Blind Spots In EU-Ukraine Relations

ZURICH, Switzerland -- A little over a month ago, Viktor Yanukovych was inaugurated president of Ukraine following a narrowly fought election, which, according to documents presented by his opponent, then-prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko to the country’s High Administrative Court, was marked by fraud.

Ukraine Foreign Ministry building featuring EU and Ukrainian flags.

After the Court refused to examine her evidence presented in eight bound volumes of documents and accompanied by videotapes, Yanukovych subsequently forced a vote of confidence on her governing coalition in the Ukrainian Rada (Parliament).

When Tymoshenko lost that vote, Yanukovych then set about building his own parliamentary majority, recently naming a cabinet to govern the country within the 30-day limit prescribed by the Constitution.

Professor of Political Science (Rutgers University-Newark, USA) and expert on Ukrainian affairs Alexander J Motyl remarks to ISN Security Watch that Yanukovych’s tactics in the matter may violate the country’s Constitution, of which Article 83 specifies that only a “coalition of parliamentary f[r]actions” may compose a governing majority (even though individuals may vote against their fraction on various particular pieces of legislation), while according to the parliament’s own rules “for a party to leave a coalition, its Rada fraction must vote to do so.”

Indicating some sympathy for Yanukovych’s “frustration at the need to herd cats,” Motyl nevertheless notes that his coalition of parties, making together only about 220 of the necessary 226, “fell short of the required parliamentary majority.”

Tadeusz Olszanski of the Centre for Eastern Studies in Warsaw explains that by a “legal trick” Yanukovych had the parliament’s rules of procedure amended so as to allow “individual deputies (and not only parliamentary groups) to enter the coalition.”

It will take at least two or three months for the Constitutional Court to issue a verdict in the matter, with uncertain implications for legislation approved in the meantime.

Foreign relations

Rather than note such troublesome details, EU diplomats have preferred to congratulate themselves anonymously in the press on “playing their cards right” on Ukraine.

By this they mean that they avoided a “cooling down of strategic relations,” in part by coordinating messages from the European Commission and the European Parliament, and in particular, giving “no encouragement … to Yanukovich’s rival Yulia Tymoshenko, who had tried to challenge the legality of Yanukovich’s victory.”

It is likely that the European Parliament will play an important role in determining the future course of actual relations between Brussels and Kiev.

Alexander von Lingen, a former principal of the Secretariat of the Presidency of the European Parliament, and current director of the EquipEuropa analysis and training consultancy in Brussels, explains to ISN Security Watch that the European Parliament had already held its first bilateral meeting of the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee with Ukraine under the new government, addressing in the first instance such substantive issues as visa-free travel and other practical matters.

On the international level, Motyl says there could be positive results if Brussels “reinforces the commitment it made at last year’s energy summit to help modernize Ukraine’s gas pipeline, endorses good relations with Russia and Ukraine’s role therein, and gives Ukraine some kind of half-green, half-yellow light regarding eventual [EU] membership.”

The new foreign minister, Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, who has held the post in the past and is in Motyl’s words “a serious fellow and really genuine diplomat,” has already asked for precisely this.

Motyl criticizes the EU for having foregone already five years ago the opportunity to play a positive role in Ukraine.

“During the Orange governments of 2005-2006,” he says, “when it would have made an enormous difference, the EU never sent even the slightest half-clear signal to Ukraine about prospects for membership even in the distant future. Had they made even the most modest gesture, it would have given those governments the opportunity to mobilize the Ukrainian public around the EU agenda; but they did absolutely nothing.”

These criticisms are validated by longtime Brussels observer Alexander von Lingen, who agrees with Motyl, pointing out that “enlargement fatigue and Lisbon treaty ratification procedures” probably explain this in part, since the EU at the time had a “preoccupation with its own problems.”

He also remarks that Brussels “lost interest” in Ukraine after the latter, following the former’s wishes, shut down the last reactors at Chernobyl.

International implications of domestic developments

On the domestic side, Olszanski at the Centre for Eastern Studies in Warsaw points to fissures among the parties composing the coalition itself, which is “far from being internally united,” as well as to “friction between representatives of the various influence groups” in Yanukovych’s own Party of Regions.

Concerning relations with the opposition, Motyl says that Yanukovych could have minimized tensions and gotten a prolonged honeymoon and general sympathy with “slightly smarter appointments [but] now he’s headed for disaster [as] certainly half and perhaps more than half of the population has turned against him.”

Von Lingen in the main agrees with them both, concluding that there is “at least confrontation in the future of Ukrainian politics, if not yet certain disaster: for example, when Tymoshenko was pushed out under [former president Viktor] Yushchenko, she waited until she had another opportunity to come back to power; she is a tenacious lady and does not give up so easily.”

Motyl points out a fundamental and very recent shift in Ukrainian popular opinion that has escaped most outside observers. Most people, he says, expected Yanukovych to execute only the principal functions of a government, such as passing a budget, and then call for new parliamentary elections in autumn.

However, “a wholesale and still ongoing seizure of the administrative apparatus” by Yanukovych and the people around him “occurred within no more than a week after the formation of the government, leaving the country in shock,” says Motyl, “from the realization that these people [around Yanukovych] have failed to change [after five years in the political wilderness] and sowing fears that … in the worst case [they may revert] to unsavory aspects of [the regime of Belarusian dictator Aleksandar] Lukashenka.”

One of the first tests of the new government’s competence will be how it handles theIMF mission to Kiev this week, which will discuss reinstating the (suspended) fourth tranche of the bailout program.

This will be an indicator for future relations with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and, still more sensitively, the European Investment Bank. The advisory opinions of the European Parliament will have weight in these later decisions on the European level.

Source: ISN