Europe And Ukraine: So Close Yet So Far

Ukraine is only six months away from the possibility of signing a trade and cooperation pact with the European Union known as the Association Agreement. How much progress has been made in preparations for this important milestone? 

The European Union continues making the necessary steps to move forward with signing the trade and political cooperation agreement with Ukraine. This week the European Commission supported the proposal, passing the matter on to the European Council for a final decision.

“The EU has underlined that it will only sign if Ukraine creates the necessary political circumstances,” The European Commission said in a statement issued on May 15th.

The imprisonment of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has brought much criticism from the West and the issue has posed an obstacle on the road to the signing.

The EU has repeatedly requested that Ukraine’s authorities address the cases of selective justice – otherwise known as political persecution – as well as other conditions to improve the country’s legislative and electoral regulations and bring it closer to European standards.

The Association Agreement with the EU would deepen political and economic ties between Ukraine and Europe, and would provide Ukraine better conditions for economic cooperation and better access to the EU Internal Market.

The signing, scheduled to take place at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, Lithuania in November, is far from a done deal.

Brussels wants Ukraine to address the issue of Tymoshenko’s seven-year prison sentence, levied upon her as part of a political vendetta by current president Victor Yanukovych.

While it’s unlikely that Yanukovych will set Tymoshenko free (according to the latest reports he said he cannot order Tymoshenko’s release because she also faces trial on tax evasion and embezzlement charges and is under investigation in a murder case) the government makes an effort to show progress in other areas, such as modernizing legislations. It almost seems as if Yanukovych hopes to impress the EU by his success in other areas of his ‘homework’ – as European parliament’s members commonly refer to the conditions Ukraine must meet – and would overlook the fact that the opposition leader remains in jail.

Ukraine has its supporters in Europe. Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague, who, after meeting with Leonid Kozhara, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said in a joint statement that “Ukraine belongs to the European family of States” and “the UK re-affirmed its support for Ukraine’s efforts to make the necessary reforms to allow signature of the mutually beneficial EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.”

Strong support but perhaps not enough. “It is now up to the Ukrainian authorities to address the outstanding issues in order to enable the signing of the Agreement,” read the statement issued by the European Commission.

Will the EU accept Ukraine’s incomplete homework? Will Ukraine’s government make the final important move? This tug war has become risky. After all, this is not just a power struggle, this will affect the future of Ukraine and 45.7 mln Ukrainains.

Forbes,  5/17/2013

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