EU-UKRAINE: TIME TO WALK THE TALK - speech of DAVID O'SULLIVAN, EEAS Chief Operating Officer (07/06/2013)

  • HR/VP Ashton and Commissioner Fule regret not being able to be here today and have asked me to intervene on their behalf at this important event.
  • The title "Time to walk the talk" and focus is very timely. Ukraine is high on the EU's agenda in 2013, which has been referred to by some as "the year of Ukraine".
  • The Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius is only a few month away. This is an historic moment for Europe's relations with Ukraine - and with Eastern partner countries -. Both sides see this as the event that should launch a new phase in the relations.
  • The road ahead as regards Ukraine's political association and economic integration with the EU is clearly marked out, and Ukraine has now for some time "talked the talk" about taking the necessary steps and implementing the necessary reforms to respond to the EU's expectations, including in the key area of judicial reforms.  Now, it is high time for the Ukrainian authorities to "walk the walk" by determined action and tangible progress.

*   *   *

  • The backdrop for this is of course the conclusions of the EU's Foreign Affairs Council on 10 December 2012. These conclusions set out the European Union's clear and unanimous commitment to signing the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area – possibly at the time of the Eastern Partnership summit in November – provided that a number of clearly defined benchmarks are fulfilled by Ukraine.
  • The benchmarks set out by the Council conclusions are not new. They are related to well-known and long-standing areas of EU concern. They refer to three main areas within which the EU expects to see action: following up on the electoral shortcomings in the October 2012 Parliamentary elections; addressing the issue of selective justice and preventing any recurrence by way of a comprehensive judicial reform; and moving ahead in the implementation of the jointly agreed Association Agenda reforms. The specific benchmarks in these three areas are all realistic and feasible.
  • I am aware that we may sometimes have a tendency to overestimate the importance of our declarations, statements or conclusions. However, in this case, the Council's conclusions have been of extraordinary importance. Provided the conditions are met by Ukraine, they open up a new window of opportunity in EU-Ukraine relations.
  • The contrastin our relations as regards sense of direction, activity and interaction is stark as compared to only last autumn. Then some commentators and actors suggested that there should be a “pause” in European Union-Ukrainian relations. This is not the case today which is positive.
  • But let me also be very clear that the window of opportunity is small and that there is no plan B in case Ukraine would fail to deliver in time for signature in Vilnius, only five and a half months from now.
    • In the spirit of the title of this event, I would now like to move from the abstract political framework to the concrete issues, the progress so far, and our further expectations.  
    • In the joint statement of the 25 February EU-Ukraine Summit, Ukraine – in remarkably strong and clear language – committed to complying with the elements specified by the 10 December FAC Conclusions and agreed to focus on the necessary reforms as a matter of priority.
    • A number of process oriented documents have since been adopted by the Ukrainian authorities in order to pave the way for the implementation of the benchmarks, indeed reflecting an engagement in Ukraine to achieve the objective of signing the AA/DCFTA at the Summit in Vilnius.
    • A number of concrete actions have also been taken. Let me notably highlight here the release of the former Minister of the Interior Lutsenko, and the reinstatement of the former environment minister Filipchuk in his rights.
    • At the same time, it is clear that much still needs to be done to address the EU's expectations. Ukraine's planned actions now need to be followed up by tangible progress across the whole range of benchmarks.
    • God is in the details. If we want this to succeed, we have to look at the concrete steps that need to be taken.
    • I would like to highlight three essential issues, where the envisaged actions by Ukraine are manifestly insufficient as a follow-up to the EU's benchmarks:
      • First, on elections, we are currently waiting for the joint assessment of the OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission on the two draft electoral laws elaborated by the Ministry of Justice. In our preliminary assessment, the laws fall short of our expectations in a number of areas. We also continue to insist that Ukraine needs to give prime consideration to the establishment of an Election Code: it is important to ensure a harmonisation of electoral legislation, regulating all types of elections. We are also expecting Ukraine to clarify its follow up actions with respect to the electoral irregularities that were observed at the October parliamentary elections, in line with the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations.
      • Second, as regards politically motivated convictions, we remain concerned about the lack of a discernible strategy, notably with regard to the case of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko.  The mission of former Presidents Cox and Kwasniewski is an important asset to be used by Ukraine, and it has our continued full support. In addition, the recent judgment of the European Court of Justice with respect to former Prime Minister Tymoshenko provides a good opportunity to pave the way for a solution.
      • Third, as regards the issue of judicial reforms – which is crucial not least in order to prevent cases of selective justice from occurring in the future – we are concerned about the lack of progress as regards the law on the Prosecutor's Office. Also, to our regret, drafts of the other relevant laws - including a reform of the Criminal Code, on the role of the High Council of Justice, and the law of the Judicial System and the Status of Judges - have not yet been submitted, or consulted with the Council of Europe. These reforms need to be considerably accelerated if the Council is to be able to take stock of tangible progress ahead of the Vilnius Summit.
  • There are of course many other issues. Let me for example stress the importance of improvements to the business and investment climate. We have serious concerns about recent protectionist measures, for instance car safeguard measures, local content demands in renewable energy projects, and ban on imports of coke. These measures affect disproportionately the interests of sensitive EU export sectors.  Quite frankly, they create doubts as to Ukraine's ability and readiness to respect its own words and implement the DCFTA commitments.

*   *   *

  • We all know that it takes two to tango. We look to Ukraine to take the necessary actions. But the EU also needs to be ready to walk the walk, if Ukraine indeed does deliver.
  • We are sparing no effort in order to ensure that the EU is technically ready to sign the AA/DCFTA in Vilnius, should the conditions be fulfilled and the political decision be taken to do so.
  • On 15 May, the Commission adopted the draft proposals to the Council on the signing, provisional application and conclusion of the Agreement and submitted the proposals and the Agreement in 22 languages (each well over a 1000 pages) to the Council, where deliberations have now already started. This submission of the Agreement to the Council in mid-May was a necessary step to allow sufficient time for the Council's deliberations and procedures, and shows that we are committed to the goal of signing the agreement. But let me also be clear that this was a technical, enabling step that does not in any way prejudge the EU's final decision on signature.

* * *

  • Let me reflect a bit on the broader picture of what I have just said.
  • Ukraine has made a strategic European choice. After more than five years of bilateral negotiations, we now have the possibility to lay the foundations of an enhanced relationship between the EU and Ukraine based on the most advanced Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area the European Union has negotiated with any third partner, a truly historic opportunity.
  • At the same time, developments in Ukraine are closely followed by the EU, by Governments, parliaments and by the general public, and there are concerns – not least about issues such as the selective use of justice and the sense of a backsliding on democracy. It is therefore natural and logical that before signing such an ambitious agreement, Ukraine will need to show that it is indeed ready and committed to live in the spirit of association and take the necessary steps to avoid a recurrence of mistakes made in the past.
  • We are all aware that Ukraine last Friday took further steps towards observer status in the Eurasian Economic Union by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding. We understand Ukraine's need to maintain good relations with all its neighbours, but we have at the same time highlighted to Ukraine that any cooperation with the Customs Union should leave intact the possibility of signing the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, and not contradict Ukraine’s future commitments under this Agreement.
  • Let it be absolutely clear, however, that while we welcome Ukraine's European choice, the EU will not sign the AA/DCFTA on the basis of geopolitical considerations – only honest and committed work by the Ukrainian authorities on the concrete issues set out by the EU's benchmarks will matter.   
  • In practice, Ukraine's European path will in the longer term not be realised through political declarations, but through its gradually closer alignment to European norms and policies. This process of closer political association is greatly facilitated and safeguarded through the AA/DCFTA.
  • I am fully aware that the task facing Ukraine is both substantial and difficult. It is, as I mentioned, also quite simply the most comprehensive agreement the EU has ever negotiated with a non-Member State. We have been working jointly on it for five years, and I would like to assure you that the EU is committed to walking the last part of the road as well.
  • I am convinced that the AA/DCFTA will provide for significant new economic opportunities, with market openings for Ukrainian products and services to the biggest internal market in the world. Better and closer relations will also bring about additional European investments and trade that would create economic growth in Ukraine through new business opportunities and jobs, and would increase the competiveness of Ukraine’s economy as a whole.
  • It is important that these implications of our joint Agreement are known also to the broader public, including civil society and media. A viable DCFTA depends on effective stakeholder consultations, including with non-state actors representing both the business community and workers.
  • In conclusion, with only a few months left to the Eastern Partnership Summit, we are slowly running out of runway, but with maximum thrust and speed, I am convinced that Ukraine can still just about make it.
  • This should be a time characterized by an increased pace of ambitious reforms, but instead I am quite frankly concerned about what appears to be a general slowdown of EU-related steps in Ukraine.  
  • The Council will review Ukraine's implementation of the benchmarks during the early autumn, with a view to taking a political decision on the possible signing in October or, at the latest, in mid-November. The time for talking is therefore now definitively over.
  • It is important that the European Parliament expresses its view on the agreement after the signature and before it is provisionally applied. While there is not a legal obligation for the Parliament to intervene at this stage of the process, it is politically desirable that the Parliament express its view on the agreement - and on the progress accomplished by Ukraine in fulfilling the benchmarks set last December - before parts of the agreement are provisionally applied.  Time will be short. A special effort will be needed.
  • We now need to finalise preparations on the EU side and to continue to fully use the mechanisms of permanent action-oriented dialogue that we have set up both in Brussels and Kyiv in order to ensure that Ukraine's envisaged actions of Ukraine are matching the EU's expectations. But these preparations and this dialogue can only assist – and not replace – the necessary difficult decisions and reforms that Ukraine needs to push through in the coming months. This is the condition for us to be able to attain our joint objective of signing the Association Agreement/DCFTA in Vilnius in November – which would truly be a historic achievement.
  • Thank you for your attention.