EU-Ukraine Summit 2011
The fifteenth EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv was expected to produce a major breakthrough in their bilateral relationship – the initialling of the Association Agreement (AA) containing a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), which was in the works for the past four years. Just few months ago the Ukrainian officials confidently pledged to pass this stage by the end of the year. Instead, the summit on December 19, 2011 became an embarassment for the Ukrainian authorities and an opportunity for Europeans to show their principled side. The initialing of AA was postponed until the resolution of all the “technical difficulties” that suddenly emerged in finalizing the text of agreement. At the same time, the president of the European Council Herman van Rompuy and the president of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso made abundantly clear that its signing will be conditional on the end to authoritarian practices by the Ukrainian authorities.
When negotiations on the AA started in early 2007 the main sticking point in the bilarateral relationship was the capacity of Ukraine’s fractured ruling elite to implement the required legislative changes and economic regulations. By the end of Yushchenko’s presidency in late 2009 EU officials experessed satisfaction with the progress on political and security dimensions of AA, but the key issues related to establishing a free trade zone with EU remained unresolved. The centralization of political power under President Yanukovych allowed the Ukrainian government to pass through the loyal parliament a number of critical legislative changes related to the improvement of product safety standards, procurement procedures and cutting excessive business regulations. This accelerated the talks on DCFTA, which were successfully completed in October 2011. Centralization of power under Yanukovych, however, also meant further weakening of institutional accountability, growing high-level corruption and a crackdown on the opposition. Authoritarian tendencies of the Ukrainian authorities became clear during 2010 local elections, which were conducted in a manner strongly favoring the new party of power – the Party of Regions. By the end of 2010 several opposition leaders found themselves either arrested or under criminal investigations. The case against former Prime Minister and a presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko drew most attention both due her personal international visibility and the absurdity of charges brought against her. The Ukrainian authorities seemingly ignored repeated warnings from top European and American officials, including a joint letter of EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, characterizing the charges against Tymoshenko and other opposition figures as politically motivated and demanding their release. At the annual Yalta European Strategy meeting in September 2011 EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy Stephan Fule linked the future signing of AA with Ukraine to Tymoshenko’s release and her participation in the next election. Since the two sides had by then almost finalized their talks over DCFTA, the AA could have been initialed during EU-Ukraine summit in December. While Yanukovych argued in Yalta that Tymoshenko’s case was part of a broader government initiative to fight corruption, he also hinted that the Ukrainian parliament could introduce amendments to the Criminal Code decriminalizing her offense. However, once the court later sentenced Tymoshenko to seven years in prison the leaders of a pro-presidential majority in the parliament rejected the possibility of making any legislative changes that would allow her release. Furthermore, following EU’s public refusal to recognize the court’s verdict Yanukovych issued a public demand to include the prospect of Ukraine’s EU membership into the text of AA as Ukraine’s condition for its signing. Given that the EU consistently dismissed this demand throughout the talks, Yanukovych’s ultimatum became a possible face-saving measure for the Ukrainian authorities to explain the failure to complete AA, as promised, by the end of 2010. Yanukovych’s strategy hinged on the conviction expressed by several high-raking Ukrainian diplomats and officials that the EU was too interested in gaining access to Ukraine’s market to let the agreement fail. In a way, Ukrainian authorities thought that the EU was bluffing with their political demands and would compromise in the end. At the same time, the debate within the EU centered on whether the initialing would give Europeans better leverage in preventing Yanukovych’s further authoritarian regression and stop his slide to Russia. Those favoring a rapid initialing felt that the signing of AA would then become a carrot that the EU could offer in return for ensuring a level playing field during 2012 parliamentary election. As the British Ambassador to Ukraine Leigh Turner argued, the AA would not go into effect until the European Council agrees to sign it and this would require all EU member states to decide that “Ukraine is a democratic country and is working in a democratic way.” Moreover, as he stressed, the agreement would then have to be ratified by all the national parliaments of EU members and that would happen only “if they are confident that Ukraine can play by the rules of the European Union.” Those opposed to initialing during 2011 summit argued that the Ukrainian authorities could publicly present it as a sign of EU’s approval of a continued persecution of the opposition and could use the agreement to boost their declining domestic support.0 In the final hour, a more cautious strategy of dealing with Ukraine won the day. European leaders decided to avoid sending any signals that could be somehow misconstrued. Their key message to the Ukrainian ruling elites and the public during the summit centered on the need to reform a politically-motivated and selectively-applied justice system, with Tymoshenko’s case presented as its most striking example. As Barroso noted in his final remarks following a meeting with Yanukovych, “the time and pace for the next steps in the formalization of the Association Agreement will be determined by political developments in Ukraine.”This means that the AA is likely to be initialed in the coming months in a low-key manner, while the prospects of its signing will depend on the fate of Ukrainian political prisoners and their ability to participate in the upcoming parliamentary campaign. Serhiy Kudelia is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Eurasian Studies at the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (IERES) at GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs. He is also a Professorial Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University/SAIS. Earlier, he held teaching and research positions at the University of Toronto and Ukraine’s Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Kudelia worked as an advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine in 2008-2009.