Berlin. It’s been almost a year since talks about Ukraine peaked in German society before and during Euro 2012. Just a few weeks before the championship, top German officials warned Ukrainian authorities that they would boycott Euro 2012 unless opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was freed. The Germans considered the verdict leading to her seven-year imprisonment to be politically motivated.
Since then, nothing has changed except for the tone of the talks. The Tymoshenko case is not the only stumbling block in EU-Ukraine relations, said Angela Merkel during her meeting with Estonia’s President Andrus Ansip, who shortly before the meeting had said that relations between Brussels and Kyiv should not be defined by the “fate of one woman”, meaning Tymoshenko.
The release of Tymoshenko remains one of Germany’s and the West’s demands for Yanukovych. However, it no longer seems to be the key prerequisite for the possible signing of the Association Agreement at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November, while the preliminary decision on the Association Agreement may be adopted in May. It is unclear, though, whether the conclusion on Ukraine’s fulfillment of the Association Agreement signing terms will be positive.
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The pardoning of Yuriy Lustenko had a positive impact on the EU’s sentiments. Both Brussels and Berlin buzz that “we can’t lose Ukraine to Russia”. Yet, Germany still has great concerns regarding Yanukovych, who has significantly limited democratic standards in Ukraine over his three years in power.
Some say that Merkel is particularly critical of Ukraine’s President. In a private conversation at the last Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw two years ago, he promised her that he would grant amnesty to Tymoshenko, or so said government officials. He ultimately failed to keep this promise. Merkel is known for not forgetting or forgiving people who don’t play fair. Therefore, she finds it hard to cede to Yanukovych.
This will affect the future of the Association Agreement, because Germany has a say in the final decision. While Germany is one of Ukraine’s most important trading partners, Angela Merkel has much influence on decision-making in Brussels. German politicians also play an important role in the European Parliament: Martin Schulz is its President, Elmar Brok is Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rebecca Harms is co-president of the Greens–European Free Alliance group. They all have an impact on the EU’s policy regarding Ukraine.
Will Germany support or oppose the signing of the Association Agreement? Currently, some say that it will in fact be signed in November with Germany’s support. However, this will only happen if Yanukovych makes another courtesy gesture in May, particularly in the Tymoshenko case – the symbolic significance of which should not be understated.
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What matters is that the Association Agreement, even if signed in November, is not a given. The German Bundestag still has to ratify it. This means that Berlin will continue to use various leverages of pressure in the near future. The decisive factor in future EU-Ukraine relations will be Yanukovych’s conduct in 2014, before the 2015 presidential election.
Germany is concerned that Yanukovych has come to the wrong conclusion. Apparently, he believes that his country is of ultimate importance in the struggle between the EU and Russia for influence on post-Soviet territory. From the German perspective, this is something that is quite relative. Obviously, the biggest country in Europe is important. However, Merkel has problems that are much more important and urgent, in view of the Eurocrisis, which is also an identity crisis in the EU.
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Moreover, she does not support the eastward expansion of the EU. She was previously very critical about the prospect of Turkey joining the EU. She realizes that the Association Agreement is the first step towards joining the EU. In fact, Merkel supports Ukraine’s democratic course towards the West in every way, but right now, categorically opposes its joining the EU. For politicians, business owners and the average citizens of Ukraine this means, first and foremost, that they should rely on themselves to reform, democratize and modernize their country based on their own interests.