At their meeting on 10 December, the Council of Foreign Ministers of EU Countries agreed Conclusions on Ukraine which set out conditions for the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
Judging by coverage in the Ukrainian media it seems likely that the conclusions will not lead to any change in the current regime’s behaviour, but may be used to blur fundamental issues. The conditions put forward are for a reliable electoral system to be established, through consultation with the opposition; elimination of selective justice, including enforcement of European Court of Human Rights judgements; and economic reform in preparation for a free trade zone with the EU.
Over recent weeks President Yanukovych has made many hints regarding readiness to “partially” join the CIS Customs Union, and the statement on 10 December may have been aimed at countering that.
The present regime is showing absolutely no inclination to rectify the situation with selective justice. It has also just succeeded in holding elections which were condemned as the worst elections since 2004 (by the Head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU]) and as not meeting democratic standards by virtually all domestic and international observers. The Council of Ministers has called on Ukraine to implement the final recommendations from the OSCE – ODIHR and has mentioned that they will follow the situation in 5 disputed constituencies where new elections are to be held. There are, however, more constituencies where the outcome could be disputed. More importantly, the electoral legislation which the ruling party pushed through despite serious criticism from authoritative bodies, including the Venice Commission, was in itself an enormous step backwards. Nor are fair elections compatible with imprisonment of two of the key opposition leaders. There was also rampant abuse of administrative resources and distortion of media coverage, especially on the State-owned UTV-1.
It is difficult to know what the EU can do. However any demands now to implement recommendations will in the main refer to elections due at a much later stage. Since the irregularities at the parliamentary elections were aimed at ensuring a controllable parliament, changes made up to two years before the next – presidential – elections would neither cancel the shenanigans nor necessarily guarantee that they would not reoccur.
This would become apparent only much later. The stumbling block right now remains the entirely unequivocal statements regarding selective justice, for example:
“The Council expects the authorities to address the cases of politically motivated convictions without delay as well as to take further steps to reform the judiciary to prevent any recurrence.In this context”.
Such statements, given the current Administration’s track record, make it difficult to believe headlines stating that the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement may be signed in 2013. The situation is profoundly frustrating since the EU can no longer be accused of ambiguity or woolly statements. It clearly identifies the conditions which must be fulfilled making the “newsworthiness” of the document limited. The ball, after all, remains in President Yanukovych’s court.
Certain organizations in Ukraine are calling on the EU to sign the Agreement anyway. They assert among other things that Ukraine’s people should not suffer because of their leaders’ actions. .Yanukovych’s statements about the Customs Union, as well as other examples of Russia’s growing influence can also be felt both in these calls and in the behaviour of EU officials.
It is surely unlikely that EU leaders would wish to explain to citizens of EU countries why a blind eye has been turned to flagrant infringements of basic principles of democracy and rule of law. It seems equally improbable that Ukraine’s leaders would take this as a spur to real democratic development. Unfortunately, quite the contrary.