Jacek Saryusz-Wolski: “Our standards in human rights and democracy are what matters. If a country wants to come closer to the EU and sign up, it should fulfill these. Otherwise, sorry”
Armenia, Georgia and Moldova have much better chances of signing the Association Agreement in Vilnius than Ukraine at this point. But things may change. The ball is on the Ukrainian side
Vice President of the European People’s Party at the European Parliament and Polish EMP, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski made some clear statements on the EU’s stance on the Association Agreement and FTA signing at the Kyiv Security Forum. Thus, the government should take every necessary step to meet the conditions Brussels has set forth in the Füle list, otherwise the EU will not sign an empty document. “Although Mr. Lutsenko was released, and it was very welcomed by the European side, it is only the first step,” he stressed at the Forum. “The next step will be the release of Yulia Tymoshenko. EU is not satisfied with the release of one or two prisoners, there should guarantees that political persecution will never be repeated in the future”. The Ukrainian Week talks to Jacek Saryusz-Wolski whose efforts as the first Polish plenipotentiary for European integration and foreign aids in 1991-1996 and in 2000-2001 played a decisive role in Poland’s joining the EU.
UW: You outlined two scenarios for further relations between the EU and Ukraine. Under the best-case scenario, the government releases Yulia Tymoshenko and quickly reforms the judiciary and election system. In the worst-case one, it fails to meet the conditions necessary to sign the Association Agreement, and the Vilnius Summit in November brings no success. Which one is more realistic in your personal opinion?
I’m optimistic about it because I think that the choice to the benefit of the Ukrainian nation will be evidently in favour of modernization and Europeanization. The Association Agreement is a leverage in improving the life of society. This is an obvious chance if long-term prospects of Ukrainians and future generations prevail over short-term ambitions of politicians of today.
UW: Does the Ukrainian government have political will to meet all requirements of Brussels necessary to sign the Association Agreement and FTA?
Until recently, the Ukrainian authorities – mainly President Yanukovych and his Administration – wanted to have some minimum accomplishments. But thinking that the liberation of Lutsenko would be sufficient was a miscalculation. They have to take all three preconditions to signing the Association Agreement in November very seriously. These include dealing with selective justice and freeing Tymoshenko, as well as electoral and judiciary reforms.
UW: Some Western experts suggest that the EU should take a tougher stance in the talks with the Ukrainian government. Can this tactics be efficient?
It’s not about being tough or not today. We always try to stick close to reality and deal with issues professionally. Our standards in human rights and democracy are what matters. If a country wants to come closer to the EU and sign up, it should fulfill these. Otherwise, sorry.
UW: It has been four years since the Eastern Partnership project was launched. Now, we can see that the European community’s expectations of the progress of democracy in some post-Soviet states were probably too high. In your opinion, is it the lack of political will or mentality in these countries that hampers their progress to Europe?
When Eastern Partnership was founded, it was something wider than negotiations and commitments on the executive level. It was about the creation of a set of values. Nobody promised that this road would be easy. Any rumours of the death of Eastern Partnership are premature. We were more optimistic at the beginning, but it may now have to go, as they say, in one step forward and two steps back. This path is not treaded very quickly. Some societies and their governments need time to understand what they need, or fail in order to learn. But Eastern Partnership project is still alive. Where do I draw my optimism? When I talk to ordinary Georgians, Armenians or Ukrainians, they want the standards of their countries to be closer and more similar to those in the EU. So do the Russians.
So, this is an objective in the mid- and long-term run. People want to live in freedom, prosperity and secure knowledge that nobody will come in the morning to arrest them, put them in prison, take away their property or stop them at a frontier when they want to travel or study abroad. This is national human factor. We want to accelerate this through Eastern Partnership and a series of Association Agreements and FTAs. Several years after the launch, I see that some countries have made progress faster, while others had it slower. The ones that we thought would be the leaders and pioneers, such as Ukraine, seem to have fallen back. Armenia, Georgia and Moldova have much better chances of signing the Association Agreement in Vilnius than Ukraine at this point. But things may change. The ball is on the Ukrainian side. If people in Ukraine believe that the course to Europe is their choice, they should tell this to the government. The opposition should say it loudly – should express this will in a democratic manner through parliament. If that is blocked, they can have a peaceful demonstration on Maidan.
UW: Different EU member-states have different approaches to Ukraine. Former post-socialist countries, especially the Baltic States, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, have been trying to facilitate Ukraine’s European integration, while Western democracies prefer a more moderate, pragmatic and critical approach. Is this a steady division in the European Parliament?
The countries of Central and Eastern Europe that are new EU members are more supportive because they have a better understanding of Ukraine’s situation and share similar historical experience. It was not easy to convince more distant Western European countries to share this perspective, but we succeeded in doing so. As a result, this Eastern Partnership programme was set up with significant funding from the EU and legal foundation that includes Association Agreements and comprehensive FTAs. These should lead to half-membership in the EU. Twenty years ago, I was negotiating one for Poland. Eventually, it led us to membership. But it is becoming more and more difficult now to convince EU members that are not that enthusiastic about the necessity to extend this offer, pursue and accelerate it, because our partners do not give us arguments to promote this idea. There is no progress in reforms or change in Ukraine. Accomplishments are dubious in many other countries. Belarus is in the state of stagnation. If the two sides share a common goal, they should both take efforts. That’s what we need to help us – the countries of the EU’s eastern flank – in convincing others to make the process more robust and energetic.
Jacek Saryusz Wolski has a Ph.D. in Economics. He has been European MP since 2004 and Vice President of the European Parliament in 2004-2007. Currently Vice President of the European People’s Party (EPP) and member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Jacek Saryusz Wolski served as Poland’s minister for European integration in 1991-1996 and 2000-2001; founded the Centre for European Studies at the University of Łódz and was Vice Rector at the College of Europe. In 2001, the European Voice publication nominated him for the European of the Year award