President Yushchenko has told The Times that he is committed to a three-year reform program already arranged with Brussels and aimed at putting Ukraine - the largest country wholly in Europe - on the path to Western-style democracy. He insisted that as soon as the reforms are completed, he wants to start official membership talks on joining the EU. “We believe it is extremely important for the joint three-year EU-Ukraine Action Plan to lead to the launch of membership negotiations in 2007,” he said.
He also insisted that his reforms would go ahead irrespective of EU membership. “The policy we are shaping now is not for the EU. This is the policy we are shaping for our nation. We want freedom of speech and rule of law, we want democratic values to be respected; we want the free and competitive market to work. We need those things irrespective of whether we join the EU.”
The press release did not specify which three-year program was “already arranged with Brussels.” This is probably the Ukraine-EU Action Plan adopted under Viktor Yanukovych’s premiership. Despite recent democratic trends in Ukraine, Brussels refuses to include any essential changes to the document. Early last week, the EU came up with ten new proposals meant to step up cooperation with Ukraine. However, the problem is that these proposals mostly repeat the action plan’s clauses. How can Ukraine convince the European Union to be more straightforward during the talks? What does the new administration have to do to get a “yes” from Brussels before embarking on the process of Ukrainian membership? Is Ukraine prepared for this? These and other matters are discussed by experts below.
Oleksandr SUSHKO, director, Peace, Conversion, and Foreign Policy Center of Ukraine:
Ukraine has all the tools and opportunities to prod the European Union into action and eventually to receive its positive decision concerning Ukrainian membership. However, this decision isn’t likely to be made soon. On the wave of current Ukrainian euphoria the best we can achieve is no longer to hear the EU’s negative responses and understatements to the effect that the final decision will be made at a later date. In order to obtain that ultimate, positive decision, Ukraine must measure up to expectations concerning the domestic reforms that President Yushchenko mentioned in Strasbourg and Davos. It’s a matter of short-term perspective, as several months from now everyone will see how serious the new Ukrainian administration is about domestic reforms. This primarily concerns the first Copenhagen political criterion, namely, that all democratic changes should be irreversible, including democratic reform, combating corruption, reforming local self-governments, and securing an independent judiciary and law enforcement system. Economic structural reforms are also very important in order to provide a favorable foreign investment environment and remove all obstacles to civilized business activities. These efforts will make the rest of the world see Ukraine in a new light, as a country with a new European market. Such reforms are a crucial point in Ukrainian-EU relations.
Of course, all these efforts must have professional diplomatic support. In particular, Ukraine has to clarify its position on the EU membership action plan. The one proposed by the EU should not be discarded just like that, for this would damage bilateral relations. Yet this plan should be accepted with certain reservations, all which should be made public knowledge in the form of official statements of the Ukrainian government. To begin with, such reservations should state that Ukraine doesn’t interpret the action plan as an obligation not to broach the subject of its EU membership or as a change in its membership strategy.
Ukraine should make it perfectly clear that it is acting in accordance with this plan, with a view to its eventual EU membership. This stand should be in the form of an official statement rather than a declaration during a news conference-and this document should be appended to the one approving the action plan. The current amendments contain no substantially new clauses, but this is a moral incentive of sorts, with clearer formulas.
Ukraine should also clarify the timeframe of its EU membership application, because this document would be a formal confirmation of this government’s intentions. This must happen within one year, since processing such membership applications involves procedures that can last between one and three years. In other words, if Ukraine submits this application this year, a decision could be made in 2006, precisely when Ukraine would be completing the action plan. After the plan is effectively implemented, a situation could well arise whereby a favorable judgment would be passed on Ukraine’s EU membership during an EU summit. If so, we would be able to discuss Ukraine’s recognition by the union as a potential candidate. Kyiv isn’t likely to receive a clear signal until 2007, but I believe that Ukraine will have fully prepared by then.
Bronislaw GEREMEK, European MP (Poland):
I’m convinced that the European Union said “yes” to a reborn Ukraine in the EU resolution outlining not only the practical steps that Ukraine should take but also its prospects in Europe, whereby Ukraine would have its place in the EU. The most important thing is for the great popularity of the Orange Revolution among the European public and within the walls of the European Parliament to be replaced by the implementation of the action plan. It is also very important for the Ukrainian side to regard it as a gradual fulfillment of Ukrainian expectations. The first step would be to grant Ukraine the status of a market-economy country, then support Ukraine’s EU membership effort. Ukraine-EU cooperation could evolve by applying the so-called Polish model. Indeed, when we signed the action plan with the EU, Poland insisted on full membership, and the European Union took this into consideration. I believe that solving the problem this way is very important because it allows Ukraine an opportunity to establish a rapprochement with the union. Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration prospects should be discussed along similar lines. Ukraine has held such talks, but the subject must be broached differently after the Orange Revolution.
I believe that a gradual Ukraine-EU rapprochement would be an optimal scenario, with both sides making these gradual efforts. But I’m also aware that everything depends on Ukraine, because carrying out the action plan requires bold economic reforms and an active struggle against corruption. You’ll also have to convince Europe that Ukraine and its economy regard drawing closer to the European model, democracy, and market economy as the highest priority. Be that as it may, Ukraine must first of all carry out the action plan. As for the ten proposals produced by the European Commission, Ukraine should calmly await the European Union’s response, because the EU doesn’t have a clear stand on the issue of Ukraine’s membership. I think that the ten-proposal list is a positive development in that it’s geared to the adoption of specific measures. Above all, it’s a political document written in the language of current political practice. It can help politicians use the right kind of phraseology (they sometimes fail to understand the importance of words). The ten proposals that upgraded the Ukraine-EU Action Plan are also a message from the European Commission and Council of Europe to Ukraine, both of which are striving to implement the recommendations of the European Parliament, the institution that went furthest in meeting Ukrainian social expectations halfway.
Ukraine also deserves a positive response from Europe, and this response should correspond to the extremely important Orange Revolution factor. Ukrainian society should also bear in mind the political context in which the European Union will have to make its decision. The EU is currently scared of its own boldness, I mean the bold decisions that it adopted during the Orange Revolution. It is very astonished by the changes in Ukraine and within Ukrainian society, whose resistance led to concrete results. Ukraine must now translate its political declarations into the language of practical actions; you must declare a program and then proceed to carry it out, thus reaffirming the Ukrainian hope for EU membership.
Yuri KOCHUBEI, president, Ukrainian Foreign Policy Society:
Ukraine should neither pressure nor ask the European Union to accept it as a European country. We’re in Europe anyway, so the point is our formal membership in the EU. And we have certain criteria to meet in order to obtain it. If we measure up, Ukraine will be in a position to knock on Europe’s doors, saying ‘It’s high time you made us a full-fledged member of the European community of nations.’ Therefore, our efforts should focus on developing a true market economy and democracy. We must also demonstrate our respect for European values. In other words, there is much work to be done at home. Also, diplomatic efforts must remain on the agenda- and not only in Brussels. After all, the issue of Ukraine’s EU membership won’t be resolved by bureaucrats but by the EU member countries. So the primary crucial task facing Ukrainian diplomatic missions is to win as many allies as possible, so we can have not just Poland and Lithuania on our side but France and Germany, in view of the latter’s considerable influence on the European Union and what these countries could do to promote the Ukrainian membership idea. This is an important matter for both diplomats and the mass media; the latter should provide more coverage of these issues to make sure that Ukrainian society is fully prepared for the referendum, if and when.
Nevertheless, the European Union must give a definite positive reply to Ukraine and the sooner the better: that after meeting certain obligations, Ukraine will become a member of the Union. This decision is crucially important for us. We are prepared to hear it, if not tomorrow, then sometime in the nearest future. It’s true that Brussels has noticeably changed its tone vis-З-vis Ukraine: witness the amendments to the Ukraine-EU Action Plan. Even though the European Union has said nothing new, the attitude of the EU countries to Ukraine has definitely changed for the better.