EU Policy towards Ukraine and Its Neighbors

Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable IX
“Ukraine’s Regional Commitments”

EU Policy towards Ukraine and Its Neighbors

Angelos Pangratis

Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Commission to the United States Angelos Pangratis’s featured remarks at the Conference Ukraine Quest Roundtable IX: Ukraine’s Regional Commitments” held on Oct. 15, 2008, James Madison Memorial Building, US Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Ukraine is a strategic partner for the EU

From the EU’s perspective, Ukraine is a strategic partner with a significant regional leadership role.

This assessment is based, first, upon the obvious key data concerning demography, size and geography – all of which in their own right advocate special consideration for Ukraine.

However, there are at least five additional considerations which from the EU perspective make the relationship particularly important:

First, Ukraine’s democratic leadership in the region. Three sets of elections since 2004 have been recognized as broadly in accordance with international standards, and significant progress has been made in respect for human rights.

Second, a very significant economic potential and good progress in economic reform has made Ukraine an attractive business and investment prospect in recent years. Ukraine’s accession to WTO earlier this year (May 16, 2008) is a milestone in this respect.

Third, Ukraine is a key partner as regards energy, with 80 percent of the gas from the Russian Federation passing through Ukraine, including both domestically produced and transiting gas.

Fourth, Ukraine is an important regional player through its participation in the Energy Charter, INOGATE (energy infrastructure and investment), TRACECA (transport infrastructure investment), the Black Sea Synergy as well as various environmental conventions of regional importance. Ukraine has also played a positive role in regional organisations such as the OSCE, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, and GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova). It has enhanced its regional role through its constructive contribution to the settlement of the Transnistra conflict as well as its engagement with Belarus.

Finally, of particular importance to the EU is Ukraine”s pro-EU orientation. This commitment, shared by all the main political players, has been reflected in general good performances in cooperation under the European Neighbourhood Policy. It was recently reiterated at the annual EU-Ukraine Summit in Paris on September 9.
Significant challenges remain and need to be addressed

At the same time, there is no denying that Ukraine continues to face significant challenges. Political instability could have a negative impact on the pace of political and economic reforms. Much needed constitutional reform and measures to strengthen the rule of law such as judicial reform, as well as measures related to the macroeconomic and business framework, do not appear to be progressing.

While recognising that corruption affects not only Ukraine, we have to mention that there are serious concerns about Ukraine’s failure to address effectively this challenge.

An intensifying bilateral EU-Ukraine relationship

A couple of words also on the bilateral relationship between Ukraine and the EU which, clearly, is further intensifying.

The EU-Ukraine Summit in Paris in September provided the leaders of the Ukraine and the EU with the opportunity to take stock of current relations.

The Summit notably recognised the considerable progress that has been made in negotiations on an ambitious and comprehensive Association Agreement to replace the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. The agreement will cover all aspects of the relationship including political dialogue and foreign and security policy, cooperation in the area of justice, freedom and security issues, economic cooperation and the establishment of a deep and comprehensive Free Trade Area. The Association Agreement will result in a high level of economic and political convergence with the EU and will involve extensive legislative and regulatory approximation.

The Summit also took a decision to launch a dialogue with the aim of establishing a mutual visa-free regime as a long term perspective.

Important to note also that the EU remains one of the key donors to Ukraine. European Community assistance amounts to €2.7 billion since 1991.

From an EU perspective Ukraine’s commitment to the promotion of regional cooperation is extremely important. During the Summit, the President of France, Sarkozy, said the EU had a desire to bring stability and security to the region. It”s a strong political objective, which isn”t directed against anyone but makes Europeans think that their prosperity and their security also depend on prosperity, stability and security in those regions. We, Europe, want calmer relations with Russia. We want to understand each other through dialogue, through diplomacy and politics”. The French President also noted that in Europe”s eyes, Ukraine”s territorial integrity was absolutely not negotiable”.

EU has aimed to support the consolidation of Ukraine”s regional engagement in a number of different ways. Let me give two examples:

First, the Black Sea Synergy: This initiative was launched in 2007 to reinvigorate action at a regional level with the aim of promoting stability and prosperity in the Black Sea area, based on the common interests of the EU and of all Black Sea States. The initiative focuses on concrete goals and tasks in sectors with a Black Sea regional dimension – environment, energy, maritime policy and fisheries, democracy, respect for human rights and good governance. It includes cross-border cooperation programmes designed to promote cooperation between local authorities of bordering regions addressing common challenges.

Second, on a more general level, the European Neighbourhood Policy. This ambitious framework for cooperation between the EU on the one hand and the neighbours to the East and South inter alia focuses on areas with a regional dimension, notably energy, the environment and justice, liberty and security. The latter includes the important issues of border traffic, mobility and visas.

In this context, let me also briefly present some key elements of a new initiative, namely the new Eastern European Partnership under preparation. The purpose of this new Partnership is to further strengthen the ties between the EU and its Eastern neighbors, including by means of additional regional cooperation activities. Initially foreseen for a later stage and in the light of the events in Georgia, the Extraordinary European Council of September 1 asked the Commission to present proposals on the modalities of this Partnership already in December 2008. The Commission services are currently preparing a Communication that is expected to be adopted, at European Commission level, on December 3.

Given that this is work in progress, I have to limit myself to a presentation of some of the key elements under consideration:

The new Partnership would include both bilateral and multilateral cooperation activities with Ukraine but also Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova.

Bilaterally, the Eastern Partnership would offer partners in particular better economic integration with the EU and enhanced mobility of people, including a visa-free regime as a medium-term goal. Shortly, the Commission will launch a study on the feasibility of a gradual opening of EU labour markets to citizens of partner countries. The Commission would also support partners in developing a cohesion policy modelled on EU instruments.

Multilaterally, the Eastern Partnership would introduce cooperation platforms on various themes, with the aim of bringing the partners closer to the EU. That is to say partners would join forces in order to address common challenges. To note in particular that the platform on economic integration would work towards the creation of a Free Trade Area, involving the EU and the six partners, among the Ukraine, taking inspiration from the European Economic Area. Particular attention would be paid to energy security, both bilaterally and multilaterally.

The Eastern Partnership would be launched at a Summit and structured through annual meetings of Foreign Ministers. It would involve additional funding for our partners from the EU budget, with a view gradually to increase funding for our Eastern partners to a level comparable to that for pre-accession countries in South-Eastern Europe.

Thank you for your attention.

Summary of the discussion

Asked whether there were differences between Turkey and Ukraine, as regards their European nature, Pangratis expressed the view that both countries had their specific circumstances which would allow them to move towards Europe, at their own speed.

As regards relations with Ukraine, Pangratis welcomed the fact that, since the adoption of the EU Ukraine Action Plan in 2005, the partnership between the EU and Ukraine had advanced considerably in all areas of common interest, cooperation on foreign policy and crisis management, economic and energy cooperation, cooperation in the field of justice, freedom and security, including visa policy and in many others areas.

Pangratis also highlighted that the Summit explicitly recognised that Ukraine as a European country shared a common history and common values with the countries of the European Union. The leaders had been pleased to note that the new agreement between the EU and Ukraine would be an association agreement which left open the way for further progressive developments in EU Ukraine relations. Also, the EU acknowledged the European aspirations of Ukraine and welcomed its European choice. The PMs and Presidents had also acknowledged that gradual convergence of Ukraine with the EU in political, economic and legal areas would contribute to further progress in EU Ukraine relations.

When a conference participant pointed to the difficulty that Ukrainians had with the present visa regime, including delays and refusals, Pangratis stressed the political commitments of the leaders to improving the present situation. This was clearly reflected by the latest Summit’s decision to launch a visa dialogue, developing the relevant conditions, with the long-term perspective of establishing a visa free regime between the EU and Ukraine.

In reply to question on the impact that the joining of Ukraine would have on the EU’s neighbours, Pangratis said, the whole aim of the EU was to abolish barriers, not to create new ones. The EU was eager to make its external borders as open as possible.

Asked whether Ukraine could hope to join the EU without joining Nato in parallel, Pangratis said that the EU and Nato were two different entities with their own decision making processes. We had seen examples of countries joining one of them without joining the other.

In reply to a question about Ukraine’s EU accession prospects, Pangratis pointed to the step-by-step approach taken by the EEC/EU since its beginning. The founding fathers of the European Economic Community had not defined or even tried to define what the EU would be today. Ultimately, in this process of European integration, the Europeans had never been able / willing to define much more than the next step.

We see a similar approach in the EU’s formidable relationship with Ukraine, in the process of the intensification of the relations between the EU and Ukraine. Rather than focusing on the endgame, we should concentrate on the practical content of our efforts aiming at further enhancing relations. Europe’s political leaders recognised the strategic importance of the relationship and Ukraine”s commitment. The Association Agreement would renew our common institutional framework, facilitate the deepening of our relations in all areas, strengthen political association and economic integration between Ukraine and the EU by means of reciprocal commitments, rights and obligations.