Stefan Füle: Explanations are not enough
On the three areas vital for EU-Ukraine Association: fair elections, reform and an end to selective justice
Stefan Füle European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Speech at the meeting of the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee European Parliament, Strasbourg 14 June 2012
Thank you very much for inviting me to join you today. The European Union-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee is meeting at a critical moment in our relations, and I believe you can play a central role in helping to realise our common goals. A shared vision across political forces of a European, modern and democratic Ukraine is the best starting point for getting Ukraine back on track towards political association with the European Union.
Let us make no mistake – the European Union has ambitious plans for its relations with Ukraine. We have read reports, as I am sure you have, about the possibility of a “pause” in our relations. I cannot accept such an analysis. On the contrary, we believe it is more important than ever to maintain a very focused and continuous dialogue with Kyiv: it is not as if there is a shortage of things to talk about.
Let me put it in very simple terms – we want TRACTION and not DISTRACTION. I would prefer to spend my time talking about how to speed up reforms and how to support reforms, rather than fire-fighting and reacting to negative news stories which put Ukraine on the front pages but not in the way we would like to see.
At the last session of the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, you called for the soonest possible completion of the technical work on the Association Agreement. I am glad that we were able to initial the Agreement in March, and I can tell you that the technical and legal revision of the consolidated texts is going well. I would like to congratulate the Ukrainian negotiators for their efforts.
The result of this hard work is that we now have, on the table, one of the most ambitious and complex agreements the European Union has ever negotiated with a third country. We want to sign this Agreement – again let there be no mistake: signing the Agreement would open the way to a comprehensive programme of modernization, linked to enhanced support. It would be good for Ukraine, good for the European Union, and good for the Eastern Partnership. And it is even supported by Ukraine’s friends from further afield.
So how can we make signature happen? Well, the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee itself has clearly expressed the perspective for deepening our relations in the current climate. In your February recommendations you said “the more Ukraine will share common values with the European Union, and the more it will focus on the implementation of reforms, the deeper its relations with the European Union will gradually become”. I could not agree more.
I want to take up this point because it is very important: the European Union no longer wants explanations from Ukraine, it wants visible action, and in particular in three areas. These three areas are:
elections, where of course the proof of Ukraine’s commitment will be in the preparation and conduct of the parliamentary elections in October;
selective justice, where the proof will be in allowing those individuals convicted under demonstrably unfair prosecutions to have access to fair and transparent legal processes which would allow for the elimination of the consequences of political misuse of the judiciary; and
reforms, where the proof will be in an acceleration of the implementation of the Association Agenda.
Within these three areas there are some specific sectors and issues where I think we are succeeding in gaining traction and making progress. I have been encouraged by the commitment to develop and take forward a solid strategy on public financial management – this would help to open the way to resumption of our budgetary aid to Ukraine.
We are also in discussion about informal dialogues on the judiciary and the business climate. I believe Ukraine is also open to resuming substantive discussions on gas transit, linked to the long overdue reforms of Naftogaz. Ultimately the success of the initiative to modernise the Ukrainian Gas Transit System lies in Ukraine’s readiness to implement the agreed gas sector reform conditionalities.
There are other sectoral areas where technical work is continuing in the background, including of course in the context of our visa liberalization action plan. This work is all the more valuable because it keeps the European Union-Ukraine relationship alive and dynamic – I am speaking of areas like education, civil society support, transport and environment.
There is potential to build further on this work and to show that Ukraine is serious about progress on the Association Agenda. I think on parliamentary elections too we have had some encouraging signs which need to be followed through. I am glad that the OSCE- Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has completed its needs assessment report, and that the necessary preparations are being made for an observation mission. I am also glad that the Central Electoral Commission has said it understands the importance of the October elections being conducted according to international standards.
Whatever the results on elections and on reforms, we also expect Ukraine to deliver on the issue of selective justice. Let me repeat - explanations are not enough. The trials of Tymoshenko, Lutsenko, Ivashchenko and others were neither transparent nor fair. They were not conducted according to international standards. There was no impartiality of judges, and there was no equality of arms between prosecution and defence. This is not about personalities or political allegiances, but about a systemic problem. The articles of the Criminal Code on which the prosecutions were based should have been reviewed in close consultation with the Council of Europe, and the defendants themselves should not be in detention.
I am pleased that Kyiv has complied with the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights on the need to ensure adequate medical treatment in an appropriate institution for Yulia Tymoshenko; this was an important intermediary step but not a solution per se. Of course we are also pleased about the adoption of a new Criminal Procedure Code, as this aims to ensure a fair criminal process in the future. We look forward to seeing the adoption of complementary legislation related to the Office of the Public Prosecutor and on the Bar, the revision of the role of the High Council of Justice and amendments to the laws on the Judicial System and the Status of Judges in accordance with the recommendations made by the Venice Commission.
Whatever the political climate in Ukraine, these reforms require cross-party support if they are to succeed in fixing a systemic problem which will impact on the lives of all Ukrainians. I would like to express my sincere hope that you all will unite in swiftly adopting such fundamental reforms for the rule of law.
I cannot move from this point without also saying that the very public hints and revelations from the General Prosecutor’s office before the “United Energy Services” trial has even begun do not inspire confidence. Trial by media is in itself an abuse of justice. So we will be watching this new trial very closely, and of course we will be following the appeal processes and the findings of the European Court of Human Rights in relation to the other cases, with great attention. In consultation with the European Parliament we will also provide, as appropriate, support to the realization of the important initiatives agreed between President Schulz and Prime Minister Azarov related to monitoring of future legal proceedings and medical condition of those in detention.
Honourable members of the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, let me end with one final thought. During my time in this job I have obviously had many opportunities to meet with leaders of the government and opposition, but I have also met with many young people who speak frankly and with a lot of passion about their hopes and ambitions for their country. I can only remind them of my own experiences of a country in transition, and of one lesson in particular: that is that democracy is not just about party politics but also about unity in critical moments for the nation. I have to tell you that Ukraine’s friends are disappointed to see fighting in the Verkhovna Rada, or to hear parliamentarians openly call each other liars and criminals. And the public in the European Union are quite simply confused. They ask themselves how constitutional reform, judicial reform and other critical reforms which need consensus to work, can possibly succeed in such an environment.
The Parliamentary Cooperation Committee’s discussions and recommendations, Distinguished Co-chairmen, have always supported the course of European integration, the Rule of Law, and the development of democracy in Ukraine. I hope you will also use your influence and your experience to encourage a cross-party effort for the benefit of Ukraine and for the benefit of our relations. We must live up to this historic opportunity to realize our enormous potential in political association and economic integration. This is about creating opportunities for our future – let us not squander them. You can count on my strong support.