Bursting the Bubble

EU-Ukraine Association Agreement – Part 2

23 April 2014 | by

As already discussed in the first part of this article, the Association Agreement is a crucial milestone of Ukraine’s further development – both internally and externally. It has the potential to determine this country’s geopolitical and prospective civilizational future for the next few decades.

Ukraine, together with the EU, have jointly put much effort and a substantial time period into the preparation of this ambitious and unprecedented document – unprecedented in terms of its scope (the variety and number of spheres covered) and depth (detail of commitments and time-frames).

Guaranteeing Ukraine’s irreversible Europeanization (versus the Soviet-type model of social and economic development represented by a Russia-endorsed Customs Union), this bilateral agreement is also likely to influence the overall security of Europe and serve as a symbol of reunification of the continent. The approximation of Ukrainian realities to the EU’s norms and standards, hence, the idea of Ukraine being an instrument of extension of these values to the Eastern parts of Europe – a crucial security factor for the EU – specifically in light of the current turbulent developments in Ukraine.

From the very beginning the EU set a substantive list of certain requirements to Ukraine. In fact, Ukraine had to conduct a series of reforms in order to sign a paper which provides for … further reforms. Paradox, pun, or joke, this is the EU’s approach, which is nicely framed as a “conditionality clause”.

There were quite a few requirements for Ukraine to meet in order to achieve a successful outcome during the Vilnius summit this autumn. The requirements encompassed 19 different areas in total, which have been voiced on the 7th February this year by Štefan Füle during his official visit to Kyiv. Not being part of any official document, both sides set out that this will provide the basis for the assessment of Ukraine’s progress on the implementation of structural reforms.

With this list of requirements, the European Union indicated which concrete actions it expects before the signing of the Agreement. These sector reforms, known as “Füle’s list”, can be categorized into three main clusters: address existing problems of selective justice, changes in legislation in the sphere of democratic elections, including the fight with corruption, and the continuation of deep political and economic reforms. As Rebecca Harms, Co-President of the Greens-European Free Alliance group in the EP specifies with regard to “Füle’s list”, Ukraine will have to deliver on a broad range of matters concerning the rule of law (addressing the major problems with the recent parliamentary elections, judged to be not in compliance with the principle of free and fair elections; equal access to and use of mass media by all election candidates; respect to international standards in the independence and objectivity of the judiciary; and the improvement of the detention conditions etc).

It is worth noting that the legal framework together with the electoral changes and other areas of reformation are being reported as having achieved major progress, such as the introduction of new legislation in the judiciary and legal systems, as well as the general effective implementation of a number of reforms. As exemplifications of these stated reforms: the endorsement of the New Criminal Procedure Code, the Law on Asylum and Refugees, close cooperation with the Venice Commission on matters of justice and law, the conduct of substantive reforms in the energy sector, and improvement of public finance management system etc.

However, the major requirement on the way to signing the agreement before the Vilnius summit was not the explicit success in all 19 spheres (or the demonstration of tangible progress within these areas), but the discharge of the former Ukrainian Prime-minister Julia Tymoshenko. Her detention was regarded as the ultimate symbol and proof of the unjust legal system, the existence of selective justice and unequal political possibilities in Ukraine. As the Head of EP’s Foreign Affairs committee Elmar Brock stated, the Association Agreement with Ukraine would not be signed if the country fails to release ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko from prison.

However, the hectic and generally chaotic atmosphere on the night of the 21st of November in Vilnius demonstrated that the usually poker-faced EU was panically seeking to sign this Agreement with a Ukraine still sinful at that time: with political prisoners, unfinished reforms etc. As we all know – it was too late then, when Putin’s money was already in play.

EuromaidAn changed the whole landscape in just 3 months. Amongst many other things, it ousted the wanna-be-dictator Yanukovych, released Yulia Tymoshenko and is now actively pushing for a great deal of reforms in Ukraine. Basically, it’s even more than what the EU had been dreaming of before Vilnius. And now, instead of signing the accord in an even more pompous atmosphere – celebrating the victory of the people’s pro-European aspirations despite all the difficulties and challenges – the EU divided the undividable coherent text of the Association Agreement into two parts: political and economic, signing only the first part. In concrete terms, some 21 out of 1378 pages of the whole Agreement (excluding protocols and annexes) were signed. This is about 2%. While the rest of the accord is allegedly waiting for the upcoming May Presidential elections, many Ukrainians regard such actions on behalf of both the EU and the country’s old-new political leadership as a slap in the face.

According to internal EU sources, some EU member states in favour of postponement feared that signing the whole accord might provoke Russia. The childish naivety of such a line of reasoning is obvious to everyone now: Crimea was annexed even prior to semi-signing the Association Agreement. Those who believed Putin would stop in the Black Sea peninsula were deeply mistaken and are now following (with concern, as usual) the well-orchestrated and Russia-manufactured Donetsk separatists movement. And those who now think that Eastern Ukraine will be Russia’s final destination either pretend to be blind or play in hand with XXI century imperialism.

It’s not the same EU so many Ukrainians wanted to align with. Unable to defend the basic values it reportedly stands for and following the “business as usual” philosophy – the EU is losing international positions. Ukraine is just one more test the Union has failed. Maidan, Crimea and now Eastern Ukraine – the EU does not seem to learn from its own mistakes, but likes teaching others.

What do you think?