Ukraine-EU Relations – EU Presidency View

Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable VIII:
"Ukraine-EU Relations"

Ukraine/EU Relations – From the Vantage Point of the EU Presidency

Joao de Vallera

Presentation by Ambassador of Portugal to the United States Joao de Vallera delivered during Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable VIII: "Ukraine-EU Relations" Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Washington DC, October 17, 2007.

I would like to thank the organizers of the “Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable Series”, and namely the Center for US-Ukrainian Relations, for having invited me to participate in the eighth edition of this timely and commendable initiative. I will try to focus my presentation on three main topics: the Portuguese Presidency program and calendar, as far as the development of EU/Ukraine relations is concerned; our views about the New European Neighborhood Policy; and a few remarks – some of them presented on a more personal basis – about the EU´s present situation and Ukraine’s European perspective.

[1] Before that, allow me to briefly approach the narrower Portuguese/Ukrainian bilateral universe, which has moved ahead in the last decade through unprecedented and unexpected paths. Who would be shrewd enough to foresee, not many years ago, that tens of thousands of Ukrainian citizens would find in my country, where they were welcomed, where they easily integrated and whose language they swiftly learned, a second, in many cases, definitive home? We have spread around the w orld, and we like to see ourselves as good agents of integration, but we were more used to be visitors than to host permanent guests, and Eastern Europe, to say the least, was not exactly in the core of the international networks of relationships we created in the course of our history. That two countries in the extreme geographical boundaries of Europe, with scarce contacts, were able to build in a short period a strong and friendly relationship, boosted by spontaneous movements of citizens, tells a lot about the new Europe we are living in and about the potential it still hides.

[2] The 18 months common program established by the German, Portuguese and Slovenian presidencies states that emphasis must be put on implementing the European Union/Ukraine Action Plan, making full use of the European Neighborhood Policy Instrument; and that, in this context, negotiations on a new Enhanced Agreement should be completed. More generally, it indicates that the European Union will thus present an attractive and broad offer for cooperation with its neighbors, including intensifying cooperation within specific sectors by concluding sectorial agreements.

Up to now the present semester has been conditioned by the Ukrainian political situation and namely by the preparation of the anticipated elections. Progress on EU/Ukraine bilateral relations was nevertheless possible, and we expect that a swift formation of the new Government – making it possible to definitely overcome the recent political crisis and paving the way to serious constitutional reform – will allow us to find a renewed dynamism before the end of the year. Substantial further progress would be much welcomed, be it on the manifold implementation of the Action Plan, including reinforced cooperation in key areas like energy security and efficiency, environment and climate change, justice and border cooperation ; on the negotiation of the Enhanced Agreement, designed to bring our relations to a new qualitative level ( the fourth round of negotiations is taking place in this very moment, a fifth being expected until the end of the year); or on Ukraine’s accession to th e WTO, a pre-condition to launch negotiations on a deep and comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. The Presidency is ready to correspond to any new development that contributes to the strengthening of EU/Ukraine relations ; and expects that the Ukrainian authorities take full advantage of the considerable increase in financial assistance that was decided by the EU last March to support the reform process and the implementation of the Action Plan.

The EU/Ukraine Summit that took place just a month ago, two weeks before the elections, proved to be a good opportunity to take stock of recent advancements in different areas, to provide guidance to future work and to reaffirm important common commitments and goals. The reciprocal wish to further deepen the relations was complemented by an open and pragmatic discussion on a number of concrete topics, including visa issuing procedure(within the framework of the recently concluded agreement on visa facilitation and readmission), progress on the rule of law, the reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption, as a necessary means to keep improving the business and investment climate, energy cooperation, trade, nuclear safety and, in the framework of the revised Action Plan on Justice, Freedom and Security, the reinforcement of cooperation with Europol and Frontex. Continued close cooperation in the realm of foreign and security policy, particularly on regional stability and crisis management, was most welcome. A special reference was made to the increasing convergence of the two sides on regional and international issues, with an 85% alignment of Ukraine with EU foreign policy positions. Ukraine’s role in EU-led crisis management operations was highly praised. Three documents were approved: a Joint Statement, a joint progress report on the negotiation of the New Enhanced Agreement and a joint progress report on the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding on energy cooperation. All these documents are available and I am not going to get into details which will certainly be mentioned by the European Commission on Roundtable Focus Session VI.

Despite the unavoidable political limitations, it was a positive Summit, unfolded in a good and constructive atmosphere. The simple fact that it took place, the decision not to postpone it, were a significant gesture of trust in the Ukrainian capacity to move beyond the present difficulties as well as in its resolve to pursue the European way. A measure of this trust – and of the high expectations regarding the future Ukrainian political framework – is visible in the last sentence of the Joint Statement, where we can read that the EU leaders welcomed Ukraine’s European choice and emphasized that further internal reforms and the introduction of European standards would bring Ukraine closer to the EU.

[3] Ukraine’s relations with the EU are framed within the New European Neighborhood Policy, which is now in the center of the EU’s external relations’ priorities and which , with a budget of 12 billion for the financial perspectives period of 2007/2013, benefited from a 32% increase as compared with the previous cycle of 2000/2006. But not only the financial coverage changed: its instruments were reviewed to allow more ambition and more flexibility, in an effort that specifically aims at reinforcing as much as possible the relations of the EU with its neighbors and at avoiding the emergence of a new dividing line between the EU and its outer perimeter. The NENP plays a major part in the European project of peace, development and stability, which is of a common strategic interest for the EU and its neighbors, in this sense representing more than a simple EU’s external policy instrument.

Another important characteristic of the NENP can be summarized as follows: it gives substance to a process which is distinct from enlargement, an accession perspective not being for the moment on the agenda for those countries, but which at the same time remains silent as far as the future nature of the relations of each of those same countries with the EU is concerned. It is then conceived as neither an antechamber for membership, nor a barrier to future accessions. Flexibility
means, on the other hand, that the process is opened to different degrees of ambition – and of internal preparedness – displayed by its various beneficiaries in the way they figure out their relationship with the EU.

The global character of the European Neighborhood Policy is another significant element that deserves to be underlined. This means that no political distinction ought to be made between its two wide regional components, East and South, both being the object of the same EU wish to support and develop far reaching cooperation relations and to pursue more ambitious forms of integration with its neighbors. In this context, any purposeful differentiation within this policy is something to be searched not through a distinctive approach to the two regions, but as the (a posteriori) result of the implementation of the principle of flexibility, exclusively available on a national, and non regional, basis. The access to deeper forms of integration is thus offered to all neighboring States, in accordance with their ambition, capacity and own merits.

Ukraine has an open and broad space to occupy in its relation with the EU, and technical and financial assistance to help developments in this direction. Reforms are in any case, before any other considerations, beneficial to Ukraine, with the added advantage of creating an objective capital of trust and sustained purpose that might prove to be an invaluable asset in an unpredictable future.

[4] The dialectic connection between enlargement and deepening of the EU system has been at the core of European developments in the two last decades, nourished a never ending internal debate and has caused thousands of pages to be darkened by some of the more enlightened spirits that chose the EU as a well deserving subject of devotion. What I would like to say at this stage can be summarized in the following telegraphic statements:

a) the relation between enlargement and deepening is a dynamic, less linear and more complex reality than it is usually broadcast;

b) the two terms of the dichotomy are by definition, from a static point of view, contradictory, in the sense that the integration of inevitable new elements of heterogeneity theoretically multiply the range of interests, reduce the areas of consensus, complicate the decision making process and contribute to a sense of dilution of what was defined as a common purpose, wherever it existed before;

c) that said, it is not true that enlargements were followed by a weakening of the global system ; on the contrary, they provoked compensation movements of adaptation that many times moved the integration process forward, with a pace and degree of ambition that might not have been possible in the previous situation ; this was very clear, for example, in the years that followed the accession of Portugal and Spain, with the powerful and strategically minded boost provided by the Maastricht Treaty and the introduction of the multi-annual financial perspectives;

d) the very toynbeean concept of challenge and response having marked its presence, it is also true that the nature and dimension of the challenge was not equivalent in the different moments of enlargement, and that the capacity of response displayed by the EU was also variable ; it would be interesting, in this perspective, to compare what were the changes that really lead to further integration in the mentioned Treaty of Maastricht, on the one hand, and on Treaties like the Nice Treaty or the Reform Treaty to be approved, on the other hand ;

e) the succession of different political leaders in the national landscapes and the changing – even if sometimes blurred – perception of public opinion in some Member States on the state of European affairs brought new elements of reflection that went beyond the conventional wisdom about European realities and priorities and which cannot be reduced to the phenomena we commonly call the “enlargement or institutional fatigue” ; these are concerns that in democracy we cannot just put aside ;

f) the European Union will find its way to progress, while avoiding the risks of becoming a victim of its own success ; it would be a mistake to overestimate its capacities as a mere geo-strategic power engine, as it would be wrong and unfair to consider that its geo-strategic capabilities and virtues are limited to the enlargement process ;

g) the period of doubt and uncertainty that followed the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty is being overcome, and the conclusion of the Reform Treaty process – whose political approval in a few days time will be pursued by the Portuguese Presidency as a matter of absolute priority – is crucial to allow the inauguration of a new cycle of European assertiveness, namely in the external sphere, which will hopefully open the way to new developments;

h) time, as usual, is of the essence ; and we shall see, in a few years time, where we all stand ; meanwhile, and whatever the present perspectives appear to be, we should for our common benefit take full advantage of the many opportunities offered to further the integration between the EU and Ukraine.