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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Speech: Address to the Members of the Ukrainian Parliament
Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) Kiev, Ukraine
7 February 2013
Honourable members of the Verkhovna Rada,
It is a real pleasure to be here in Kyiv and to be able to address you in this important venue, the Verkhovna Rada, the cradle of Ukrainian democracy, at this important moment in relations between the European Union and Ukraine.
I have been to Ukraine many times – [seven, if I remember correctly] - since I took office as Commissioner back in 2010, but this visit feels particularly timely and also necessary!
Inclusive and bi-partisan association with the EU
It is very important for me personally to be able to come and speak to such a large number of directly elected members of the assembly. All main Ukrainian political parties are present and I have an important message from the European Union. A message which expands on the one I conveyed earlier today to the government - we would like the process of political association and economic integration with the European Union to be inclusive, building on the contribution of all parties. The newly elected Parliament still has to set its agendas and formulate its visions, so I am glad that my intervention comes at the very beginning of your tenure.
I would like to focus my intervention on the present and on the near future. I not only say “near future” but "common future" because this is what is on the table.
But what kind of future is it if it does not offer a reflection of the past. The last year was difficult in European Union-Ukraine relations. It was marked by leaders of the opposition facing trials whose conduct fell short of international standards or parliamentary elections which showed a mixed picture, with several shortcomings. These need to be dealt with in order not to poison the future.
You all have a special responsibility for Ukraine's European Union agenda. That involves a large volume of legislation but also an important role in monitoring its progress. This house offers a unique platform for public discussion on important issues. It is your house and it is your citizens that walk the European Union path with you.
At this point I would make a personal remark. I realised that the Verkhovna Rada is not working as it should, legislation is not being adopted as it should and as the citizens expect. I am not here to make an assessment on what is going on in Verkhovna Rada. But I will make a personal reflection on representative democracy where it is extremely important not to cheat on democracy by letting those votes be cast when representatives are not present in parliament.
It may appear to be a difficult path, because the European Union is based on legislation that emerges from what might seem cumbersome processes and complicated structures. But it is a system and structure that is based on understanding of common future and destiny, where “compromise” is not a bad word, but the way to achieve it.
The rules are clear and are based on our core shared values and principles - freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.
A key role for parliament
The way for Ukraine to come closer to a decision about its European Union future will not be through political declarations, but through aligning to European norms and policies. If you want political association and economic integration, it is crucial that you bring your legislation into line with European Union provisions. And if you have the ambition one day to shape the EU and its legislation, you have no other way to do it but through full alignment. There is no room for cherry picking.
Let me give you a concrete example: Procurement Law. The result of any legislative process should not just result in a law called "procurement". It should result in procurement rules that are also compatible with European Union requirements. That is what matters. If the legislation only does half the job then it is not half a success, it is a failure and a step backwards. None of us wants to see hard work wasted in this way.
An Association Agreement of opportunities
We are not starting from scratch. The framework for Ukraine’s political association and economic integration with the European Union already exists. After more than five years of hard negotiations, we have finalized the most advanced Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area that the European Union has ever negotiated with any third country. This is a sign of our special relationship and of our special commitment towards the Ukrainian people and their representatives.
Economic integration with the European Union would provide for significant new economic opportunities, opening markets for Ukrainian products and services to the biggest internal market in the world, creating economic growth and jobs and increasing Ukraine's competitiveness.
The good news is that signature of the Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area is tangibly within reach. We have concrete criteria and a concrete time perspective which would enable the European Union to sign the agreement.
I want to take this opportunity to answer a question which was and remains very much in public debate and beyond. What does this Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area mean for Ukraine’s relations and, in particular, for trade interests with other countries or groupings in the region?
Ukraine is already participating in the Commonwealth of Independent States Free Trade Area and is free – indeed encouraged - to conclude free trade areas with other partners. However, it is also clear that joining any structure which would imply transferring your own ability to set tariffs and define your own trade policy to a supranational body – would mean that Ukraine would no longer be able to implement the tariff dismantling agreed with the European Union in the context of the DCFTA. It would also not be able anymore to regulate areas such as food standards, or technical product standards – all of them important in the framework of the DCFTA.
It will not be able to integrate economically with the European Union. It is through the Association agreement that Ukraine will be empowered by European toolbox and emerge as modern, competitive and democratic European state.
Clear benchmarks for progress
In December, the European Union Foreign Affairs Council made clear that the European Union is committed to signing the Association Agreement, possibly by the time of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November this year. This can happen as soon as there is determined action and tangible progress on specific benchmarks in three areas: to follow up on the shortcomings of the parliamentary elections, to address the issue of selective justice and prevent recurrence and to make progress on reforms as defined in the joint Association Agenda. I am talking about areas such as the reform of the judiciary, respect for the rule of law and human rights, the fight against corruption as well as increasing citizens’ participation in public decision-making in Ukraine.
So the way ahead is clearly marked out. The European Union’s Governments and Parliaments are paying very close attention to the situation in Ukraine. The European Union is already undertaking the necessary internal technical preparations to enable the signature of the Association Agreement. We are serious about our commitment to political association and economic integration with Ukraine.
But the political circumstances on the Ukrainian side are still not where we would want them to be or even need them to be if we are to take the qualitative leap in our relations that the signing of the Association Agreement would imply. Only concrete progress matters. Will Ukraine be ready in time to take the courageous step throughout this year? As a friend of Ukraine I want to believe so, but only Ukraine has the answer.
I have passed on this message earlier today at the meeting of the Ukrainian Government. But I also want to convey it to you here and now. We have a window of opportunity. But time is short. What is needed is efficient cross party effort and support for European Union-related reforms that can bring some first tangible results, not reflections on geopolitics where interests are pursued at the expense of values. There should be neither artificial conditions, nor compromise on the values we cherish.
I would also like to take this opportunity to mention another issue that is close to my heart: the mobility of ordinary citizens; the mobility of your fellow Ukrainian citizens. I know this is one area where change makes a dramatic difference to citizens' everyday lives. We have been working to make it easier for Ukrainian citizens to travel to the European Union. To do that, Ukraine needs to create a secure environment, it needs secure borders, secure documents and increased inter-agency cooperation.
I welcome the steps the previous Parliament took in making the visa-free objective more realistic. I hope that this Parliament will address the remaining work in the coming days and weeks. And this work is long overdue. When the first phase of visa liberalisation has been satisfactorily completed we will assess it and provide a report which should recommend starting monitoring of the things done and move Ukraine to the second phase of the Action Plan on Visa Liberalization. This will be an important signal which is, again, achievable.
On visa facilitation, I hope that this Parliament will soon ratify the amendments to the existing Visa Facilitation Agreement. The European Parliament is working on it and I hope that we can proceed in parallel in order to prepare for the early conclusion of the agreement.
Turning to energy cooperation, the European Union appreciates the changes that Ukraine has made in dramatically revising its energy policy. This enhances your standing and credibility as an energy player on the international stage.
The modernization of the Gas Transit System and the reforms of the gas sector in Ukraine remains a high priority in our bilateral cooperation. The implementation of the European Union acquis and an active role of Ukraine in the Energy Community are of paramount importance in this context. And we intend to continue to also support Ukraine financially in facing the historical challenge of developing its own resources, enhancing its energy independency and better integrating world standards and market conditions. The challenge of developing a genuine Ukrainian energy policy based on the much needed reforms and tariffs transparency, the diversification of energy mix, the development of the renewable energy potential and the implementation of adequate energy saving and efficiency measures remains one of the priorities in European Union-Ukrainian energy relations.
Honourable members, in conclusion:
It is time for Ukraine to join the fellowship of trust and values, to take its place among those countries that are shaping and actively facing global challenges together.
Substantial, concrete work is being done and we have a comprehensive political calendar ahead, starting with the European Union-Ukraine Summit later this month, the Cooperation Council foreseen for June and the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius this coming November.
Let me conclude by reassuring you that the European Union remains firmly committed to advancing its relationship with Ukraine, based on Ukraine’s European aspirations. The time to act is now. We need to show our joint commitment by delivering results. Thank you for your attention.