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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
EU-Ukraine: there is no time to rest
Contribution at the EP plenary debate of EU-Ukraine Association Agreement ratification, on behalf of the HR/VP
Strasbourg, 16 September 2014
President, Honourable Members,
Those who criticise the European project should realise that the benefits and freedoms we enjoy are not self-evident for everybody on our continent. Peace with our neighbours, absence of threats to our sovereignty, open borders, democracy, rule of law, prosperity. These achievements, which we tend to take for granted, are long-standing aspirations of the people of Ukraine. For many, they correspond with a future based on European values, which as Europeans themselves, they share. They have paid a high price in the process since last November. I am proud to be here today so that we can together take a historic step in Ukraine's political association and economic integration with the European Union.
Much has happened since we were preparing the Vilnius Summit one year ago. Crimea - part of the sovereign territory of an independent Ukraine has been illegally annexed by Russia in an act we will never recognise; and the territorial integrity of Ukraine has been further challenged by the rebels in the East supported through the direct military involvement of Russia. Many hundreds have been killed in military action, among the people who have been living as peaceful neighbours only a year ago.
But aggression does not pay! On the contrary, it has further united the Ukrainian people behind the aspiration for a better future for their country.
There is no time to rest. Much remains to be done.
The fragile ceasefire will need to be turned into genuine peace. The courageous move by President Poroshenko offers a real opportunity for lasting peace, but there are many challenges. Direct fighting on the ground has become sporadic and prisoners are being liberated. But unfortunately incidents of shelling and shooting continue; Russian troops are still in Ukraine; armed forces are using the ceasefire to redeploy and resupply; and large parts of the border remain uncontrolled by the authorities, allowing a continuous flow of militants, arms and equipment into Ukraine from Russia.
What can we do? Our approach is three-fold: first, we continue to give our full and active support for a sustainable political solution. Second, we are maintaining pressure on Russia through a gradual increase of individual and economic sanctions to try to make it alter its course of action and move towards a solution. And third, we continue our support for Ukraine's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and to help it overcome the difficulties it faces.
My colleague Commissioner Oettinger is sparing no effort to facilitate an agreement between Russia and Ukraine, ensuring a fair price for gas deliveries and security of supply to the European Union. We have also engaged with Russia to discuss the economic effects on the Russian economy of the implementation of the AA/DCFTA with a view to clarifying concerns and – where appropriate - identifying solutions. The deal reached on Friday by my colleague Commissioner De Gucht is good news for de-escalation, and it has the potential to be a game changer in the ongoing crisis. We will discuss this further in the next debate this morning.
You are aware that the European Union adopted a new package of restrictive measures with regard to Russia last week on the basis of the mandate of the European Council of 30th August. This was done in response to the increased inflow of fighters and weapons from the territory of the Russian Federation into Eastern Ukraine and the aggression by Russian armed forces on Ukrainian soil over the past weeks, and in order to reinforce the effectiveness of existing measures. The new package includes:
• first, more individuals who are responsible for undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine; and
• second, economic and financial sanctions relative to access to capital markets, defence, dual use goods, and sensitive technologies.
We have always stressed that our restrictive measures are reversible and scalable. Therefore, by the end of September, Member States will carry out a comprehensive review of the implementation of the peace plan and, in the light of the review and if the situation on the ground so warrants, the sanctions might be amended, suspended or repealed, in all or in part depending of course also on developments in Crimea.
We have already expressed our strong support for the peace deal agreed in Minsk. Its implementation is the key to success. We need to learn from the recent experience – from the failed attempts in Geneva and Berlin earlier this year to pass from words to deeds in reaching a political solution and to respect of the ceasefire agreed in June. We call on the Russian government to pass from verbal pledges to the implementation of commitments this time around and to ensure a genuine and comprehensive implementation of the peace plan. As I said, the implementation of the cease-fire agreement and the road map will be important for our further decisions on sanctions.
Today it is difficult to see if and how successfully the European Union relations with Russia will continue under the label of a "strategic" partnership. In the short term, much more effort is needed to reach a comprehensive conflict resolution in Ukraine, and Russia must show that it takes its commitments seriously. Russia should prove in deeds its respect for international law and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of its neighbours.
As for the medium and long term, the European Union and Russia will need to further build their relations on shared interests with a view to engaging in dialogue, notably in the fields of trade and investment, energy, science, cooperation in solving international crises and in responding to global challenges. In any case, the solution to the conflict in Ukraine will be the litmus test for launching a dialogue on the development of the huge untapped potential of the European Union's future relations with Russia. We must avoid creating a lasting rift on our continent. We must also reflect on how we can jointly work on a vision of cooperation on the European continent, where all countries can take advantage of economic opportunities from Lisbon to Vladivostok.
Our European house is being destroyed. The time has come to rebuild it - with all European partners involved not leaving anyone outside this process.
The relationship between the EU and Russia played a central role. The relationship between the EU and Customs union, and in the future Eurasian Economic Union, will have an important role to play.
President, Honourable Members,
A lot of wisdom as always during those debates, a lot - actually more -of the populist slogans than I was used to over the past 5 years and some outrageous remarks also coming from your side.
In response to it I'd like to make four points:
1) Following your request that we better learn more about Russia, that we understand Russia, let me recall:
1975 – Helsinki Final act: it clearly stipulates that you cannot change borders through military force.
1990 - Paris Charter, let me quote: "within the framework of international law, all participating states have equal rights and duties. They will respect each other's right to define and conduct as it wishes its relations with other states in accordance with international law and in the spirit of the present declaration.
1994 - Budapest memorandum, with guarantees of Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty: all of that violated, all of that destroyed by one European country!
2008 - in the framework of NATO-Russia Council in Bucharest, Putin said that Ukraine was an artificial country. And someone here blames the EU policy for the problems there?!? I have a problem to follow this logic.
2) I have heard we need to grow up to realise a real threat. What is the real threat? I always thought it is when someone starts to violate the rule of law and international law. Because this is the basis of our well-being, that we have agreed that our commitment to law and order will determine not only the way how we treat each other but how we also treat our neighbours. Because this is what we are fundamentally basing our security on. By the way Catherine Ashton is not here not because of she wants to avoid the debate in EP. She is dealing also with Russian diplomats on the very complex Iranian issue, doing everything possible to ensure that the Iranian issue is not a hot topic for our debate here. And she is moving in the right direction also because of good and constructive cooperation with Russian diplomats. Hence our insistence on Russia living up to its commitments vis-à-vis international law/rule of law does not prevent us from working with Russia on other important hot topics around the world.
3) Self-deception – I have problems that the very same people who were always calling for us to respect the sovereignty of decisions of third countries are now questioning our own policy that is based on that – one thing needs to be very clearly underlined: it has been a Ukrainian request to postpone the provisional application of the economic part of the Association Agreement and that has also been underlined in the discussion President Barroso had with President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuik and the reasoning was logical and understandable. The economy and financial system of Ukraine has been put under huge strain because of the events in the East, not to mention the impact of the illegal annexation of Crimea. They expressed the wish to have more time to prepare for accepting the tariffs as being negotiated. And today's ratification of the Association Agreement in the Verkhovna rada in parallel to the European Parliament providing consent clearly underlines the commitment of the Ukrainians to the text as it has been negotiated.
One thing which needs to be underlined and no one referred to it – to all of you speaking in favour of peace to prevail I'd like to make one point very clear. Russians have their troops on Ukrainian territory plus they have repeatedly made clear that once the Association Agreement is ratified by Verkhovna rada on that very day, not later on when they might face some difficulties of economic and trade nature – on the very date of the ratification they will not only repeal the CIS Free Trade Agreement with Ukraine but would adopt further economic restrictive measures against Ukraine. So in addition to the military threat and eventual escalation we have been facing also the threat of a full scale economic and trade war. We have the ratification of the Agreement that has been negotiated for four years; we will have provisional application of the political, sectoral cooperation and institutional parts of the Association Agreement, we will have the continuation of the reforms. In the discussion President Barroso had with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk on Saturday we have agreed on a number of elements: we go ahead with the structure as foreseen by the Association Agreement – we will have Association Council, as well as Association Committee and its subcommittees. We will start our work. The European agenda for reforms as agreed with Ukraine, which is very much about the implementation of the Association Agreement, will go ahead. The Action plan which is also going to be adopted by Verkhovna Rada today and which is operationalising the Association Agreement - its implementation goes ahead. Our preparations for the Donor conference at the end of this year to focus on assistance in implementation of the Association Agreement and on the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the East of Ukraine go ahead. The Ukraine Support Group which has started its work already - its mandate remains the same and its focus, remains the same. And the coordination mechanism Ukraine has foreseen for the implementation of the Association Agreement will go ahead. So it is not a delay as a result of Russian blackmail.
4) Last point – a number of you were talking about dividing lines. We are being accused of creating them through the Association Agreement. I believe the time has come to prove that the Association Agreement is actually one of the building components of what we foresee could be in the future the European economic free zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Whether some of you call the Eurasian Economic Union a project of Putin, this union is a matter of reality. It is not only about Russia, it is also about Belarus, Kazakhstan and very soon also about Armenia, having their own views on our Association Agreement with Ukraine and its impact on their countries, and their views on cooperation with the EU. We all not only benefit but we all will be able to eliminate the danger of creating dividing lines if we start to work together. Because if we miss the element of undermining the importance of the regulatory framework then just by ignoring the Eurasian Economic Union we will be the ones contributing to creating the diving lines in Europe. I believe this should be a part of the much bigger picture where all the important initiatives and steps are being put together.
Over the past year, we have witnessed how the Ukrainian people struggled for freedom, democracy and rule of law - values at the core of the European Union. Europe stands with countries willing to engage on this path, and this is what our relationship with Ukraine is all about. We want to support Ukraine to become a more democratic, prosperous and rule-governed country. Ukraine deserves the same opportunities that were afforded to mine and other countries in Eastern Europe after 1989. This was precisely the aim of our Association Agreement that was negotiated for more than 5 years and that you are about to ratify.
Ukrainians count on your clear support in the vote later this morning. Let us send them a strong signal from Strasbourg to Kyiv.