Nothing is being done in the European Union today without the consent of Germany, the most powerful economy in Europe. What does Berlin think of the latest events in our country – of Kyiv’s intention to sign association agreement and its European prospects, of the trials of many former high-ranking officials? How can this affect Ukraine’s European integration? This is the subject of an interview with Doctor Hans-Jurgen HEIMSOETH, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Germany to Ukraine.
“PROSPECTS FOLLOW FROM THE UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT’S POLICY”
Kostiantyn Hryshchenko, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said the other day at a conference organized by the European Political Center in Brussels that it is not so much the government of Ukraine as Ukrainian society that needs the EU membership prospect. “It is not a signal to the government, it is a signal to society to be fully prepared for reforms,” the Ukrainian minister said. Is Germany prepared to give this kind of positive signal to Ukrainians?
“The EU Treaty has a well-known Article 49. I would like to question the propriety of frequently repeating the word ‘prospects.’ Ukraine received NATO membership prospects. So what happened? The government and parliament made a different decision. Prospects follow from the Ukrainian government’s policy and the willingness of Ukrainian society to be part of the EU and work for the application of proper standards in Ukraine. I mean willingness of Ukraine to meet EU standards not because the EU considers this proper but because society is aware of this being the best way to modernization and wellbeing all over the country.”
But the comparison with NATO membership prospects is not exactly proper because at the time Ukraine’s political elite failed to reach a consensus on NATO membership, while the powerful political opposition was taking advantage of common Ukrainian stereotypes about the alliance in its struggle for power…
“All comparisons limp. But everything depends on the way events unfurl in Ukraine. It is Ukraine itself that is making a prospect. Germany is making more efforts in comparison with many other countries to prepare Ukraine for EU accession in various spheres – moreover, it is not doing this on paper but is trying to create real prospects. This is a pivotal point. Germany is very interested in Ukraine coming step by step closer to and establishing close ties with the EU. Therefore, we are pleased with the real progress of the negotiations on a free trade area agreement and the association treaty. If these treaties are concluded this year, this will be a major success that will really bring Ukraine closer to the EU.”
The Ukrainian leadership is saying it will do its utmost to be prepared for signing the abovementioned agreements before the Eastern Partnership summit to be held on September 30 in Warsaw. Do you think it to be realistic?
“I think it is realistic to finish the negotiations before this date. This applies, above all, to the free trade area agreement.”
What other concrete stimuli or investment opportunities should the European community offer so that, in spite of a disappointment after the Orange Revolution, Ukraine could march towards the EU and achieve more than it has done? In particular, regarding the cancellation of EU visa requirements for Ukraine…
“The EU can offer no investment opportunities. These should be created by Ukraine itself. The situation is that in the past few years, including the period when the pro-Western president and prime minister were in office, there have been, unfortunately, very few successful attempts to persuade world-famous businesses to invest in Ukraine. Although these entities are still showing interest in Ukraine today, my observations suggest that concrete talks on establishing new production facilities in Ukraine is a rare occurrence.
“EU businesses are hardly to blame for this because they go to where there are the best working conditions, a stable and reliable system of law, and at least basic level of economic transparency. Unfortunately, there have been very few changes in Ukraine in this respect. Yet I am sure that both the president and the Cabinet are aware of the importance of foreign investments. Besides, I hope that important structural reforms will be efficient. “Concerning the visas. The government of Ukraine is working hard to implement provisions of the EU-Ukraine Action Plan on Visa Liberalization. If they are successfully implemented, undoubtedly the visa treatment will be eased. If European security requirements and other national and European provisions are complied with, the broadest possible freedom of movement will serve German economic, as well as your, interests. Besides, the situation has improved lately: the number of visa denials, at least here, at the German Embassy, has dropped more than twofold, while the number of long-term three-to-five-year visas has risen many times over. Opening visa application centers in Donetsk, Lviv, and Odesa has made it possible to boost the quality of service.”
Last year the Ukrainian president promised at the November Ukraine-EU summit to fulfill the visa treatment liberalization plan. If this happens, will Germany support Ukraine’s aspiration for the EU setting the concrete date of visa cancellation for Ukrainians?
“I think the EU-Ukraine Action Plan on Visa Liberalization is quite clear. But the decisive factor will be not only bringing legal provisions into line with EU demands but also putting these provisions into practice.”
“IT IS BEYOND ANY DOUBT THAT THESE TRIALS WILL HAVE A NEGATIVE EFFECT ON UKRAINE’S IMAGE”
Mr. Ambassador, I know you were present at one of the Tymoshenko case hearings at the Pechersk Court. What kind of personal impression did this trial make on you?
“I cannot comment on specific trials. But EU representations are really closely watching these trials. It is not just about the trial of the former prime minister: investigation is underway and cases have been opened against more than ten members of the former government and other top officials. Their names are well known: Lutsenko, Didenko, Makarenko, Ivashchenko, Filipchuk, Korniichuk, Danylyshyn, and many others. They are mostly being accused of making certain decisions or signing certain documents while in office. The law of criminal procedure is being applied to them. At the same time, it is a proven fact that 99.8 percent of all criminal procedure cases in Ukraine lead to a punitive sentence. What chances does the defendant have then under the current system to defend their rights?”
Incidentally, some European diplomats are saying on conditions of anonymity that this trial will have a negative effect on Ukraine’s European prospects and, particularly, may cause problems with the signing of the Association Agreement. What do you think of this?
“I’ve been trying to find an event in the EU history, which is comparable to what we can see now, when the government, including its head, has not only lost political power but also become an object of criminal prosecution to such an extent. I failed to find an event like this. So it is small wonder that people and the mass media in many EU countries interpret these things as ‘selective justice’ deliberately carried out by a judicial system that still needs to be reformed. It is beyond any doubt that these trials will have a negative effect on Ukraine’s image.
“The Free Trade Area Agreement and the Association Treaty are far-reaching agreements which are of paramount importance for Ukraine’s further development. They are supported by all parties, including the individuals who are standing trial now. These treaties are not designed for one or two years; they will be valid for a long time and will be bringing Ukraine, step by step, closer to the European Union. But, to be ratified and come into force, these treaties will need consent of the European Parliament and all national parliaments. Members of these parliaments are not obliged to follow instructions from above. They pass resolutions freely and independently. The public image of Ukraine will certainly play a role in parliamentarians’ decisions. It is very important for the government of Ukraine to understand that it is exposed to a delayed-action danger. Ukraine should not be interested in its mage being shaped by courtroom trials of oppositionists and ‘selective justice.’ Instead, Ukraine should be interested in being able to attract attention owing to positive news and true reforms. Otherwise, the process of ratification may entail unnecessary difficulties.”
“PRAGMATISM IS A NECESSARY THING IN THE WORLD OF REAL POLITICS”
We can hear quite often from European capitals that Ukraine should accept European standards and values. But can often see that Europe resorts to double standards in practice. Examples are not very far away. On July 6 Strasbourg hosted the Musica Liberat concert in defense of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev aimed at reminding Europe of the existence of… European values. But a few days later the Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that Vladimir Putin was awarded the prestigious German prize Quadriga which is annually conferred on outstanding figure of politics, economics and culture for their “commitment to innovation, renewal, and a pioneering spirit through political, economic, and cultural activities” It is good that wide-scale public and media criticism forced the Quadriga Prize founders to cancel their decision. What is your attitude to what some German MPs called “slap in the face of human rights champions”?
“Firstly, let us recall that, unlike Ukraine, Russia has never passed a law on its aspiration to enter the EU. Secondly, the events you are talking about were initiated by civil society. The Quadriga Prize is a private initiative based on various societal groups and private sponsors. Shortly after the reunification of Germany, this initiative chose October 3 as prize award date and gained recognition in the next few years. But one should not overestimate the importance of this event. Yet it is interesting that this shows the clout of the public in EU countries. So the event is also important for Ukraine.”
Could you comment on the words of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev who, albeit not asked about Quadriga, told during the press conference with Angela Merkel: “…In fact, it is, of course, a German headache. I think any civic organization is free to choose the one to receive this prize and decide who it does and does not like. So if a decision has been made, it must be fulfilled. Otherwise, it is a manifestation of cowardice and inconsistency.”
“It became clear in the course of the Quadriga debate that there would be no smooth riding in the process of making a decision. You could see for yourself that the decision to award this prize to Putin immediately triggered voices of discontent in the Supervisory Board itself. Others complained that they had not been consulted. In any case, I do not think that the decision of this private organization will have a negative effect on German-Russian relations. You could see this during the Germany-Russia summit that ended The Day before yesterday. (The interview was recorded on July 21. – Author.) These relations will remain important for the development of Europe in which Russia is an influential and stable factor. Pragmatic as it may sound, pragmatism is a necessary thing in the world of real politics, and this also applies to the relations between Ukraine and Russia.”
According to the weekly Der Spiegel, German ex-chancellor Helmut Kohl said the current head of government Angela Merkel was pursuing a very dangerous European policy course. “She is ruining my European policy,” the magazine quotes Kohl as saying, referring to one of the former chancellor’s closest teammates. What will you say to this?
“I do not comment on the press reports that have not been officially confirmed. The federal chancellor is a convinced European, and she is doing her best to pull the euro, which is one of the most important gains in the past few years, out of the ‘turbulence zone’ into which it fell through no fault of Germany. I am sure that, as it also happened in the past, she and her European partners will successfully respond to this challenge thanks to the precise sense of proportion and the broadest possibly consensus in Europe.”
As far as the euro zone crisis is concerned, the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph said clearly in the June 20 article “Angela Merkel: Can She Rescue the Euro?” about who is considered in Europe as rescuer of the European currency. What does Berlin think can save the European currency system?
“The Brussels meeting proved that the EU has managed to approve a balanced package of measures that will help Greece achieve a lasting stabilization. At the same time, it is clear that it is impossible to solve all the problems with one stroke of the magic wand. The sources of this problem are deeper: slashing debts and raising competitiveness is a lengthy process. Yet the positions of the euro zone are better by almost all indications than those of the US or Japan, so I am quite sure that the euro has a good future. However, the crisis graphically showed that it takes a very high price to atone for the sins of the past.
“After all, it is important for all countries, including Ukraine, to learn lessons from this crisis, to reduce the budget deficit, boost competitiveness, and not to live high off the hog. For this reason, I welcome very much the fact that the government of Ukraine is ready to carry out important structural reforms. A lot of essential has been done here, and now all this must be implemented. I also believe that progress will also be achieved in the problem of fuel prices, which will promote understanding with the IMF.”