Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira talks about the effect of scandalous trials in Ukraine on the prospects of signing the Association Agreement with the EU
The situation around the talks on the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine is about to reach its zenith: technical aspects will soon be clarified in full and big European politics will once again take the spotlight. Currently, the outlook does not look like a big hit for Ukraine as it is shadowed by the dark clouds over Pechersk. It was during this intriguing time that the Ye Bookstore met Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira, the EU Ambassador to Ukraine. The Ukrainian Week presents some excerpts of Mr. Teixeira’s presentation below.
There is a tendency to sometimes present a distorted reality to the Ukrainian people, that Europe does not give them a European integration perspective, thus demonstrating that it does not want Ukraine. That is completely false. Nobody in Europe disputes Ukraine's European identity.I come from Portugal where there are about 100,000 Ukrainians. They are extremely welcome in our country. No-one doubts they are Europeans. They are hard working. We are the fortunate ones to have received an influx of people from Ukraine and the loser here is Ukraine itself. Ukraine is an integral part of Europe but not yet an integral part of the European Union and its institutions. But then again Ukraine has to do its job. I get the chance to have conversations with Ukrainian politicians, people in responsible positions, and they say, “Look, you have to take us, otherwise somebody else will.” The EU is not in the business of taking anyone. It’s always about people wanting to join. The EU is called a soft power; we are not a power that imposes decisions on other countries.
I don’t think that anybody can say with an absolute guarantee that the resolution on Tymoshenko or other leaders now in custody is a pre-condition to signing the agreement. There are three steps leading to the initialization.The first is negotiations on each side. When no open issues are left, they do the initialing of all pages of the document. The next stage is the signing which is beyond the technical process and involves consultations with the representatives of the 27 member states and the European Council to agree to actually sign it. Then you move into ratification by the parliaments, plus the European Parliament. Sometimes parliaments don’t agree with what the governments in these countries decide. We don’t have vertical power structures in the EU.
I do not want to make you believe that the European Parliament will necessarily be in favor of ratifying the agreement if the situation in Ukraine does not improve by the time the process of ratification begins. Most political groups in the European Parliament, even the socialists who now have some kind of cooperation with the Party of Regions, share unequivocally the need to respect fundamental principles in Ukraine.
Nobody can preempt the decisions that need to be taken by the 27 members.
This raises the issue of coherence between the EU offering this kind of prospect and agreement to a country where such events are taking place.This is incompatible with its principles. Therefore, we are in a dialogue with the authorities to press for understanding of the problems. If integration is really the objective, these issues will have to be resolved. Some legislation that still applies in Ukraine does not reflect the following democratic principle: decisions made by political leaders elected by people during their mandate should be judged by voters. I would expect that the current and future authorities of Ukraine will want to avoid having the aberration of legislation from the times of Mr. Khrushchev. It was better than the legislation under Mr. Stalin, perhaps, but still not good enough. It’s up to the politicians in Ukraine to find a solution.
In 2009, when Slovakia, Serbia and Bulgaria were freezing, the lady who is now in jail found a solution. That was recognized and welcomed by the EU. The position of the EU always was and still remains that the EU is not part of the gas agreements. These are agreements between companies that earn money in Bulgaria, Slovakia and so on, and make agreements with Gazprom in Russia to be supplied gas at a certain cost. Ukraine is a transit country but Naftogaz is not a signatory to any company in the EU in this case. The EU in a way had to organize meetings with the parties to the gas conflict and try to get them to sort out their problem. Eventually, they were solved by the Prime Minister at the time. If this gas conflict drags on, I’m afraid the EU will be squeezed between the parties, the supplier and the transiting party. But I think it’s important to take the lessons from the current case in court. When we claim that Ukraine wants to pay the same price as Germany does, we must understand that when a contract is signed with a party that has lost credibility because at a certain point in time things were not delivered, the flexibility to negotiate is reduced. The EU must now think how to diversify its energy supply. We should start buying liquid gas on spot markets.
The pillars of the Ukrainian economy are the same today as they were 20 years ago.Twenty years ago Ukraine was producing steel, iron, coal, fertilizers and agricultural products. This is still the case today. 40% of Ukraine’s exports are steel. These industrial assets largely moved from being state-owned in a communist country to the hands of several businessmen. Since then, Ukraine has not diversified into new products, into higher quality products, or into attracting foreign and domestic investment. What is quite important, Ukraine has not moved towards having small and medium enterprises that really constitute a substantial percentage of the economy, offer flexible employment opportunities, and absorb economic shocks similar to the one we had in 2008. The Free Trade Agreement has two objectives. One is the liberalization of trade when Ukrainian producers can access the European market of 500m people with a much higher income level. The demands of this more sophisticated market will encourage you to make higher quality products. Also, the zone is deep and comprehensive which means that Ukraine will have to use the same regulatory approaches to the economy as the EU does and have the rule of law in the country. But Ukraine has lost 20 years already and should not waste another week.
Ukraine receives all the assistance that all candidate countries in the process of negotiating EU integration do. It has all instruments available including Twinning programs, TACIS and so on. Unfortunately, I think they are very ineffective in Ukraine. Why is that? The situation here has deteriorated over the past year, I must say. We used to have the Bureau for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and a national coordination unit at the Ministry of Economy. One was eliminated, the other is still there. The reason might be the current public administration reform that every country unquestionably needs. But we’ve seen very knowledgeable and experienced interlocutors who used to work with the EU for a long time being shifted to other positions. At this moment we are a bit lost. Deputy Prime Minister Klyuyev with whom I have very good relations has taken on these responsibilities recently. But I think he’s still in the process of getting his house in order, the structures I mean. At the moment there is a need for improvement in this area. If European integration is indeed the objective, everything is very simple with Ukraine: just do what others have done — set up structures, engage civil servants in the respective departments seriously in the cooperation with their foreign counterparts, adopt and implement the legislation, and change the public services that have to conduct these processes. It takes two to tango, therefore both partners must work.
I wish Ukraine had no hypocrisy. When the authorities say “we want this” they should really do it, not just say it to look sympathetic to us and to make the public believe things are going to happen when they are not. We need serious commitments to not only adopt the right decisions but to implement them as well.
Ukraine has joined the Bologna process. If Ukraine is going to integrate into the EU, the sooner it starts harmonizing its education system with the European Union, the better. If Ukraine wants to have more people in European universities or companies gaining the experience they can bring back to their country later they need to have academic qualifications that are recognized in Europe. I met with the Minister of Education some time ago and we talked about the independence of universities and their European integration. But I cannot dictate anything to anyone. If the government says tomorrow that they don’t want to follow the process they are sovereign to stop following it.