Former European Union Commissioner for Enlargement Gunther Verheugen recently described the current state of Ukraine-EU relations by borrowing from chess terminology: stalemate.
Such an impression is likely to sneak into the minds of those who care aboutUkraine’s European pace, but tend to measure our relation’s progress in sequences of politically intriguing events. From this viewpoint, the picture indeed appears grey: no big developments are expected in Ukraine-EU relations until the October parliamentary elections.
On the other hand, there is nothing to cry about. The wheels of Ukraine-EU relations are rolling, plans get implemented, delegations meet and legislation gets adopted.
In this light, a different chess term would be perhaps more fitting to describe the state of play: a “Mittelspiel” or “middle game.” This word is used to describe “the portion of the game that happens after the opening and before the endgame.”
Indeed, it seems like the opening was made last year when both sides finalized the text of the EU-Ukraine association agreement, including the deep and comprehensive free trade area.
The endgame is still to come: in the form of signing and ratifying in the parliaments. What’s happening right now is the hard work in order to make that happen.
The negotiated association agreement constitutes a full-scale roadmap for Ukraine’s modernization. Technical and legal experts on both sides are currently working hard to prepare an almost 1,500-page text.
Work is also under way on another top priority: moving towards a visa waiver for Ukrainian citizens travelling to the EU. A significant part of the European Commission’s recommendations has already been fulfilled while important decisions, in particular, on biometrics and adequate protection of personal data, are to be taken in coming weeks.
We are keen to continue effective practical cooperation in security and defense fields with the EU. This year, we plan to send a Ukrainian aircraft to join the EU-led Atalanta operation to fight against piracy.
In 2012 several regional delegations from Ukraine will visit Brussels, the EU administrative capital, starting with a representative delegation from Dnipropetrovsk. This is part of a broader effort to transpose the EU economy model largely based on strong regions into better governance in Ukraine.
We are undertaking a lively dialogue at all levels between Ukrainian and European business circles, in part by pushing for the free-trade agreement to enter into force as soon as possible.
And that’s without mentioning the ever intensifying dialogues in education, aviation, transport, customs and taxation, science and technologies, outer space – all the day-to-day operation that hardly makes headlines, but, in effect constitutes the “flesh and blood” ofUkraine’s European integration.
Surely I’m not oblivious to the reasons why our European friends talk about a “pause in relations.” Sadly, our relations evolve against the backdrop of the legal cases of Yulia Tymoshenko and several other well-known personalities in Ukraine, which are politically charged as they are harm Ukraine’s EU perspective.
Unfortunately for everybody, the vulnerability ofUkraine’s judiciary has become so visible only now. But the “Free Yulia” slogans do not address the core issue. Those who get involved in these discussions often overlook the facts behind emotions. For instance, every case is being investigated and ruled upon in meticulous accordance withUkraine’s legal procedure.
Ukraine’s EU integration should not choke on the Tymoshenko case. After all, the price is high. It’s about the sense of direction for the largest country situated wholly inEurope.
And it is the EU that provides Ukraine with the right direction. This becomes ever more palpable once we consider the essence and magnitude of the transformation Ukraine undergoes under EU guidance.
Recent examples are numerous.
Take, for example, the establishment of the Constitutional Assembly, which with the participation of leading Ukrainian and international legal experts, NGOs and different political forces is engaged in proposing new and balanced constitutional amendments.
Another example is establishment of the Coordination Council for Development of the Civil Society, an advisory body to the president with broad representation from the civil sector.
It is also worth noting that the adoption of a new election law happened well in advance before the elections and received support of a constitutional majority in parliament.
Yet another example is the recent passage in the first reading by lawmakers of a new Criminal Procedural Code, part of an effort to replace outdated legislation dating back to the 1960s.
This document, which is expected to be adopted in its entirety very soon, will drastically change the work of Ukrainian courts, prosecutors, police and lawyers by introducing jury trials, limiting prosecutors’ powers while giving more rights to attorneys as well as providing for release on bail instead of pretrial detention in a majority of cases involving non-violent crimes.
All these documents were either drafted together with experts from the Council of Europe or inspired by the best of European practices.
The question is whether these efforts will receive an unbiased assessment both inUkraineand the EU or whether they will fall victims of political contagion. And here again, I would say I would prefer no big headlines, as they are usually a symptom of the latter.
The upcoming parliamentary elections will be a test ofUkraine’s commitment to democracy and ultimately of EU readiness to sign the association agreement.
We will do all the best to ensure that elections are held in a free and democratic manner with maximum transparency. But we also expect the EU to keep their feet on the ground and play a fair game.