An extraordinary event took place at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. For the first time, under the aegis of the MFA, this office and the traditional initiator of such events, the Institute of World Politics, gathered followers of the European integration from the government, the opposition, and civic society during the conference “Ukraine-EU: towards a common future.” Usually, such events are organized by representatives of civic society or the opposition and missions of European countries.
It should be mentioned that this event took place on the eve of celebrating the Days of Europe in Ukraine and the day after the European Commission approved the project of the European Union Council on signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine. It can be said that in this way Ukraine notified about consolidating the efforts of political elites, expert community, and civic society in Ukraine on the one side, and of the European Union on the other, around the importance of signing the Association Agreement at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013.
As the deputy foreign minister Andrii OLEFIROV stated at the beginning of the conference, Ukraine had been moving towards this decision of the European Commission for five years. According to him, it is not only about our country joining Europe, but about coming back to ourselves, to our own world outlook.
Olefirov emphasized that signing the Association Agreement in Vilnius would be important for the transformation of Ukrainian society. According to him, the Ukrainian government does its best to carry out the tasks set at the February EU-Ukraine summit in Brussels. He also added that the Ministry of Justice had prepared amendments to the election legislation and the law on legal system reform, which had already been submitted to the Venice Commission.
“Personally, I am convinced that the Association Agreement will be signed this year, and all branches of Ukrainian government have reached a consensus on the necessity of meeting the criteria,” Olefirov said.
Vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament Libor Roucek also drew attention to the importance of the consensus in this matter among the main political forces in the Verkhovna Rada and society. In his opinion, the entire society must be involved in this process, and the work of journalists is very important in this. Roucek noted that the European Parliament would provide further help to Ukraine in its rapprochement with the EU and settling the most difficult issues, especially the Tymoshenko case. He expressed a hope that it would be possible to solve this problem in the context of Ukrainian legal system and European practice.
The head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine Jan Tombinski expressed a wish for the opposition and the majority to respect the rules and procedures, assume responsibility and share it on the way to European integration, in particular, while passing the necessary legislation and its implementation.
According to him, the EU expects that Ukraine will meet the requirements of the joint summit in November this year. The ambassador admitted that the Ukrainian side had done a lot already, the parliament started working. However, that was not yet enough for signing the Association Agreement with the EU. “If I were to answer if the Association Agreement can be signed now, I would say no,” the European diplomat said.
Tombinski did not give a clear answer to the question if signing the Agreement in Vilnius depends on Tymoshenko’s release. He only said that this matter is brought up at every meeting with Ukrainian high-ranking officials. The diplomat stressed that not only this one specific case, but the juridical certainty of the legal system and the existence of presumption of innocence in general is important for the EU.
While talking about the importance of the decision to ask for the mandate of the EU leaders on signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine, Tombinski stated: “We have opened a new phase, which is going to be more important than the previous ones. Now it is not so much about signing as about implementation of the things listed in the Agreement: democracy, the rule of law, and justice.”
Tombinski also noted that Ukraine should use the fantastic opportunity when 400 MPs voted for the European choice. Besides, he drew attention to the fact that people had to know what stands in the Association Agreement. It should also be explained that the Agreement has no negative effect on the relations between Ukraine and Russia.
Deputy Director General of the Razumkov Center Valerii CHALY warned everyone that the approval of the decision on signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine by the European Commission did not yet mean that the Agreement would be signed in Vilnius. He urged everyone to concentrate the efforts on meeting the criteria and prepare for the implementation of the Agreement.
According to him, it is the first time Ukraine has moved to the integration stage in relations with the EU. “This tool will direct us towards deliberate actions and responsibility for them. We have never been this close to European integration before. This Agreement puts an end to the fruitless discussion on the other integration course,” Chaly said. He thinks that Ukraine can meet all the requirements for the EU integration in 15 years.
Former foreign minister Volodymyr Ohryzko thinks that it can be done in seven or eight years, provided that both the government and the opposition will consolidate their efforts instead of wasting time on feuds. “Let’s look for points of contact between those who want to build a European state,” he said.
Co-chair of the inter-faction union European Choice, first deputy head of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Foreign Affairs Valentyn Nalyvaichenko is convinced that the Association Agreement will be signed in Vilnius, and if the opposition comes to power, this document will become its blueprint.
At the moment, a lot of rumors are spread in Ukraine that the free-trade area with the EU, which will be implemented after signing the Association Agreement, will destroy Ukraine’s industry. This is an exaggeration, said Ihor Burakovsky, chair of the board at the Institute of Economic Researches and Political Consultations. According to him, previous assessments state that in case the FTA with the EU is implemented, Ukraine’s GDP will grow by 11 percent in 7 to 10 years, while joining in the Customs Union will make the GDP plummet by 3.7 percent.
Oleksii Plotnikov, Honored Economist of Ukraine, professor at the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, thinks that people need not be convinced of the importance of European integration for Ukraine. According to him, integration into the EU means the access to investments, high technologies, resources, etc.
Meanwhile, director of the Institute for Strategic Assessments Pavlo Haidutsky noted that at the moment, the trade turnover with the EU is negative, and last year’s trade deficit with the European community was equal to 16 billion dollars. At the same time, he considers it positive that the FTA with the EU motivates Ukraine to increase its competitiveness level and will become a sort of industrial surgery in serious matters.
“I absolutely support the free-trade area with the EU because this will cure our economy. We had never sold beer abroad before, but after joining the WTO we are exporting into 74 countries. We need to do a lot, and then we will be able to export other goods,” Haidutsky said.
It is curious that Ukraine’s agricultural sector is waiting for signing of the Association Agreement as well in order to implement European standards and be able to join the European market. Deputy head of the State Veterinary and Phytosanitary Service of Ukraine Vitalii Bashynsky informed that out of 17,000 food manufacturers, 2,000 had already implemented control systems according to the European standards.