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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
EU - Ukraine: In Yalta about progress towards signing the Association Agreement
10th Yalta Annual Meeting, in Yalta, Ukraine
20 September 2013
I am glad to be here, in Yalta, for the fourth time!
What do you want? ... That was the question I asked, if you remember, at the end of my speech last year. And a lot has changed since then. Let me describe in five examples why I claim that Ukraine is today a different country from the time when I first asked that question.
1) We, in the European Union, have tried to define the conditions for signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine. We did it with a sincere intention to show the way and show the light at the end of the tunnel. We left it to the Foreign Ministers of the European Union Member States to define the three main fields, issues that were then translated into 11 benchmarks. It was not an easy task. We had to ask the question "what?" – We have tried for couple of months to define what exactly those benchmarks mean. At a certain point in our discussions our vocabulary, the language we have used, has become the same, we arrived at the same definition of what exactly we mean.
Then came the question "how? "It was not easy either. We involved the Venice Commission with their experience to tell us what is the critical mass of advice to be given to our Ukrainian friends so that we understand better what needs to be taken on board when they prepare the various pieces of legislation; what are just technical or cosmetic issues; and so we entered into the third phase with the question "when?" This is where we are now.
Time is not on our side but we are on a good track. The progress made on those benchmarks, particularly in the recent weeks and last few months, is unprecedented. And it is not only my view. In the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission and other organisations – what a pleasure it is to talk there about Ukraine these days. I hope that the Verkhovna Rada will do its work and we will see the reflection on the benchmarks to go through the legislative process. I very much look forward to the results of the mission of Presidents Cox/Kwasniewski – I salute your work. In the modern diplomacy of the 21st century it would be hard to find a similar example of such commitment and time being dedicated to move this country, to address the very delicate but important issue of politically motivated justice. What a commitment have you shown! Thank you very much for your work and I hope, at the end of it you will be able to say beyond any doubt "Yes, our mission was successful", That is what the Member States need to say: "yes".
2) Something remarkable has happened. Whenever I come to Ukraine I have always observed an uneasy relationship between the government and the opposition. Sometimes they even tried to involve me into this uneasy relationship. But something remarkable has happened: The cross-party consensus that was generated in Verkhovna Rada, the number of votes on Europe-related pieces of legislation, is unprecedented. I hope very much that this is a promise for the future and that the European agenda will always stay above party interests as it reflects the strategic interests of this country - For the government to create the space for the opposition, for the opposition to be a constructive one and that is what is happening now in Ukraine. But at the same time I say: take the opposition seriously; it is not only a voting machine for things the European Union Commissioner said needed to be approved. There is a parliamentary procedure to be followed, where the opposition feels comfortable that it has a say in forming and agreeing the necessary legislation.
I hope the idea of the National Roundtable will not be just an empty concept, but something all stakeholders would embrace. Because, you will need this roundtable so much before Vilnius and even more so after Vilnius to keep the consensus on European issues!
3) Moving towards the Association Agreement/DCFTA: There are clear benefits not for some of us but for all of us without taking away any piece of Ukrainian sovereignty. On the contrary – strengthening it by empowering it through increased competition, and using the Association Agreement as a vehicle for introducing European values.
4) The Association Agreement has never been only about us and our neighbours but also about the neighbours of our neighbours. We have always tried to make clear that the Association Agreement brings benefits not only to the European Union and Ukraine, but also to others, and Russia is going to be definitely among them.
We made it very clear that this is not a choice between Moscow and Brussels. We want our partners to have good relations and cooperation with Russia. We are striving to have the same good relations with Russia. It is a special and strategic partner for us.
We will be doing our utmost for the Association Agreement DCFTA not to be seen as a threat but as an opportunity, a contribution to creating the area of free trade between Lisbon and Vladivostok. Are we working on overcoming the issue of legal incompatibility between the Association Agreement and Customs Union? Of course we are. And the issue of incompatibility is not a geopolitical game, it is a practical issue. You expect a partner country that is entering a specific commitment to be able to deliver on its commitments. But how, by joining the Customs Union and passing part of your sovereignty over your external trade policy – can you deliver on this while your policy will be in the hands of the Eurasian Commission in Moscow? But there is a bigger picture. It is the basis of the relationship between two integration projects – one tested by decades and the other one just in the making. We have a sincere intention to do anything possible - whether we talk about tariffs or regulatory framework – to prevent new walls in Europe. We cannot afford them, Russia cannot afford them.
5) The Vilnius summit is going to be a game changer. I hope we will be in the position to see the European Union and Ukraine signing the most powerful transformative instrument after enlargement – the Association Agreement/DCFTA. But with Vilnius it all starts, it does not end there.
I will be very much in favour of establishing all these structures foreseen by the Association Agreement not some time in the future but as soon as possible and I will also be the one arguing together with my colleagues in the European Union, trying to make the best use of various bilateral association agreements and DCFTAs to build much deeper regional cooperation in them and allowing not only individual partners but the whole region to get closer and closer to the European Union.
So, back to my question: what do you want? I think you answered it – you want to choose what is good for your country. You want plan A. And it is a good choice because there is no plan B.