European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
EU-Ukraine Relations: future expectations
Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv
Kyiv, 22 April 2010
Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for giving me the opportunity today to address you on the important issue of the developing relationship between the European Union and Ukraine.
It gives me particular pleasure to speak at this university which for more than 170 years has served as a seat of learning and excellence. It is a particular privilege to address an audience of students as well as academic staff. It is always important to remember that the decisions we take today about the future of relations between the EU and Ukraine will impact first and foremost on you – the up and coming generation - and on your children.
I should like to use this opportunity to outline briefly how relations between the EU and Ukraine have developed in recent years; what the main challenges and opportunities are for us today and finally where I believe that we should be going. I hope then to have an exchange of views with you on some of the issues I cover.
Let me start with a statement which, while perhaps obvious to the seasoned observer of EU-Ukraine relations, bears repetition. The EU and Ukraine are enormously important to each other. There is a natural and inevitable dynamic in our relations, based on mutual interest, which draws us closer together. Let me just recall some raw figures. The EU brings together some 500 million citizens. Taken together the economies of the EU Member States represent the largest economy in the world providing about a 5th of gross world product. The EU has enormous economic, intellectual and investment potential which still remains to be fully exploited. The EU is Ukraine’s largest trading partner, representing one third of Ukraine’s exports. The EU and Ukraine share four common borders.
For its part, Ukraine with a population of 46 million and the second largest land mass among European nations, has a huge industrial, agricultural and human force and a much greater potential. Its democracy is developing dynamically – not only because of its record of holding elections in accordance with international standards but also due to its increasingly dynamic civil society and the possibilities of open public debate on issues of key importance to the future of the country.
Relations since 1991
With this in mind, the relationship between the EU and Ukraine has developed rapidly since Ukraine’s independence in 1991. Essentially this relationship has been based upon the notions of partnership and cooperation, enshrined in a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in force since 1998.
In practice this has meant the development of close political and economic ties between the EU and Ukraine at every level.
We have underpinned our cooperation with extensive financial and technical support. The EU is the largest single donor to Ukraine. Since 1991, the EU has provided approximately €2.5 billion to Ukraine in the form of grants.
Developing relations today
In recent years the relationship has developed a new and more ambitious dynamic. This was expressed most clearly at the EU-Ukraine Summit in September 2008. On that occasion the leaders of the EU and of Ukraine recognised that the new agreement, the negotiations for which were already well advanced, should aim at political association and economic integration. Consequently they named the draft Agreement an “Association Agreement”. They also underlined the “shared values and common history” between the EU and Ukraine. And they announced the decision to launch a visa dialogue aiming to establish in the long term a visa free regime for short stays.
How does this new ambitious vision of EU-Ukraine relations translate into practice? The notion of political association goes beyond existing partnership and cooperation arrangements in a number of ways. Essentially it invites both sides to expand the scope and the depth of their collaboration. This can range from the area of Foreign and Security Policy where already we enjoy close coordination (Ukraine aligns itself with more than 90% of EU positions on external relations issues). It also covers the “common values” that we share and which the leaders pointed to at the 2008 summit in Paris.
These common values include respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles. They have always shaped the relationship between the EU and Ukraine, but today their importance is even greater. We regularly stress that the pace of rapprochement with the EU will be determined by the pace and depth of reforms in our partner countries particular in the area of respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic values. We say this not just because we believe that these values are good in themselves; rather we are driven by the belief that respect for these principles is fundamental to our own and to our neighbours’ future stability and prosperity.
The challenge for us all is to unleash the potential of our people to shape their lives and to contribute to the development of dynamic, competitive and innovative societies. How can this be achieved if freedom of expression or association, or the right to education are not respected? How can this be achieved without an effective, independent and trusted judiciary to up-hold rights and ensure basic concepts of fairness? How can this be achieved if certain groups, because of their ethnicity, religion, language or belief are excluded from the same benefits which mainstream society enjoys?
Political Association also encompasses the notion of deepening our existing sectoral cooperation. The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement which we are currently negotiating covers not only purely economic issues but also areas such as transport, environment; justice, security and liberty and regional development.
Turning to the issue of economic integration, I believe that the new Agreement will provide the means for a radical transformation of our relationship. As you may be aware, the Agreement includes as an integral part a deep and comprehensive free trade area, which simply means economic integration with the EU. You are certainly familiar with the classic free trade area by which countries agree to remove tariffs and grant each other preferences on goods and services traded between them.
The deep and comprehensive free trade area goes much further than this. In addition to mutual opening of markets for goods and services, the deep and comprehensive free trade area involves making Ukrainian norms and standards in certain areas compatible with those of the EU. As such it will extend the key principles of the EU’s internal market to Ukraine providing clear benefits for domestic and foreign investors and entrepreneurs; consumers; innovators such as artists and inventors and also to Ukraine’s central and local government authorities.
A further major innovation announced at the Paris Summit, was the launch of a visa dialogue aiming at establishing a visa free regime for Ukrainian citizens travelling to the EU for short stays. Since 2008 a Visa Facilitation Agreement has been in force which has had a positive effect for Ukrainian citizens wishing to travel to the EU. This has resulted in a reduced visa fee for all citizens, fee waivers for over a third of visa applicants and wider issuing of multiple-entry visas for certain categories such as journalists, businesspeople, family members of Ukrainians living in the EU and, last but not least, regular participants in academic exchange programmes of up to 3 months. These are concrete steps and tangible achievements.
The ultimate goal is to remove visas for Ukrainian citizens for short term travel to the EU entirely just as the EU citizens can travel freely to Ukraine today. But there is still a great deal of work to do before we can reach this point. We need to be certain that the appropriate systems and procedures are in place to ensure that those that wish legitimately to travel to the EU can do so, while preventing irregular migration flows or trafficking of persons. I am ambitious and optimistic in the regard. The EU will continue to assist Ukraine in implementing appropriate migration management systems. Nevertheless ultimately the issue will depend on the readiness of the authorities to move swiftly forward on reforms in this area.
Let me underline here that our efforts in all of the areas I have just described are strongly supported by the Eastern Partnership launched last May in Prague. Moreover through the comprehensive institution building facility established under the bilateral track of the Eastern Partnership we will be able to support the administrative capacity of key Ukrainian ministries. In addition the multilateral track will facilitate exchanges of experience and expertise between EU Member States and the 6 countries of the Eastern Partnership in areas such as democratisation; economic development; environmental protection; energy and integrated border management.
Both the EU and Ukraine face many challenges today. The effects of the economic and financial crisis continue to be felt throughout Europe both in Brussels and in Kyiv. The leaders of the EU have recognised that recovery depends on decisive and sometime painful actions on their part.
Ukraine faces similarly critical challenges. You are certainly more familiar with these than I. On the economic front, macro-financial stability is critical. Budgetary reforms, reforms in the gas sector, efforts to combat corruption and to improve the business and investment climate cannot be put off. At the political level, there is a need to ensure stability, while continuing to promote democratic reforms, respect for human rights and in particular the rule of law.
I have spoken today of partnership, cooperation, political association and economic integration. I have spoken of the commitment to a further deepening of relations between the EU and Ukraine. This would be meaningless, if I did not also say that the EU will support Ukraine in carrying out reforms. We will underpin reform efforts through our technical and financial assistance. Where possible we will respond to reform measures by further support and by promoting Ukraine’s case with international partners.
Once more we do not do so just because we consider this is right. We do so because we are convinced that closer ties between the EU and Ukraine will be to the benefit of us all: to our citizens, to our businesses and investors, to partners in civil society and above all to the future generation.
There is at present an enormous potential for the EU and Ukraine to come closer together. There is considerable good will on both sides. The offer from the EU side is practical and contains tangible potential benefits for both sides. It is for the Ukrainians to seize this opportunity by carrying out reforms which will take forward the process of European integration.