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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Ukraine: how to find way out of the current crisis
European Parliament, Plenary Session
5 February 2014
President, Honourable Members,
Let me start by thanking the Parliament for organising today's important debate. It shows that the thoughts of all of us here are with the people of Ukraine in these difficult times. And not only our thoughts: we are working hard and are taking concrete actions to de-escalate the situation and to support the Ukrainian citizen's enjoyment of their freedoms of speech, peaceful assembly, and the freedom of media.
The HR/VP is in Kiev today. She has met the Ukrainian President and opposition. She has also met and will be meeting other stakeholders, in efforts in support of a political solution to the political crisis and support Ukraine on its way forward.
When I last addressed the Plenary on Ukraine in December, the situation was still largely peaceful, even though first attempts of crackdown on pro-European protests had been made. Since then, we have witnessed a serious downward spiral and, lately, unacceptable acts of violence and reports of casualties, torture and disappearances.
I have recently been in Kyiv, just like some of you. With the dramatic events of the last weeks, it has become acutely clear that what is at stake now is not only the respect of the most basic fundamental rights, but also the future of Ukraine.
HRVP Ashton's and my visits helped to facilitate dialogue and avoid worst case scenarios, including a possible state of emergency. Your presence in Kyiv last week reinforced these messages. We need to keep close coordination of our messages and actions to help in easing of the situation on the ground.
We have coordinated with the Council of Europe and with the OSCE, whose legal expertise has been instrumental in revoking the restrictive legislation which was adopted on 16 January. Unfortunately, with the controversial amnesty law voted on 29 January and the continued impunity for killings, kidnappings, tortures of peaceful protesters and targeted actions against journalists, serious distrust remains between the sides.
What is needed is a serious engagement by both sides to find a negotiated solution out of the current political crisis. It is the only way to avoid vicious cycles of mutual recriminations. Opposition and protesters must dissociate themselves from radical elements – evacuating the occupied Ministry of Justice on 27 January and Ministry of Agriculture on 29 January is but one example of a responsible attitude on their side.
The authorities are responsible for respecting and protecting the freedoms of speech, assembly and media. So far, too little has been done to this end: peaceful protesters continue to be detained, often injured, and sometimes straight out of hospitals. Kidnappings and tortures by unknown perpetrators continue unpunished.
The work of the Investigation Advisory Panel, as proposed by the Council of Europe, has to start immediately as a step towards addressing the current atmosphere of impunity.
De-escalation and stabilisation of the situation is now the main priority. Looking ahead, the focus will be on ensuring lasting stability in the country. A new Government, regardless of its composition, will need to enjoy sufficient trust by all sides. Discussions on the constitution are of particular importance and time is of the essence in that respect. We are ready to support the process with expertise and advice. Conditions for free and fair presidential elections of 2015 will need to be put in place, including in particular with regard to the composition of the Central Electoral Commission and the transposition of the amendments to the law on parliamentary elections into the laws on presidential and local elections.
The European Union stands ready to assist all sides in advancing such a political track. In case of a positive scenario, we will be ready to extend our assistance, based on a genuine commitment to political and economic reforms, in cooperation with the IMF and other international actors.
These steps are necessary in order for the Ukrainian government to ensure the country's sovereignty, stability, modernisation and economic prosperity for the years to come. They are also crucial if Ukraine wishes to keep the doors open for its political association and economic integration with the European Union.
Cathy Ashton and I are working as a team on Ukraine, she is there today trying to stop the crisis from escalating and I will be returning there next week again.
Mr Chairman, Honourable Members,
To conclude this debate I have six points to share with you and the first one is an assessment.
1) Any good policy is good only if it is based on good assessment, taking into account the lessons learnt and if it is ready to accept that there are things which could have been done better. I can share my personal assessment with you.
Last year we have been focusing on benchmarks with Ukraine. But that did not leave enough time and space to prepare for the implementation of the Association Agreement/DCFTA. Those 11 benchmarks creating conditions for the signature of the Association Agreement were a precondition. Many have said that Ukraine working last year on the benchmarks, made tremendous progress for the country. But that did not provide us enough space to prepare the implementation of the Association Agreement/DCFTA. If there was more time for that, there would have been less space for misinterpretation of what the Association Agreement is about and what it is not.
On Russia: our Eastern Partnership policy and consensus on it ends on the borders of our Eastern neighbours with Russia. It is clear – and the last EU-Russia summit has made a step towards that – we need the dialogue with Russia. Our policy vis-a-vis neighbours should be also a policy vis-a-vis neighbours of our neighbours.
If we were serious about reforming that part of Europe, have we been also serious about using the most powerful instrument of transformation? The Nobel Peace Prize the EU received in 2012 was received for the enlargement policy, for breaking down the walls.
2) Plan: the only plan that will work for Ukraine is the plan the Ukrainians themselves come up with. It is not a plan from Brussels or Moscow that would succeed.
3) Strategy: we have a strategy and it is not centred around sanctions. It is focused on engagement. In the first stage it is de-escalation, stopping the spiral of violence, ensuring minimum of stability and security. Second stage is about political process, creating platform for inclusive political dialogue to tackle medium and long term challenges Ukraine is facing. In that second stage Ukrainians will have to address the issues like constitution change, creating conditions for free and fair elections. Because the record of previous ones is not a good one and Ukraine went actually backwards on this. One has to create conditions before calling the elections. The third stage is about the Association Agreement, political association, our program of reforms for Ukraine to strengthen democracy and rule of law, blueprint for economic reforms to bring investment and prosperity to Ukraine, people to people contacts in form of a visa free regime. And it is not because of us, but unfortunately because of Ukraine that we do not see such progress here as we do with Moldova.
4) Results: there are results of the strategy. We had witnessed revocation of 16 January package of undemocratic laws, resignation of the government, that was unable to handle people's aspiration in Maidan in Kyiv and elsewhere; not perfect but still we have amnesty law, we have an observance of not using excessive force by law enforcement agencies. The case of Automaidan leader D.Bulatov has shown that despite these results there are still issues related to fundamental rights we have to watch closely, the fact that we witness torturing and kidnapping of people, is very difficult to accept and needs to be stopped.
It is a race against time because the more time it takes the parties to find and establish a certain level of confidence and to find a way out, the more time there is for the extremism and radicalism to grow and more time for those elements that are not under control.
5) Bigger picture: it is about the future relationship between the EU as an integration project with a historic record and another one which in the making – the Eurasian union. But it is a relationship that should not be based on zero-sum game. The European Union's strength since its inception has always been in finding win-win solutions even in seemingly hopeless situations – let us do our best to avoid backtracking from this approach. And that brings me to the last point.
6) Future: it needs to be about three things:
- us delivering on what the new ENP has put as a principle: the relation we are seeking are not only with the authorities but also with citizens, we should not fail them;
- we should not only talk about sovereign decision of the countries and the right to make them. We need to help these countries to establish conditions so that they are free to make such decisions.
And last point: if we are all really serious about reforms and transformation in this part of Europe, let us be serious in choosing the strongest instrument we have – a European perspective.