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Speech: EU response to events in Ukraine

European Commission - SPEECH/14/162   26/02/2014

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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy

EU response to events in Ukraine

European Parliament, Plenary Debate on Ukraine

Strasbourg, 26 February 2014

President, Honourable Members,

It has not even been a month since I last stood here. We have all followed the tragic developments unfolding before our eyes in the intervening period.

What I retain is a sense of immense sorrow over the high numbers of dead and wounded. I wish to express our sympathy and condolences to the families of all those who have fallen victim to unprecedented levels of violence, provocation and indiscriminate use of force in Ukraine during the last few weeks.

During my last visit to Kyiv, I visited two hospitals to show solidarity with the injured people. No matter which side they were on, they were suffering because of the actions or non-actions of politicians.

As President Barroso said in this House yesterday, the winds of change are knocking again at Ukraine's doors; the will of the people must prevail.

Those who violated fundamental rights are to be brought to justice. Justice should be fair and without revenge, fully in line with the European Convention on Human Rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

This tragedy puts an even greater responsibility on all involved to make things work now in Ukraine.

It puts a greater responsibility on the new Ukrainian government – interim and beyond – to deliver the changes the people have asked and fought for. It puts also a greater responsibility on the European Union to extend all our support and expertise to ensure that these changes are put on solid ground and will be sustainable.

This joint European effort has been a good example of European Foreign policy in action and intensive and fruitful interaction with the European Parliament:

  1. As you know, High Representative/ Vice-President Catherine Ashton and I have ensured a quasi-permanent presence in Kyiv since the start of the crisis. Last week, the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France and Poland took on the task to represent us, at the very moment of the deadliest clashes since the outbreak of the crisis.

  2. In parallel the remaining Foreign Ministers were meeting in Brussels and maintaining regular contact with our colleagues on the ground.

  3. We adopted strongly worded Council Conclusions introducing targeted sanctions. Meanwhile, our three colleagues facilitated talks between the President and the opposition in Kyiv, transmitting the clear and unequivocal messages from the European Union.

  4. A multi-party delegation from this House, led by the Chair of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET), Honourable Member Elmar Brok, visited Kyiv over last weekend to meet with counterparts in the Verkhovna Rada and other stakeholders.

Now it is important that all sides continue engaging in a meaningful dialogue to fulfil the aspirations of the Ukrainian people.

We expect everyone in Ukraine to behave responsibly and protect the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the country. Due respect for regional, cultural and linguistic diversity of the country is also of utmost importance.

We need a lasting solution to the political crisis. Elements for the solution are clear and were also outlined in the Agreement of 21 February:

  1. First, a comprehensive constitutional reform to be started immediately and completed by September, drawing substantially on relevant expertise of the Venice Commission;

  2. Second, the formation of a new inclusive government; and

  3. Third, ensuring the conditions for free and fair elections, also in close cooperation with the Venice Commission and also the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Let me underline the importance of the Verkhovna Rada as a legitimate political institution. It is also crucial that the new administration is inclusive politically, geographically and in terms of stakeholder participation.

As I said earlier, issues, such as the investigation into massive cases of violence, judicial and police reform and others, will have to be addressed to heal the wounds of the last days, but also months, and years, and bring this country forward. We are ready to step in where requested, in close cooperation with our international partners.

I welcome the engagement of the Council of Europe, including Commissioner for Human Rights Muižnieks recent preliminary report following his visit to Kyiv which focuses on the need to prevent further violence and ensure investigation of human rights violations. I also strongly hope that an International Advisory Panel will start work soon.

Our offer of political association and economic integration remains on the table and as said in our February Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions, the Association Agreement (AA)/ Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) does not constitute the final goal in European Union-Ukraine cooperation.

We are ready to work promptly with a future Ukrainian government committed to economic and political reforms and to step in with assistance. We are working on the best inclusive platform for international coordination to provide sustainable economic and financial support, including all international partners, to help in addressing the challenges the country is facing.

High Representative/ Vice-President Catherine Ashton was in Kyiv on Monday and Tuesday to discuss with all stakeholders present in Kyiv and engaged in the inclusive political process. This visit was warmly welcomed by interlocutors from all political factions as well as by representatives of Maidan. Cathy underlined the need to restore trust in the institutions and reiterated the European Union's offer of help. All partners responded positively to this offer.

While in Kyiv, she also met with Yulia Tymoshenko, released from prison after two and a half years of detention. Shortly after her release I spoke to Ms Tymoshenko by phone underlining the importance of her health recovery. Her release was an important step forward in view of our long standing concerns with the selective justice in the country. Let me once again thank the Parliament for its immense efforts on this issue. Let me also commend in particular the outstanding work done over a sustained period by Pat Cox and Alexander Kwaśniewski.

Before concluding, let me say a few words about Russia. Ukraine needs Russia, and Russia needs Ukraine. Russia has a chance to become part of the efforts to bring stability and prosperity back to Ukraine, including being part of the coordinated international efforts to help Ukraine address its economic challenges.

This will require recognition of the sovereign right of the Ukrainian people to make their own choices about their future. Those choices are about domestic politics just as much as they are about foreign policy. Russia can only gain from Ukraine’s success; and it risks losing heavily if Ukraine fails. We are ready to work very closely with Russia, the neighbour of our neighbour, to ensure it plays a constructive role in Ukraine’s future – the future of a neighbour with whom Russia has traditional ties which we support.

In view of the challenges and the need for a continued coherent European policy on Ukraine, I congratulate you for organising today's debate. The Parliament's involvement has been very important for all in Ukraine that have been striving for a stable, prosperous and democratic future.

Closing remarks

Thank you Mr President,

Just before this Plenary I had a brief phone conversation with the High Representative C. Ashton, who after returning from Kyiv marked number of priorities.

1) Work of the Verkhovna Rada – she underlines the importance of that institution working properly. The word "properly" is important. We understand the urgency under which the parliament is working but we all want to see Ukraine adopting legislation which is in line with the commitments of this country stemming from the membership in the Council of Europe. And as I mentioned earlier, Council of Europe is ready to provide experts on the ground, including for the work of Rada, to make sure that the legislation adopted is in line with these commitments.

2) It is important now for all the stakeholders to define what are the priorities, to establish an inclusive government as soon as possible and to have an action plan of that government for the necessary work.

3) Cathy Ashton is focusing on economic and financial package, talking to international partners and also working in the European Commission on the short term and medium term needs of Ukraine. Soon there will be missions of experts from ECFIN and IMF to Ukraine to see the real needs of the Ukrainian economy. We make it absolutely clear that as far as the EU is concerned, we will do our utmost to stand up to this challenge.

4) She underlined the territorial integrity of Ukraine. She made clear that she continues the contacts with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, she is meeting him next week again to see how all of us can deliver on the commitments made in the Memorandum from 1994.

Cathy's assessment of the overall situation is that the situation is calm but fragile. She is determined to lead the efforts of the EU and work together with other international stakeholders on helping Ukraine.

Honourable Members,

This debate has once more shown the importance of Ukraine for all of us in Europe. I want to add one message here.

It is precisely on the interest shown in Ukraine today: let's not forget the country tomorrow. I have welcomed the coherent and unified European effort over the past weeks and months. We have created expectations. We should be ready to live up to these expectations and not let the Ukrainians down. Once the cameras are gone from the streets of Kyiv and Ukraine is no longer in the evening news, we should continue our engagement and not forget our promises and commitments. History will judge us not by the promises we make, but by the promises we keep.

Thank you.


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