Is Change Coming Too Slowly to Ukraine?

KIEV, Ukraine -- A year ago, we could only dream of this kind of EU-Ukraine summit. Eight previous summits were held in entirely different political conditions and in an entirely different atmosphere.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, center right, representing the European Union, and President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko, center left, leave an EU-Ukraine summit in Kiev, Ukraine

Looking at a resentful and uneasy Kuchma, we could hardly imagine a president of Ukraine who felt free and natural in the company of European leaders and even enthusiastically spoke to them about Ukrainian traditions. We could hardly think that important European guests would ask to include a visit to the Maidan into the program. We never heard so many praises and optimistic assessments from the representatives of the European Union.

Then why aren’t we extremely happy now, when all of the above have come true? Of course, nobody expected that the rush attack at Brussels would be successful; however we hoped that the relations between Ukraine and the EU would have progressed further than they have.

It certainly wouldn’t be right to insist that we haven’t made any progress at all. Much has been done during this year. The overall atmosphere of our relations has changed. Even former pessimists, who are well aware of the Brussels bureaucratic machine and who insisted that it would never turn toward Ukraine, show optimism. Now they agree with the first deputy to Foreign Minister Anton Buteiko, who told journalists that many issues, which used to be solved through lengthy diplomatic notes over a long time period, are now settled in several minutes through phone calls to Brussels.

It is pleasing that the European Commission has finally decided that Ukraine has fulfilled all the requirements and met the technical criteria for the granting of Market Economy Status (MES). MES will be awarded immediately after the completion of all formalities in a month or so.

Three important documents have been signed during the EU-Ukraine summit. A Memorandum of Understanding on co-operation in the field of energy was signed by Viktor Yushchenko and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency in the EU. This document was signed within the framework of a high-level dialogue in the energy field and was positively assessed by experts.

Moreover, experts believe that the integration of the energy infrastructure is a precondition for further economic integration of Ukraine into the EU. They also expect that the transition of Ukraine-EU relations in the energy sphere to a higher stage could slacken the tense oil and gas dialogue between Ukraine and Russia.

The agreement between Ukraine and the EU on certain aspects of air conveyance was signed by Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov and the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso. This document acknowledges the existence of a single market of air conveyance between Ukraine and the EU countries and is viewed as a first step toward cooperation in the aviation field.

Let us remind you that, in September, the European Commission proposed to negotiate a comprehensive agreement in the civil aviation field for gradual integration of Ukrainian aviation into the European structures. It is very likely that the EC will receive a mandate for this negotiation early next year.

Yekhanurov and Barroso have also signed the agreement on cooperation in civil satellite navigation between the European community, its member states, and Ukraine. The system, called Galileo, will be launched in 2008. According to the European experts, in a few years the size of this market will exceed 230 billion euro and will enclose all social spheres.

According to Ukrainian experts, signing of this agreement creates conditions for Ukraine’s direct involvement in the joint Galileo project, its involvement in the implementation of the EU’s first space program, and its membership in the European space agency.

However, this is not the end of the list of Ukraine’s results in the negotiations. Let us remind you that the agreement on the trade of steel products for 2005-2006 was signed early this year, according to which Ukraine’s quota for 2006 will make up 1004.5 thousand tons.

An agreement on trade of textile products was also signed, ensuring a quota-free regime for Ukrainian textile exporters. The European investment bank and Ukraine signed an agreement enabling Ukraine to receive about 250 million euro in loans. And we could continue with this list.

The beginning of negotiations on easing the visa regime has become an important milestone in EU-Ukraine relations. The first round of negotiations was held late in November. Although the Europeans are cautious as usual and try to avoid specific dates, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk made an assumption last week that the European Union could sign the agreement on easing the visa regime for Ukrainians as early as the first half of the next year.

Europeans appreciate the cooperation of Ukraine and EU in the fields of external and security policies, in particular on the issues of regional stability and crisis management. An EU mission was ceremonially set up in Odessa on the eve of the summit to provide assistance at the Ukrainian-Moldavian border.

It is staffed with 69 employees from 13 EU countries and 50 local specialists. The goal of the mission is to facilitate the improvement of customs and frontier services. Special attention will be given to the border guard and customs control at the Transdnister section of the borderline.

Unlike last year’s summit, when the Europeans were hardly talked into releasing a joint press release, this year’s summit produced a lengthy joint statement with which both parities are satisfied. In particular, it emphasizes “a significant progress” in the implementation of the EU-Ukraine action plan, welcomes the “strong commitment of Ukraine to general values of democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights,” as well as recognizes progress in economic reforms.

It is significant that the EU leaders, as before, hope and are “confident” that the future parliamentary elections “will be carried out in compliance with the international standards.”

In this statement, the EU leaders confirmed their intention to begin consultations on the new intensified agreement between Ukraine and the EU intended to substitute for the current agreement on partnership and cooperation as soon as the political priorities of the Action Plan are met.

The Europeans confirm their readiness for an early start to negotiation with Ukraine concerning a Free Trade Area (FTA) once Ukraine has joined the WTO. The document noted “good progress made on the feasibility study on a Free Trade Area between the EU and Ukraine.”

In conclusion, Ukraine reconfirmed its strategic goal of compete integration into the European Union, whereas the EU leaders “welcome[d] the European choice of Ukraine,” emphasizing that its adherence to democracy and reforms opens new prospect for a significant increase of the level and quality of EU-Ukraine relationship.

So What’s the Problem?

One can see Ukraine’s achievements in the European direction. So why aren’t we satisfied with that? Why do local experts make rather reserved assessments? Stupid blunders, serious faults, and shortcomings are the major reason for dissatisfaction. It is great that our president easily finds common language with European leaders, yet is it worth spending so much precious time away from negotiations for tales about embroidery?

We can be proud of our aviation and space technologies and be happy since our country has a real chance of getting to the European high-tech markets. But aren’t we ashamed of the simultaneous translation equipment in this country’s chief office---due to which failures cost precious minutes of a crucial summit?

Perhaps we should be happy about the market economy status. Yet if it was “the main, what was achieved at the summit” as our president has put it, we are not happy but sad. First, the fact that the Europeans have reached a positive conclusion for Ukraine was known long before the summit, and Barroso officially announced the EC decision a day before the summit.

Second, if the Ukrainian government were indeed obsessed with the Euro-integration idea and made a little more effort, Ukraine would have been granted the long-awaited status much earlier since the fundament work was completed under Yanukovych.

Third, this event is not significant enough to mark the “new stage of the relationship,” as even the Europeans have repeatedly stressed that market economy status is a purely technical issue. But since the old Ukrainian government and now the new one would like to lift it to the level of an ultimate goal (maybe because it was much more difficult to receive the other EU bonuses), the Europeans decided to play into their hands and presented this technical status as a big prize.

Thus it is not worth rejoicing over, since the market economy status is important chiefly to Ukrainian exporters to the European market (which are unfortunately very few in Ukraine), because it will mitigate the conditions of possible anti-dumping investigations.

The beginning of the visa dialogue with the EU may make the life and work of a wide circle of Ukrainians much easier in the future. Yet we don’t feel much joy over the thought that soon we will save time, nerves, and money while receiving Schengen visas, remembering that negotiations with Ukraine---that, according to Barroso, is a strong partner of Europe---are only at their start.

Meanwhile Russia, which refused to participate in the European neighborhood policy and which has much more illegal immigrants than Ukraine does (as well as long and almost transparent borders with several Asian states), has already prepared and initialed the agreement on the simplification of visa regime with Europe.

Europe’s high assessment of the implementation of the Action Plan was pleasantly surprising. Ukrainian experts were much more skeptical about it. At the roundtable discussion organized by the Razumkov Center in mid-autumn, Ukrainian experts assessed the implementation of the Action Plan lower than four points on a five-point scale.

The “political dialogue and reform section” was given the highest grade of 3.5 points, while “economic and social reforms and development” were given the lowest grade. The Europeans also assessed our progress in the political sphere higher then in that of economics. Thus, according to our source, they gave us “very good” for the preparation for elections, but in the sphere of business development and improvement of the investment climate they noted only a “limited progress.’

If Ukraine manages to keep up with this assessment of the Action Plan implementation until next summer, it can expect that the political priorities of the document will be recognized as implemented and can begin negotiations with the EU on a new reinforced agreement, which can be the document of the association with the EU. Moreover, having implemented the political priorities of the Action Plan, Ukraine will near the fulfillment of the first Copenhagen criterion. This will be sufficient grounds for filing an official application for EU membership.

Yet, all of the above could once again prove to be in our dreams since the European Union is scared of this and is still unable to give a clear definition of the “reinforced agreement.” A poll conducted by TNS-Sofres at the request of the international organization Yalta European Strategy in six EU countries, whose residents account for 75 percent of the total EU population, proved that more than half of the polled support the idea of Ukraine’s EU membership. However, the EU political elite still don’t see Ukraine in a “common European house.”

And finally, our biggest disappointment, something that could have been a major event of the year, is the might-have-been WTO accession. If Ukraine were accepted to the WTO this month, it could have started negotiations with the EU for a free trade area. Unlike a token market economy status, this event could have been a milestone event and the beginning of a new stage in EU-Ukraine relationship.

Of course, the Verkhovna Rada could be and should be blamed for that since it failed to adopt the laws essential for the WTO admission. But parliament bears only part of the guilt for this. The primary responsibility lies with the top leadership of Ukraine who failed (or did not want to) make WTO accession a real priory and mobilize all the resources for the attainment of this goal.

European integration is yet to become a major idea and direction for Ukrainian leadership. Now, the president, who named EU membership as a strategic goal of Ukraine at the EU summit, two days before told the nation about the need to give up part of its sovereignty within the framework of the Single Economic Space.

The Cabinet of Ministers members venture to ignore the meetings of the governmental committee on the European and Euro-Atlantic integration; ministries and departments failed to create Euro-integration divisions, the position of the vice prime minister for the European integration was liquidated, while the idea of creating special Euro-integration ministry seems to die another time.

Experts pinned certain hopes concerning the coordination of Euro-integration policy on the reanimation of the State Council for the European and Euro-Atlantic integration headed by the president. However, last the president liquidated this institution. Passing the coordinating functions to the Foreign Affairs Ministry does not solve the problem since the ministry and its heads lack the authority.

After all, it was repeatedly emphasized that European integration is mostly a system of internal political measures, rather then external goals and objectives. As before, there is not enough money for Euro integration. As before, lack of qualified specialists in this sphere is at issue.

In general, this list of the old problems could be extremely long. It could make anyone pessimistic. So, we’d better listen to Tony Blair, who encouraged the Ukrainians with the following words: “Change is a difficult process; it is always difficult to respond to the rising hopes. But I am sure that Ukraine does not doubt that there is a huge difference between what Ukraine was last year and what it is now.” Indeed, if we look back, we will see that we have come a long way, but if we look forward it is obvious that we are moving toward our goal too slowly.

Source: Zerkalo Nedeli