First the good news from Kyiv: the pardoning of Former Interior Minister Interior Yuriy Lutsenko and former Environment Minister Heorhiy Filipchuk, which came very much as a surprise one Sunday, was a big relief to these politicians’ many friends in the West. It is good to know that now three out of four former members of the government who were sentenced to jail are again free. President Yanukovych’s decision to pardon Yuriy Lutsenko and Heorhiy Filipchuk has been welcomed not only by the families of the opposition politicians in Ukraine — in the European Union, the decision is being counted as another positive result of the work of presidents Cox and Kwasniewski whose achievements also include lifting the travel ban that was in place on MP Serhiy Vlasenko, who acted as a legal counsel to Yulia Tymoshenko. After his MP mandate was annulled, Vlasenko even had to hand in his passport during a dubious trial.
Still, these pieces of good news do not mean we can be satisfied by what we have been able to achieve thus far (also thanks to the efforts of presidents Cox and Kwasniewski). Freedom for Yulia Tymoshenko has not been realized. We are glad that the inhumane and undignified constant camera surveillance has been stopped. This does in fact make her life easier. But we are still very concerned about her health and want her, like other former ministers in her government, to be able to leave prison. It is also for this reason that all political groups of the European Parliament support the continuation of the mission of the presidents Cox and Kwasniewski.
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At the same time, the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee between the European Parliament and the Verkhovna Rada needs to return to cooperating again. We need a debate between both parliaments about current issues. The cases of selective justice that presidents Cox and Kwasniewski have pointed out to us and the requirements of the principle of the rule of law need a thorough discussion. That the mandates of three MPs were arbitrarily annulled recently was a new reason for the opposition to block work in parliament. While we understand the reasons for this very well, we are also convinced that Ukraine needs a functioning parliament and we welcome the opposition's recent decision to restart parliamentary work. The fact that the Ukrainian parliament needs rules that will be equally applied to all MPs needs to be in the focus of one of our next meetings.
Another point on the agenda of one of the next meetings between the delegations of the European Parliament and the Verkhovna Rada is obviously also the list that Stefan Füle, Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, recently drafted. With this list, Füle makes clear which concrete reforms and steps the EU expects from Ukraine before the Association Agreement can be signed. Ukraine will have to deliver on a number of issues related to the rule of law, like addressing the shortcomings of the recent elections which have been found by many international observers to violate the principle of “free and fair” elections, and allowing for equal media access for all candidates. Also, further judiciary reforms are needed, as the trials against Yulia Tymoshenko and other opposition politicians have again demonstrated. It is of utmost importance that international standards concerning the transparency and independence of the judiciary be respected and that detention conditions be improved. It is also worth mentioning that Ukraine needs to urgently step up its efforts to fight corruption. The Vilnius Summit is approaching rapidly and it is in Vilnius that a decision needs to be taken about how to further proceed with the Agreement. In the face of the deep economic crisis in Ukraine, the achievements in Vilnius will matter for all Ukrainians.
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On the positive side from Brussels was the vote in the European Parliament which improves visa facilitation with Ukraine. With several of my colleagues, I have tried to find ways to improve access to visas and to simplify travelling to the EU for Ukrainians. I hope that this will be achieved by the latest decision, even though it has been overshadowed by sharp criticism of recent draft legislation which poses threats to minorities, especially to the LGBT community. We will now keep up the pressure on the Ukrainian government to respect minority rights and not pass this law. And I hope that easier travelling conditions for Ukrainians to the European Union will contribute to enhancing understanding of functioning democracy in the EU.
Rebecca Harms, Co-President of the The Greens–European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament