EU ‘Should Offer Ukraine Protesters Lifeline’

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The EU needs to offer Ukrainian protesters a lifeline if the pro-accession movement is to survive the winter, MEP candidate Stefano Mallia has warned.

Stefano Mallia

Mr Mallia, who recently formed part of an EU delegation to the nation-wide protest, fears the hard-fought stand in favour of EU alignment may be extinguished by the harsh winter cold and dwindling media attention.

“The occupy movement is very well organised but there is a hidden sense of desperation. There isn’t much sense of hope and there are fears that the international community has lost interest. They need support,” Mr Mallia said.

The pro-EU movement has staged huge rallies in Kiev over the past several weeks after President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an association agreement with the EU following months of negotiation, apparently under strong pressure from Russia.

The protesters want Mr Yanukovych to hold an early election.

Their momentum has recently faltered however, especially after a $15 billion financial package, secured by Mr Yanukovych from Russian premier Vladimir Putin, pushed the country further away from European integration and closer towards maintaining its traditional ties with Russia.

There are fears that the international community has lost interest “The country has a longstanding relationship with Russia, especially President Yanukovych, who has toed the Kremlin’s line for years. The people, however, want a change in the way the country is run,” Mr Mallia said, adding that the protesters’ slogan was “change the system not the faces”.

He said President Yanukovych was strongly against an early election.

“Joining the EU will mean going through tough economic measures which will affect the country. We know what that can be like. The new Russian deal will see the Ukrainian President have enough money to make it to the end of his term without forcing any such measures.

“An early election would change that,” he said, adding protesters felt that a relationship with the EU would offer the transparency and accountability, the country needed.

Mr Mallia claimed the EU had played a poor hand on the Ukrainian front, forcing people to choose between Russian and European alignment.

“The harsh accession criterion the country has had to meet was not coupled with the promise of membership. Instead they were looking at an agreement with the EU. They need a light at the end of the tunnel. They need stronger support from the EU,” Mr Mallia said.

Mr Mallia’s delegation held talks with social partners in Independence Square – the venue of protests in Kiev – in an attempt to build a plan of action and offer support.

“The square was safe. The only danger was that if something happened, say a police surge, then you risked getting locked in the square as they shut wooden barricades."

“We held talks with all the unions and several members of the opposition. The only people missing were business leaders, who probably feared being arrested or ‘disappearing’,” Mr Mallia said, as he recalled discussions with Ukrainian opposition politician and former boxing heavyweight champion Wladamir Klitschko in one of the occupied government buildings.

Source: Times of Malta


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