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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
Address to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Club
EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Club
Strasbourg, 5 July 2011
Thank you for inviting me to address you today. I attach a very high priority to establishing and maintaining links with members of both the European Parliament and the Verkhovna Rada: both houses have a vital role to play in taking forward the ambitious agenda which has been established for EU-Ukraine relations. It has never been more important that the two parliaments should establish close links with each other, not only through formal structures such as the Parliamentary Co-operation Committee, but through more informal groupings as well.
I think you have chosen the right moment to deepen your co-operation. 2011 is a critical year for EU-Ukraine relations. The 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, the 20th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, and, I hope, the finalization of our Association Agreement, are all putting Ukraine in the spotlight. We need to seize the opportunity provided by this attention and accelerate our work on political association, economic integration and sustainable reform – I count on your support for that.
Of course it is for you to determine the priorities of your joint activities in the year ahead, but I would like to signal a few areas that are especially important from my own perspective:
The first area is reform: by encouraging an open and transparent approach to the most important reforms in Ukraine, such as those of the constitution, the election system and the judiciary, we believe that we can improve the chances of getting it right with the new legal and institutional frameworks. This means that all political forces, as well as civil society, need to be involved in the process.
At the same time we also need to listen to trusted outside bodies with experience and useful advice to give: an example of this would be the Venice Commission in the case of the new electoral law, or the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) for anti-corruption legislation. In the case of public procurement, where effective legislation also helps to fight corruption, we also hope that outside advice has been taken and that the legislation finally adopted by Parliament will meet international standards.
Rapid progress on these critical reforms, with broad public understanding and support, will create the right atmosphere for the endgame of our negotiations: as far as I am concerned it is our top short-term priority. And let me add that an active and well-informed parliament is a critical tool for delivering the ambitious and realistic set of reforms we want.
The second area I want to signal is sharing information and impressions. We have of course a number of important “set piece” encounters with Ukraine every year, from the Summit all the way down to the various technical subcommittees where officials discuss issues such as Research, Home Affairs and Transport. But formal dialogues only take us part of the way towards understanding each other, and especially towards understanding the most important ambitions and anxieties on each side. For this reason, I would urge you to keep your contacts open and also to share your impressions with other stakeholders, including of course me and my staff.
The third area is communication to the public. Members of the European Parliament and members of the Verkhovna Rada will share the heavy responsibility of ratifying our new Agreement, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. At the same time you are accountable to your voters and will need to persuade them that the Agreement makes sense for both sides. This is a process that needs to begin now, but it is for you to prepare the arguments according to your own political vision. I would simply identify three key aspects of the Agreement – firstly, that it will anchor Ukraine to a solid programme of reforms built around the EU acquis; secondly that it will create new opportunities for economic development and investment, and thirdly that it will help to meet some of the most important shared aspirations of Ukrainian citizens in areas such as mobility and the modernisation of public services.
I know that there are issues where parliamentarians from different backgrounds will not agree, and we should not pretend these do not exist. We are all aware of the differences of opinion which exist now regarding judicial measures against members of the former government in Ukraine. You are in particular aware of our serious concern at reports that the judiciary is being used for political ends. On these differences of opinion, I would ask you to use all your influence to encourage the most transparent and open approach from all actors, and to guarantee that the judiciary operates in an impartial way. Ukraine needs an inclusive approach if long-lasting reforms are to be established, but as a counterweight it also of course needs a constructive approach from opposition forces: both sides have rights but they also have responsibilities.
Let me end by saying that Ukraine and the EU will need champions of our close relationship, both in Strasbourg and in Kyiv, and also in the 27 EU capitals. In Strasbourg, we need voices to keep up interest in the ratification and implementation of our Agreement, our Visa Action Plan, and other essential steps. In Kyiv, we need friends who lend their full support to the reform agenda and who will speak up for the underlying advantages for Ukraine of political association and economic integration with the EU. They will also remind citizens that deepening relations with the EU does not mean closing the door to other strategic partners. I hope you will continue working together and that you will share with us the lessons you learn from your dialogue.
Thank you very much for your attention.