Ukrainian president gives “unequivocal commitment” to make reforms demanded by the EU by May, as price for an association agreement.
The EU today said that it is prepared to provide Ukraine with financial support worth €610 million if it can secure the support of the International Monetary Fund.
The pledge, which would help Ukraine meet payments to foreign creditors, was the principal outcome of a delayed summit between the EU and Ukraine.
However, the focus of the meeting was on efforts to conclude an association agreement, including a ‘deep and comprehensive free-trade agreement', by November, when the EU will hold a summit with the six countries that belong to the EU's Eastern Partnership.
Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, said that the EU needed to see “determined action” by Ukraine “by the latest by May this year” if the association agreement were to be signed “by the time” of the Eastern Partnership summit in November.
Van Rompuy said that “there is now a historic opportunity to make a leap” in relations. That sentiment was underscored by José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, who put the association agreement in a regional context, saying that the summit came as “a moment of definition for our relations with our eastern partners”.
Going into the summit, EU officials said that the EU was looking for signs of “unequivocal commitment” to implement a set of reforms specifically related to the association agreement, but also to reforms in two other areas, the judiciary and electoral law.
After the summit, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, said that Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych had given an “unequivocal commitment”.
The meeting summit lasted significantly longer than anticipated, because, officials said, tête-à-tête meetings without the presidents' entourages were prolonged.
Van Rompuy and Barroso placed particular emphasis on the need to address the problem of “selective justice”, a reference to prison sentences handed down over the past 16 months to former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and three members of her cabinet. All were accused of abuse of office.
The EU's long-standing description of the cases as examples of selective justice reflects its view that political considerations were a factor in the cases brought against the four.
The jailing of Tymoshenko – and her alleged mistreatment in prison – prompted the cancellation of an international summit in Ukraine last May after 13 of 20 presidents and prime ministers refused to attend. Officially, the decision by the EU not to hold a summit with Ukraine last year was because of planning difficulties caused by Ukraine's parliamentary elections in late October. There was, however, a belief in Kiev that the delay was another expression of political unhappiness at the Tymoshenko case.
EU officials have described the Tymoshenko issue as politically the most complex issue and legally the most delicate.
Heorhiy Filipchuk and Valeriy Ivashchenko have since been released, but Tymoshenko remains in prison, serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of office, and faces charges of tax evasion. She is also facing questioning for suspected involvement in the murder in 1996 of a politician. The other, Yuriy Lutsenko, is serving a four-year jail term.
A group established by the European Parliament – led by Aleksander Kwaśniewski, a former Polish president, and Pat Cox, a former president of the European Parliament – is monitoring how the Tymoshenko and Lutsenko cases are being handled. The two men have so far made 12 visits to Ukraine.
EU officials say that one of the purposes of other reforms to Ukraine's law-and-order system demanded by the EU is to ensure that there is no recurrence of cases of ‘selective justice'. Steps taken by Ukraine include the adoption and implementation of a new code on criminal proceedings. But the EU also wants the police force to be reformed and the implementation of a set of laws that, according to the EU, would amount to “comprehensive reform of the judiciary”. These include laws on the functioning of the prosecutor's office, high-court justices, the judicial system and the status of judges. A May deadline
Van Rompuy's call for “determined action” by May will put Ukraine under intense pressure to accelerate reforms.
Speaking in December, a senior EU official said that “only lately have we gained some traction”.
The EU's drive for an agreement in Vilnius – described by an EU diplomat as “a dynamic agenda of sequenced engagement” – is being made against the backdrop of ongoing Russian efforts to persuade Ukraine to join its newly established Eurasian Customs Union, a free-trade area grouping Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Barroso today made clear that Ukraine could not join a Customs Union and sign a ‘deep and comprehensive free-trade agreement' with the EU. “This is not an option,” he said, though he said that there were other “pragmatic ways” that Ukraine could co-operate with the Customs Union. Ukraine says that Russia is insisting that only full membership of the Customs Union is possible.
Ukraine's relationships with two other neighbours – Belarus and Transdniestria, a breakaway region of Moldova – were touched on. The EU hopes that Ukraine will be able to use its chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to bring new impetus to the international process of determining the status of Transdniestria, which broke away from Moldova after a brief war in 1992.
Yanukovych, who said he was “on the whole...satisfied with the outcome” of the summit, said that “special attention” had been paid to the issue of visas for Ukrainians.
Barroso said that he hoped that an agreement on easing visa restrictions on particular groups would be agreed in the first half of this year. A separate, broader process could eventually lead to all visa restrictions being removed. The EU is currently assessing whether Ukraine has taken legislative steps that it has demanded. These would then need to be implemented.
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