.

In the same spirit spoke the European Commission president too. What comes next, regarding the agreement, is for it to be initialled, but "there are some technical problems, mainly related to translation", Jose Manuel Barroso explained, hoping this to happen soon.

Ukraine's European choice

During the 15-year long relations between the Union and Ukraine the main issue, which tormented both the member states and Ukraine itself, is which path should the country choose - to Europe or to Russia. This dilemma has been tormenting the Ukrainians for 20 years now. In 2011 is the 20th anniversary of the independence of this former Soviet republic. As Olga Shumylo-Tapiola from Carnegie puts it in her analysis "Ukraine at Twenty: The Search for an Identity", the Ukrainian independence to a large extent happened by default. "Few observers would argue that it [the independence] was the result of popular desire or a long-term struggle on behalf of the nation’s elite. Ukraine’s leadership—largely former communist party members—had to bring the country out of a massive economic downturn while simultaneously building the state and its institutions. In effect, they had to build the ship while it was sailing".

The author points out that still there are differences between the eastern and western part of Ukraine, between its central and southern regions. She also notes something that will sound very familiar to the Bulgarian public: "According to the Sofia Centre, an independent think tank in Kyiv, Ukrainians are individualistic, preferring to distance themselves from society. As in Soviet times, they have little trust in their fellow citizens and prefer to rely on kinship and friendship networks".

The division in Ukraine is very similar to that in Bulgaria - to russiaphiles and russiaphobes. The former want to keep the relations with Moscow, as this is the good old patron, whom we know and whom we can rely on, while the latter want to say good-bye to the past and take a stable course to the west. Russia, in its part, participates very actively in keeping the dilemma alive with its new idea for the creation of a Eurasian Union, the foundations of which are being built with the creation of a customs union, in which, for now, only Belarus and Kazakhstan take part. The invitation to Ukraine, though, on Kremlin's part, is too insisting.

It is not accident that there was precisely such a question during the news conference, after the EU-Ukraine summit on Monday, to which the EU leaders answered in good manners, by stating that Ukraine had the right to choose its partnerships, but in the same time they welcomed the choice the country had made. The data of a recently made poll, however, show something else. According to the results, published by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency, a significant majority of respondents in Ukraine want their country to join the customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

81.4% "for" against 12.9% who are against the idea. Moreover, 48.2% of the supporters said that they were "for" no matter that this might seriously hamper the Ukrainian perspectives for EU membership. 35.9% stated that Ukraine should not join the customs union, if this would harm the European perspectives of their country, but almost 16 percent are undecided. The poll was made by the Gorshenin Institute in Kiev among 1,000 respondents, asked by phone in all major centres in the country.

According to Andrew Wilson with the European Council on Foreign Relations, however, the EU should not construct its relations on the basis of confrontation with Russia. The Community should support the efforts of the Ukrainian society to build a strong democracy and to support its European aspiration. This is of utmost importance, especially now when the union itself is experiencing difficulties under the weight of 27 member states, and since recently of 28, with various stages of economic, political and social development. It is especially important, when the EU wants to make Ukraine promise that it would stick to its values, to prove that it really holds on to them and they really are in its foundations.

If this foundation collapses, the EU will have nothing to offer to countries in hesitation, such as Ukraine - a strategically important for the Community nation, and even more important for some member states. It is also important the EU, which is also in a new stage of transformation, to look itself in the mirror and to see that in its very own self there are countries that have deviated from the values they claimed they shared. This is a bad example and is harming the long-term strategic interests of the Community. If the EU were to make this important review of itself, this will send an even stronger message to societies like the Ukrainian, that they have not spent 20 years, striving for something that has disappointed them and they are left with no path and direction.