Ukraine: a land of opportunity?
This article by David Lidington Minister for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office originally appeared in the Ukrainian newspaper "Den"on 5 April.
Hosting Euro 2012 in June should be a once in a generation opportunity for Ukraine to showcase its European credentials and a chance to show how far Ukraine has come since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine has made great gains in democracy, human rights and media freedoms since 1991. But most Ukrainians want even more progress, looking forward to ever closer political and economic ties with the European Union and the better living standards such ties would bring. Many are concerned by recent political developments, corruption and the influence of powerful business interests.
The planned Association Agreement and the associated Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement are at the heart of efforts to build even closer and mutually beneficial links between Europe and Ukraine. It is good news that the European Union and the Ukrainian Government initialled the Association Agreement on 30 March after many months of painstaking and detailed negotiations. It is a groundbreaking agreement and goes beyond similar agreements that the European Union has agreed in the past. And yet we need to be honest about what this step means. Initialling is a technical procedure, which closes the text of the Association Agreement. It is an important step; the Association Agreement cannot now be amended further and is ready for implementation. But initialling does not open the door to implementation.
There are two further steps – signature and ratification - before implementation can start. The Agreement’s signature requires a Council decision; that means every single Member State must agree to this step. Then no less than thirty parliaments – the Verkhovna Rada, the European Parliament and the parliaments of the existing 27 Member States plus Croatia’s –must all ratify the Agreement. It is clear, I think, that this is neither an easy nor a quick process. Even the provisional application of the Community Competence elements of the Association Agreement –or put simply, some of the trade provisions - would require a unanimous Council decision and ratification by the European Parliament.
The British Government wants the Association Agreement to be implemented. I say that unequivocally. It will bring benefits to Ukraine in terms of greater access to the European single market (the largest market in the world in terms of total GDP), lower priced consumer goods, higher levels of foreign investment - bringing more jobs, higher skills and modern technologies - and a better business climate. It will bring greater competition for Ukrainian producers – and some will fail as a result - but others will benefit from lower priced imports, making them more competitive not only in the Ukrainian market but also improving their access to third country markets. British and other European companies will benefit as well by being able to do business in Ukraine in a more transparent and open market. So the Association Agreement is a win-win solution for both Ukraine and Europe.
This all sounds very positive. And it is. But there is a snag; the Association Agreement is unlikely to be signed and ratified unless opposition leaders jailed as a result of flawed trials are freed and permitted to participate in politics. Some argue that we should not hold a country’s fortune hostage to the fate of individuals. Our concerns are not about individual cases but about systemic problems with selective justice and the independence of the judiciary. Such concerns call in to question the commitment of Ukraine’s government to the European values and norms that underpin the Association Agreement and our wider relations.
It is against this background that Ukraine’s parliamentary elections in October 2012 take on particular importance. As five European Foreign Ministers including William Hague wrote in early March, these elections are a litmus test for democracy in Ukraine. The eyes of the world will be focussed on Ukraine in the hope that the elections will be free and fair. I strongly welcome the early invitation that the Ukrainian government has sent to the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights paving the way for a long-term monitoring mission to observe October’s elections. The UK is committed to providing significant support to this mission as part of our ongoing efforts to support Ukraine’s further democratic development.
The UK shares Ukraine’s European aspirations. We recognise that introducing reforms can be difficult and take time. But we also recognise that such reforms are necessary to transform Ukraine into the vibrant, democratic and successful country that Ukrainians want and deserve. We therefore hope that Ukrainian governments –today and in the future- will have the courage to take political decisions that will allow the Association Agreement to take effect and to release Ukraine’s economic and democratic potential.