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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Speech at the National Round Table on European integration
Ukrainian parliament Verkhovna Rada / Kyiv, Ukraine
11 October 2013
Mr Speaker, Prime Minister, honourable members, representatives of Ukraine's civil society,
What a pleasure to be back here to participate in this special format of the National Roundtable. I thank you for making this important event possible and I hope we will be able to interact in a way that opens the space for more of such opportunities in the future, not less.
Let me welcome the broad participation at this Round Table and your ownership of the process. This consensus-driven approach to European reforms is yet another sign of a major leap in the level of political responsibility towards the choice of the Ukrainian people. We also witnessed this earlier in the autumn, in this building, when a large majority of parliamentarians, across political factions, approved several pieces of European Union-related legislation. After the signature many more legislative pieces will have to come. So whatever foundation you lay today for cooperation it will bring benefits later on.
This focus augurs well for the beginning of our new and closer political and economic cooperation in a post-Vilnius environment.
Let me be very clear on the hurdles which must still be overcome.
Although I am pleased to note important progress on several of the European Union's benchmarks, we are not quite there yet. I count on the dedication and efforts of all of you to successfully finish the work.
In just over a week, on 21 October, the European Union's Foreign Ministers will be discussing Ukraine's progress at the Foreign Affairs Council. It would be great mistake to assume – in the light of the recent unacceptable pressure on Ukraine to move away from the Association Agreement – that geopolitical considerations will prevail in the European Union's decision.
I would now like to make three points in describing the new beginning offered by the Association Agreement:
First, contrary to what some believe, the Association Agreement/ Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (AA/ DCFTA) - the most ambitious agreement the European Union has ever offered to a partner country - will provide immediate benefits to Ukraine, in addition to the longer-term transformative impact of the reforms. As soon as the Agreement will enter into force, the vast majority of customs duties on goods will be removed.
For industrial goods, there will be an immediate removal of tariffs on most products, with exception of a few, such as the Ukrainian automotive sector. For particularly sensitive agricultural sectors, the agreement will give producers generous transition periods to adapt to a more competitive environment, while offering consumers a wider choice of products at lower prices.
The negotiated scheme for liberalisation of trade in goods foresees several mechanisms which will protect the Ukrainian economy from sudden changes in the most sensitive sectors from the point of view of domestic development; e.g. transition periods for sensitive agricultural and industrial products, reviews, and the possibility of temporary safeguard mechanisms. At the same time, Ukraine is not going to be passive and powerless during the implementation of the AA/DCFTA. The transition and institutional mechanisms will provide the necessary framework for dialogue and time for adjustments and reforms needed in the Ukrainian economy. This treaty is not taking away your sovereignty. It strengthens it.
Let there be no mistake: the AA/ DCFTA is not conceived at Russia's expense. On the contrary, Russia will also benefit greatly from the integration of the Eastern Partnership countries into the wider European economy. Our vision is that these AA/ DCFTAs should contribute in the longer term to the eventual creation of a common economic space from Atlantic to Pacific, from Lisbon to Vladivostok, based on the WTO rules.
Second, as I briefly mentioned before, the European Union stands ready to assist and support Ukraine's efforts to implement the many commitments of the AA/ DCFTA.
The post-Vilnius agenda will require resources. The European Union is ready to continue its support to Ukraine:
We are preparing to go forward with the decision on the 2013 Annual Action Programme for Ukraine for an indicative amount of EUR 186 million. This will directly support the implementation of the Association Agreement, including the DCFTA and the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan.
Let me also mention that we are ready to move ahead with the payment of our macro-financial assistance of 610 million Euro, once the conditions are in place.
Third, all this is not a distant challenge. Provisional application of large parts of the Agreement could become effective already in the first half of next year. And it might be the case that the Verkhovna Rada through its ratification of the AA/ DCFTA will mark the beginning of the provisional application. This is the best way of ensuring that these benefits are felt right away by Ukrainian businesses and citizens.
Ukraine will therefore already need to start planning its legislative schedule in order to be able to swiftly begin its work on harmonising legislation to enable appropriate market openings. We will also need to set up the institutional structures that will get our political and regulatory dialogues started.
An effective governmental coordination function needs to be put in place. You already have a relevant coordination department in the Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers. In view of the amount of legislation to be adopted, this department itself and the inter-ministerial coordination function will have to be substantially strengthened. The same goes for the Verkhovna Rada, where a mechanism to deal with a vast amount of European Union-related legislation will need to be reinforced.
At the same time, a genuine cross-party and civil society effort will be needed on a more permanent basis, building on the fact that four out of five parliamentary factions have made clear their European choice. What is required is a solid tripartite partnership between government, opposition and civil society on European integration.
Today's Round Table is a much needed step in that direction, but it cannot be a one-off event. There needs to be a regular continuation of inclusive Round Tables such as this one, which I will be ready to attend in the future on a regular basis. Perhaps the Round Table could also set up specialised working groups to deal in depth with particular issues.
The Round Table will be helpful in generating a broad political and social consensus on European integration, but will of course not substitute the much needed effective coordination mechanisms within the Cabinet of Ministers and the Verkhovna Rada.
It is my vision that the Vilnius Summit will mark not just the end of the beginning, but the beginning of a truly modern and European Ukraine.
Thank you for your attention.