Although the Euromaidan is now mostly being seen as a movement for a complete re-set of the socio-political system of Ukraine, it is, however, undeniable that it initially kicked-off as a pro-EU uprising. At the centre of the attention back then was the Association Agreement – a pile of unsigned documents which drove thousands of peaceful demonstrators to the streets.
Many experts, both domestic and international, are keen on talking purely about the potential gains for Ukraine from the Association Agreement without talking about reciprocity. If this Agreement was not beneficial for the European Union, the negotiations would never have even started. So, let’s look into what this agreement is about and more importantly, what’s in there for the EU?
As emphasised by the EU Court (Case 12/86 “Demirel”), an Association Agreement “creates special privileged relations with a non-member state, which must, at least to some extent, participate in the Community [Union] system.” The general aim of the agreement is the establishment of a joint institutional framework, closer cooperation in all spheres, facilitation of political association and economic integration. This new cooperation framework is designed to go qualitatively beyond the existing mode of collaboration.
The novelty of this agreement lies, amongst other things, in the existence of binding rulings and provisions which will be issued by the Association Council and aimed at the establishment of real control and enforcement mechanisms. This is a precedence in EU-Ukraine relations that will foster the application of the relevant rules and fulfilment of required reforms.
An indispensable part of the Agreement is the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) – the most ambitious and biggest free trade area with a third country ever negotiated by the EU. The DCFTA, which goes beyond the standard free trade agreements, complies with the classical pattern – mutually opening the markets for the free movement of almost all categories of goods and services – for binding rulings on the transposition and approximation of EU norms in trade-related areas.
As Mr. Barroso stated during the EU-Ukraine summit in 2012: “The Association Agreement we have negotiated with Ukraine is the most advanced agreement of this type ever negotiated by the European Union and will bring concrete benefits to both EU and Ukraine’s citizens.”
Looking at it from the political standpoint, Ukraine’s approximation to the EU as close, as foreseen in the Agreement would also be a historical moment for the EU. In this regard, the geopolitical significance of such a step is aptly summarised by a Lithuanian MEP Leonidas Donskis: “Ukraine joining the EU would dramatically and irreversibly change the political landscape of Europe. It would end the division of Europe and close the saga of the Iron Curtain and the Cold War. It would put a well-situated, diverse, rich, and talented nation in the club of European democracies. Last, but not least, the EU would substantially invigorate its historic and political narrative, sending the message to the world that big and powerful nations choose democracy.”
Having a political ally, bordering with Russia and sharing the same European values, norms and standards, would entirely change the political landscape of Eastern Europe. Especially for Eastern and Central Europe, a pro-European Ukraine, on the contrary to the pro-Russian political scenario, would be a guarantee of the final reunification of the continent. For Poland, Germany and the Baltic countries, Ukraine’s accession is seen as a crucial geopolitical step.
Alongside the purely political and geopolitical considerations from the German perspective, there are also economic ones, which might even be the driving force for Berlin. The reason for the endorsement of the agreement from Germany is the same as for a transatlantic free trade area between the EU and the US – Germany supports the creation of an economic cooperation framework, resembling, thus, an “economic NATO.”
Taking the economic point of view, one should state that Ukraine – a strategically vital market with 46 million consumers – offers a very promising area of unexplored investment and business possibilities. Another crucial role of Ukraine’s attractiveness for the EU is its enormously big energy transit capacity and potential.
Moreover, the Association Agreement grants the EU an unprecedented tool to exercise control over Ukraine’s development, implementation of promised reforms and compliance with the EU acquis. Thus, the best way to influence Ukraine is to integrate it gradually into existing EU structures. Ukraine’s membership in the European Energy Community serves as an exemplification of the effectiveness of the above thesis. The accession only became possible after the full compliance of Ukraine with the standards and algorithms of work of the above community. This obliged Ukraine to strictly follow the established rules on the one hand, and empowered the EU to closely monitor the fulfilment of the obligations by Ukraine on the other hand.
Gediminas Kirkilas, the Vice-Speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament also presents the positive side of the Agreement as being an additional and more powerful control tool, capable of influencing the state of art. “Signing the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine will actually provide the EU with more and more effective instruments of influence towards this country, especially regarding democratic reforms and human rights. Within such a framework, Ukraine will be politically aligned to the democratic and united Europe and therefore become less susceptible to the non-democratic stimulus from outside.”
Hence, politically as well as economically speaking, benefits of the given agreement are of a reciprocal nature, carrying many positive perspectives for the EU as well. Something, that many Europeans are trying to undermine or forget. Further conditionality clauses – setting more requirements to be met for Ukraine – seem cynical after Maidan victims gave their lives for a European future of Ukraine…
More on this in PART 2.