In his speech at the Kyiv Security Forum, Petr Mareš, Special Envoy for Eastern Partnership from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, said that the Czech Republic, as well as all the Visegrád countries, has always been optimistic about the prospects of its eastern partners to integrate with the European community. The Ukrainian Week talks to Mr. Mareš about the Czech Republic’s about its opinion and expectations regarding Ukraine's European integration.
UW: Does the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs have a strategy regarding the signing of the Association Agreement with Ukraine?
There is a strategy. We haven’t changed our standing on it since the very beginning: we have been supportive of the signing all along, yet it should be based on the fulfillment of the Füle requirements. This is one of the reasons for my visit. I was meeting with representatives of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and telling people that we – not only the Czech Republic but all Visegrád countries – offer our assistance, and if there’s anything we can help with, we will do it. That is a priority for us, and we would like to see Ukraine sign the Agreement soon. But it’s completely up to Ukraine.
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UW: The European community seemed to have inflated hopes about the progress of democracy in post-soviet countries, such as Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova, under the Eastern Partnership framework. But these countries have some problems with democracy now…
That’s true. We had higher expectations at the beginning three or four years ago. Now, we have a feeling that the progress towards democracy and reforms has been so sluggish, especially in Ukraine over the past two years. On the other hand, though, we have our own experience. For a certain period, Slovakia lagged behind other Central European countries but it caught up eventually and we entered the EU together with Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. So, it’s never too late. In our opinion, Ukraine has unfortunately slowed down. It’s a pity because we expected you to be much farther by this point. But you can still do it, even if it takes a lot of efforts.
UW: You have mentioned the “giving more for more” policy regarding countries that integrate into the EU. Can you expand on this?
We have six different countries in Eastern Partnership, and we cannot apply one policy to all of them as they are all different. We were thinking of the criteria to use in designing policies for them. This is a formula we have come up with. The harder a country tries and the more efforts it takes, the more assistance it will receive from us. If there is a country that simply does not show any willingness to get close to our values, sorry, they don’t deserve much. But I have to say that we can’t apply this principle too rigidly because we can’t punish people for the mistakes of their governments. You have a neighbour along your northern border whose government we would like to punish, but not its people.
UW: Why is the Czech Republic interested in bringing Ukraine closer to the EU?
We strongly believe that Ukraine will be very important to European security and future prosperity. At the same time, we feel that we have certain debts. We got an enormous assistance in the 1990s. Without the help of our German, Dutch and other neighbours, we wouldn’t have been able to enter the EU. Now, we feel that we should pay them back. And Ukrainians are very close to us – we even understand some of each other’s language. We know Ukrainian culture and we believe that Ukraine belongs to Europe, but it’s upon you to decide.
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UW: How does this Eastern Partnership policy challenge Russian policies?
We don’t think it does. The progress to the Association Agreement and FTA is a difficult, sometimes painful process. You have to do a lot to accept all European legislation standards. But I’m sure that the day will come when Russians will start accepting European standards because they will want access to our market. They are not big enough to exist alone with China along one border and the EU on the other. As to Ukraine, it can enter the Customs Union if it chooses to do so, but that will only postpone the process of accepting EU standards because it’s a modern way of doing business according to European and American rules, not Russian. So, the earlier you start, the better. And it’s not against Russia because we are its trade partner, too, but they don’t always understand this.
UW: How much attention can Europe pay to Ukraine in the middle of the financial crisis? How important is Ukraine to Europe at this point?
If you have a neighbour, you want him to be stable, friendly, speak the same language and sometimes even help you. Economically, Ukraine is a big market, while Europe is short of workforce and Ukraine has many educated people. We have already seen this at home where many Ukrainians work. So, we’re not really doing a favour to Ukrainians by helping them – it’s in our interests, too.
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Petr Mareš served as a Chairman of the Committee on Research, Education and Culture and Member of the Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly at the Parliament of the Czech Republic (1998-2002). In 20020-2004, he was Deputy Prime Minister for Research, Development, Human Rights and Human Resources at Czech government. He also served as an Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Czech Republic to the Kingdom of the Netherlands (2006-2010). Since 2010, Mr. Mareš has been a Special Envoy for Eastern Partnership at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.