As the November Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius draws closer, doubts fade that Kyiv and Brussels will sign the Association Agreement. How they see its implementation, is the question
The recent challenge from Russia has only reinforced motivation to sign the Association Agreement this November. The unanimity with which the European Parliament came out against Russian pressure and published a “practical support” initiative for Eastern Partnership participants, recorded in the September 12 resolution, is notable. During a discussion on the issue, the threat of a domino effect was voiced after the announcement of the Armenian President on Armenia’s intent to drop EU Association in favour of membership in the Customs Union with Russia. Calls came to help stabilize the countries that are suffering economic and political pressure from Moscow. A number of formulations of the final text of the resolution, which Russian top officials have already characterized as a “hysterical reaction”, prove that the Kremlin’s actions have made the outcome of the Vilnius Summit more dependent on geopolitical resistance, as well as that the Kremlin is moving towards further confrontation. Under such conditions, the European Parliament called on the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to take action to protect the EU’s partners, and the EC and EU Council – to come up with specific and effective measures to support partner-countries by means of temporary application of relevant parts of the Association Agreement and DCFTA immediately after signing.
In their turn, Viktor Yanukovych has tamed the anti-European contingent in the Party of Regions, the Central Election Committee has rejected the Communist Party’s request to conduct a referendum on Ukraine’s membership in the Eurasian Customs Union and the Cabinet of Ministers unanimously approved the draft EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. In addition, the Verkhovna Rada began to actively vote for laws that have to be passed before the signing.
Recently, when accepting the credentials of ambassadors, Yanukovych declared that: “… lately, we and our EU partners have come to the conclusion that Ukraine has achieved the criteria that comply with the Association Agreement which is currently being prepared for the signing in Vilnius in November.” These words, however, tell more of the stance that the Ukrainian government is trying to defend, rather than the actual progress in the execution of Füle’s list or the criteria determined by the EU Council last December. The Ukrainian government’s compliance with these requirements is a pre-condition for the signing of the Agreement. However, the EU does not hide the fact that prior to the summit, which is ten weeks away, the Ukrainian government will not fulfil all the conditions and Europeans will want at least “progress” on this course. Yanukovych’s view is that fulfilling several requirements, in full or in part, should be sufficient to demonstrate this progress. The biggest stumbling blocks are the approval of the Election Code and the resolution of the Tymoshenko/selective justice issue. The former should make it impossible to juggle election legislation prior to each election to fit current interests of the government. According to the more pragmatic interests of Europeans, it should give more chances for a relatively quick change of the current authoritarian political elite in Ukraine through the next presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2015–2017 accordingly, in what will then be an associated Ukraine. The release or medical treatment abroad of Yulia Tymoshenko is necessary. This will eliminate an important image-related irritant for European leaders, first and foremost, Angela Merkel, who used their authority to demand the release of the imprisoned former prime minister. However, for Yanukovych’s regime, the execution of these two conditions is obviously dangerous, because it could complicate his staying in power after 2015.
For this reason, worth noting is information on a possible change in the procedure to enact several provisions of the Association Agreement temporarily prior to its ratification by all 28 EU countries. In the current procedure, the Agreement would only have to be ratified by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. According to the new information, the European Parliament will have to ratify it as well. The scope of the Association Agreement for temporary implementation will not be restricted to sections dedicated to the establishment of the FTA, as previously anticipated; in all likelihood, it will also include a range of political sections. The EU thus hopes to save face during the signing of the Agreement without full execution of the conditions demanded of Yanukovych. Its pretext is that the requirements can be fulfilled later as a necessary component of ratification by the European Parliament. The EU will fully control the situation after such agreement is reached. On the one hand, it can delay ratification by the European Parliament until official Kyiv fulfils as many requirements as possible. On the other – if the threat of Ukraine being drawn into the Customs Union comes to pass, said ratification will most likely go through quite quickly. After all, the EU understands all the problems that Russian special services and lobbyists can create during the approval of the Association Agreement under real or made-up pretexts, even if power in Ukraine goes to the current democratic opposition. So, the Europeans may be trying to maximally expand the portion of provisions to be enacted temporarily until all 28 member-states ratify the Agreement.
Equally interesting were the latest comments of Putin’s adviser, Sergey Glazyev, who is responsible for drawing Ukraine into the Customs Union. In an interview for the Vesti (News) newspaper, he commented on arguments supposedly made by Ukrainian officials in a discussion with their Russian counterparts of prospects of cooperation with the Customs Union once the Association Agreement is signed: “First they say that ‘we shall not be executing this Agreement with the EU’, then they convince us that ‘it will not be ratified by European Parliaments’ and so on.” This can partially explain Yanukovych’s recent demonstrative “European activity”. The potential expansion of his electorate thanks to voters who support European integration, the picture of success in Europe, and greater benevolence from the West in terms of loans for Ukraine may be accompanied by the government’s sabotage of complete fulfilment of the Association Agreement and/or of the conditions necessary to have it ratified by all EU member-states. That will allow Yanukovych to shrug off all responsibility for it. He can say that his team has done everything on its part, now it’s just a matter of how quickly the Europeans will ratify the Agreement. Perhaps, he is thus seeking a version of a “European pause” which he would find much more convenient compared to the one he experienced earlier.
It appears that Kyiv and Brussels both count on the effect of the Association Agreement that will cause them the least troubles and offer them the most options for manoeuvre. Even under these conditions, the signing is extremely important and crucial for Ukraine’s long-term interests and European prospects.