Sunday, 4 December 2011

Ukraine European Union Soup ‘Turns Toxic’

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Ukraine’s European integration process may be derailed if the authorities continue to keep opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko in jail, according to the European Policy Center, a Brussels-based think tank.
Ukraine and the European Union are due to hold a summit on December 19 in Kiev at which a political association and free trade agreement were supposed to be initialed.

“With just over three weeks until the EU-Ukraine Summit, the future of EU-Ukraine relations hangs in the balance,” Amanda Paul, an analyst at the European Policy Center, wrote for EU Observer.

“The trial and imprisonment of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko for abuse of power while in office has turned Ukraine’s EU soup toxic,” Paul said.

Ukraine has been a significant factor behind the EU’s progressively increased engagement in its eastern neighborhood, with Kiev repeatedly pushing the EU to bring more to the table.

While a clear EU membership perspective has been off the menu, Association Agreements, Deep and Comprehensive and Free Trade Areas (DCFTA) and visa liberalization have been proffered.

Indeed, all the other countries in the region have gained from Ukraine’s endeavors.

“Unfortunately, it would now seem there is a real possibility that while all the others (except Belarus) continue to have progressive relationships with the EU, Kiev's European integration process risks derailment,” Paul said.

Not only has it damaged Ukraine's image, it has given those that have always opposed Ukraine's further integration with the EU, ammunition to block Kiev.

The EU has always been adamant the Tymoshenko case is politically motivated and therefore linked signature of the Association Agreement to the case, signaling it expected Ukraine's President, Viktor Yanukovych, to find a way to release Tymoshenko and allow her to re-enter political life.

Yanukovych has claimed that if he pressures the judge he would directly violate independence of judiciary, although few believe in the independence of Ukrainian courts any way.
Moreover by doing this, the EU has contradicted itself by demanding independence of the judiciary while at the same time suggesting Yanukovych should intervene.

The Tymoshenko case is currently in the Court of Appeals.

While the court is due to give a verdict in December, it is unclear whether or not this will be before the December 19 summit.

Furthermore, it seems unlikely that Tymoshenko will be released, not least because of new charges brought against her for her involvement in the Scherban murder case.

However, in light of what is at stake in terms of the EU’s relationship with a key strategic partner, and more broadly for its entire Eastern Partnership policy, it seems that most member states are prepared to initial the agreement - signature will almost certainly not happen until after Ukraine's crucial Parliamentary elections in October 2012.

“However, while France is still wavering, Germany, which has recently been pushing for closer relations with Russia, is continuing to insist that Tymoshenko's release must be a pre-condition,” Paul said.

Moreover, the EU should take a look at the approach of its own institutions which often display an unprincipled approach, in particular in the European Parliament.

The European Peoples Party (EPP) seems to be demonstrating a policy of supporting its members.

“The EU will gain nothing from disengaging with Kiev other than helping to contribute to an increasingly unpredictable and unstable Ukraine, which will only serve to undermine its policy to increase democracy and freedoms in this region,” Paul said.

The EU should not delay the Association Agreement which ideally should also include a reference to Article 49, allowing Ukraine to join the EU in the future.
Indeed, the EU should create a specific monitoring instrument to ensure Kiev’s commitment in this area which could also be presented at the December summit.

“When real incentives are put on the table, progress usually happens,” Paul said.

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