The year 2017 will have a symbolic significance for the Ukraine-EU relationship. Ten years since the launch of the first round of talks on the Association Agreement (AA), almost four years after the Ukrainian people defended the Association Agreement during the Revolution of Dignity, surmounting a daunting challenge of the Dutch referendum, it finally became fully operational this September. Introduction of the EU visa-free regime for the Ukrainian citizens earlier in June was another major milestone in our bilateral relations.
Ukraine-EU Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), an integral part of the Association Agreement has already been in place for almost two years. Throughout that time it considerably helped Ukraine diversify its exports. In the course of last two years the EU market has become the premier destination for Ukrainian goods, absorbing almost 40% of the Ukrainian exports in the year 2016 alone. The first semester of 2017 demonstrates even stronger performance, with Ukraine’s exports to the EU growing by 24,2%.
At the same time, the DCFTA is much more than just a tool to access markets. It is about legal approximation to the EU technical and safety standards for products, strengthening consumer protection, modernizing the rules for competition, public procurement and state aid. In other words, for Ukraine AA/DCFTA is a comprehensive blueprint for political, social and economic reforms.
The Ukrainian President and the Government are strongly committed to make it a success story. The progress in AA/DCFTA implementation will pave the way towards reaching Ukraine’s strategic goals – greater political association and deeper sectoral and economic integration with the EU, opening in the long run prospects for Ukraine’s potential accession to the EU Customs Union, participation in the Internal market based on four freedoms and hopefully opening EU membership perspectives.
The EU visa-free regime is not only about simplifying border procedures for ordinary Ukrainians. It is the most tangible successful result of Ukraine’s reform efforts over the last three years. It is evidence of profound progress with anti-corruption policy, reform of law-enforcement agencies, the launch of ambitious transformation of judiciary system. An unprecedented e-declaration system was launched. The creation of a new Supreme Court has almost been completed. A new transparent and effective system of recruitment of judges excludes the possibility of political influence on this process. The new electronic procurement system “ProZorro” limits abuse in this sphere, saving millions of dollars of budget funds. As such it has been recently recognized as one of the best public procurement systems in the world.
Decisive anti-crisis actions, comprehensive macrofinancial stabilization, reduction of tax burden, business deregulation, opening of new markets paved the way to resumed economic growth. The credit rating of Ukraine was improved by a number of rating agencies. Ukraine has achieved an unthinkable – energy independence from Russia. Since November 2015 we have not bought a single cubic meter of natural gas from Russia. There is a general consensus that in the last three years Ukraine made much more in the field of reforms than in the previous 23 years.
These positive results were achieved despite unprecedented security challenges. For more than 3 years Ukrainians have been standing up to the Russian aggression defending its European choice. More than 11 thousand compatriots paid the highest price, their life. Minsk Agreements have laid a solid ground for achieving a stable settlement in Donbas. However, the lack of Kremlin’s political will to implement its part of the commitments remains a main obstacle for a peaceful solution. Moscow keeps supplying heavy weapons, opposes to the establishment of the OSCE permanent control over the Ukraine-Russia border, supports gradual economic integration of the occupied territory into Russia by introducing rouble, recognizing illegal documents, confiscating Ukrainian enterprises, banning humanitarian organizations and blocking the exchange of prisoners.
In the years of occupation of Crimea the situation with human rights there has deteriorated at an alarming rate. Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians continue to face constant discrimination and, in many cases, murder, tortures and illegal detentions under fabricated charges. The situation shows no signs of improving. On the contrary, the unprecedented militarisation of the occupied Crimea overturned the security landscape in the region and constitutes a direct threat to Europe as a whole.
In this regard Ukraine highly values the support of its sovereignty and territorial integrity by international partners, in particular a strong and united position of the European Union. Relentless political and sanctions pressure on Moscow are important but not sufficient. If we want to see Minsk agreements implemented and Ukraine’s territorial integrity restored, the international engagement must be stepped up. Key tools of this pressure could be the deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Donbas and the adoption of Crimea de-occupation mechanism.
If we hope to succeed in the struggle on two major fronts – with the Russian aggression on the one hand and implementation of the AA/DCFTA ambitious reform agenda on another – we must develop a strategic vision of the future of Ukraine-EU relations. This vision should strive to set up ambitious and yet realistic mid- and long-term goals which would go beyond the current framework.
During the 19th Ukraine-EU Summit in July 2017, Ukraine presented a number of new initiatives: long-term integration to the EU Customs Union, EU Energy Union, EU Digital Single Market as well as Schengen association. Defining concrete and tangible goals in the process of Ukraine’s rapprochement with the EU would help streamline the reform efforts of Ukrainian Government and civil society. Implementation of these initiatives would also be beneficial for the EU.
We are fully aware that it would be a long and difficult path. Nevertheless, we are ready to start a dialogue and seek a common ground about the vision of the future development of Ukraine-EU relations.
The upcoming Brussels Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit in November will be a great opportunity to exchange views on these and other ideas, to give fresh momentum to the EaP initiative. Since Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine concluded the EU Association Agreements and established visa free regimes, we need to know what the next step is. We expect that this Summit will set up a concrete roadmap filled by measurable and visible projects aimed at more focused cooperation and oriented on practical results for the citizens.
At the same time we must keep the political importance of the EaP and ensure its forward looking approach by setting the vision for the future of the EaP. The EaP dynamism can only be maintained when we are able to respond to the needs, expectations, common security challenges in the region and interests of all partners.