A Backup Plan

23 December 2011, 17:00

Charles Tannock is a British MP at the European Parliament. A Conservative Party activist, Mr. Tannock is the speaker for the British conservatives in Brussels. In 2004, he was one of the leaders of the European Parliament’s delegation to the presidential election in Ukraine. He is working on EU expansion issues and was one of the initiators of the recent European Parliamentary resolution on Ukraine.

U.W.: Many people see the resolution as the desire of the EU to develop relations with Ukraine regardless of the much debated problems including the imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko. Are they right?

I think they’re jumping ahead a little. This conclusion may not be correct. Certainly, there is a very strong desire to advance in the areas of the deep and comprehensive Free Trade Agreement and the Association Agreement, but at the moment we are only at the stage of concluding negotiations and their initialing by member states. At the moment, there is certainly a desire to initial them. Beyond that, which would be the final signature and ratification that needs to go through the European Parliament, I think we will be looking for some improvements in the human rights and democracy climate. But I can only speak based on what I’ve heard from government ministers and from what my own group is thinking. We certainly do not want to threaten any kind of veto at this stage by the European Parliament as to the FTA and Association Agreement, but at the moment we are not happy with the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, particularly with regards to the independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the media. There are serious concerns about the arrests of opposition leaders and politicians, particularly the Yulia Tymoshenko case.

U.W.: Would it be correct to see the latest resolution as the European Parliament’s desire to push ahead with these two agreements?

The European Parliament I think, particularly led by socialists, is keen to get closer to Ukraine. We share common European space and values and we regard Ukraine as a European country. Because of that we probably expect higher standards. Ukraine itself is a member of the Council of Europe and Kyiv has expressed an interest in having European aspirations to join the EU one day. So, of course our expectations will be very demanding. When we see things that in our view are going into reverse, we are highly critical. But, of course, we are conscious of the fact that we need to bring Ukraine closer economically and politically to the West and the EU. The way to do this is by pushing forward on the various agreements, particularly the FTA and the Association Agreement. It is a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand we want to get Kyiv closer to Brussels and for it not to fall under the authoritarian orbit of Moscow or join the Eurasian Union with Kazakhstan and Belarus. On the other hand, we don’t want to be seen signing and ratifying agreements if democracy and human rights are deteriorating. This is a very complex decision. European leaders have to make calculations as to exactly how this proceeds in terms of the timetable. Thus, we’re sending some of the carrots, namely the agreements will be initialed but the ratification process and final signature, as well as approval by the European Parliament may be delayed, pending improvements in the general climate of human rights and democracy in Ukraine.

U.W.: How long does it usually take to ratify the agreements and complete the procedure?

There is still some dispute as to whether or not this is a mixed agreement or just a trade agreement. If it’s the latter, it only requires an okay from the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. If it’s a mixed political and trade agreement, it requires the national parliaments of all 27 member-states to ratify it as well. My understanding from the officials I’ve spoken to is that it is deemed to be a simple trade agreement. Therefore, it does not require approval from the member-state parliaments. If that is the case, it could be done fairly quickly – in the first six months of the next year. If it requires a yes from all 27 member-state parliaments it can take one or two years.

U.W.: Are we talking about both the FTA and the Association Agreement separately, or are they connected?

Obviously, they are connected since they are between the same parties but they are two separate documents. One of the sticking points with the Association Agreement is that replaces the old Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) that was a general model for former soviet countries. This is being upgraded to the Association Agreement which was the request of the European Parliament and the resolution about a year ago. Unfortunately, there is no mention of Ukraine’s European aspirations under Art. 49 of the Treaty of the European Union, even though the European Parliament requested this in its previous resolutions. As far as I understand, the Ukrainian government is not happy about it. We have to watch very carefully that the perspective of Ukraine in the EU is included somewhere in the text. Otherwise, there could be a major problem for proceeding to the initialing and ratification.

U.W.: Which of these two agreements is more important for Ukraine in your opinion? The FTA looks as if it’s more important.

I think it’s the most important, of course, because it’s about prosperity to both sides. The Association Agreement is a replacement to the PCA. Obviously, that brings political cooperation in certain areas including parliamentary meetings. But the FTA also contains articles about democracy and human rights as fundamental prerequisites. So, free trade with guarantees of upholding certain fundamental values is the most important thing. The Association Agreement is more about basic parameters of the relations between the two states. It is particularly important if it includes the Art. 49 European prospect reference, which gives some kind of a roadmap and hope that Ukraine will be considered an equivalent to say Balkan countries as a potential EU member-state.

U.W.: Can one agreement be left aside, for instance, the Association Agreement as a more political and problematic one? Can the parties rather proceed with the FTA?

That’s true but, as I said, the only problem is that the FTA has some references to democracy and human rights. If Ukraine continues to arrest political leaders and putting them in prison, that could be seen as a violation of agreement terms.

U.W.: Given your experience and attention to Ukrainian affairs, how different are the relations between the EU and Ukraine now, as opposed to what they were five years ago?

At the time of the Orange Revolution, expectations were extremely high. There was a lot of enthusiasm amongst EU parliamentarians from member-states about the possibility of making Ukraine into at least a potential candidate and possibly even a candidate. At the moment, though, Europe is focused on other things, including the Euro zone, the economic crisis, Western Balkans and so on. Ukraine has slightly lost its central position in the limelight of the news. In 2005, after the Orange Revolution, it was very much in the focus of opinion makers. But amidst the Arab spring and the Euro zone crisis, people have slightly forgotten about it. In the last year and a half since the presidential election when Yanukovych won, there has been a perception, rightly or wrongly, that Ukraine has deteriorated in terms of human rights and is seen to be leaning more towards Moscow once more.

U.W.: Rightly or wrongly means that you are not sure?

I think the human rights situation has undoubtedly deteriorated in Ukraine. Whether it’s leaning more towards Moscow – I’m not sure about that. Sometimes, there is a bit of a poker game going on: Ukrainians are saying “if you don’t give us this, we will move in that direction”. I’m not convinced that either the administration or big business oligarchs like Firtash and Akhmetov particularly want to be swallowed by the Russian economy or its oligarchs. I think they would like to maintain sovereign multi-polar foreign policy and trade policy for Ukraine, and have ready access to Western European markets. I think they would push strongly to maintain the westward looking direction of the Ukrainian economy. But it is a complicated game.

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