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Madam Chair, Honourable Members,
First of all, I would like to thank Mr Gahler for his comprehensive report.
The European Union has stood by Ukraine since Russia began its military aggression and then illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
Ukraine remains high on the European agenda. We continue to provide political, financial and technical assistance as support for its reform agenda to build a more resilient economy. We stepped up support, especially during this crisis, where the EU is showing solidarity with Ukraine during the pandemic.
Our support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders has been steadfast since the aggression began in the country’s southern and eastern regions.
The ceasefire that has largely been holding - though with a recent spike in violence - since last July is an undeniable breakthrough. It brings tangible improvement on the ground. However, the overall pace of progress towards the peaceful and sustainable resolution of the conflict remains too slow.
While Ukraine must be praised for its constructive approach and President Zelenskyy’s efforts, Russia must reciprocate. The EU expects Russia to use its considerable influence over the armed formations that it backs. There is no place in 21st century Europe for using force to alter the boundaries of a sovereign country.
Enforcement of our sanctions in response to the undermining of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by Russia is consistent and unwavering. Sectoral sanctions were rolled over in December 2020 by the European Council. The duration of these sanctions against Russia remains linked to the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements. The individual sanctions regime has only become wider over the years, in response to further Russian undermining of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The sanctions regime targeting the Crimean peninsula is also consistently enforced. We have also put a new sanctions regime in place that allows the Council to impose asset freezes and travel bans on persons it deems to have committed serious human rights violations. If Member States call for it, we are ready to make use of the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime against Russia.
Then, the EU stands firmly by Ukraine on its reform path, providing unprecedented financial and technical support. We are supporting Ukraine with a new Macro-Financial Assistance programme worth €1.2 billion to help mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic. Its first tranche of €600 million was disbursed in early December.
The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement is a unique platform for Ukraine to advance on its reform path, bringing our economies and societies closer together.
And the agreement is producing results: many years of uninterrupted growth stimulated by the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. The pandemic set back this development last year, but we hope to return to positive tendencies soon.
The agreement has an immense potential, and the EU is ready to explore all possibilities to continue enhancing our sectoral cooperation and economic integration.
As you rightly indicate in the report, implementing the Agreement, including its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade area, must remain a top priority. We will discuss the next steps for developing our bilateral relations in the post-pandemic period at this week’s EU-Ukraine Association Council.
Tomorrow, Prime Minister Shmyhal and I will also launch the process for the review of trade liberalisation for goods, which is foreseen under Article 29 of the Association Agreement, five years after its entry into force.
The EU also stands by Ukraine in fighting the pandemic. We have re-oriented several ongoing and future assistance programmes, with more than €190 million going to Ukraine to help meet its COVID-19-related needs. The EU has also deployed the Civil Protection Mechanism to transfer equipment and supplies to Ukraine.
In addition, we are exploring options to help Ukraine receive early access to vaccines. As part of the COVAX program, Ukraine will receive 117,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in February, and 2.2 million to 3.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine during the first half of this year. We are looking forward to see vaccination start in Ukraine this month. However, we are concerned about the impact of Russian disinformation about the vaccination process in Ukraine and are ready to assist in the fight against disinformation and vaccine scepticism.
Your report strikes a very fine and accurate balance in praising achievements and acknowledging shortcomings.
It rightly highlights that Ukraine has delivered many important reforms over the past years. These have all been hard-fought and Ukraine’s leadership should be praised.
However, I share your assessment that, “despite notable progress, widespread corruption continues to hamper Ukraine’s reform process”. Its key institutions must have strong and independent leadership and the chance to do their work free of political, economic or other interference.
As the report says, smuggling only benefits criminals and oligarchs. It must be stopped, and for this, it is vital that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau be fully independent. Over the years, the Bureau has demonstrated its effectiveness and produced tangible results. The fight against corruption is a key condition for the EU’s macro-financial support.
Recent developments in the rule of law and anti-corruption show that comprehensive judiciary reform is long overdue. The Venice Commission and G7 roadmap, complementing EU Delegation´s constant advice to authorities and politicians, give clear guidance on what has to be done.
We recognise the complexity of the task. From the start, Russian interference was designed to destabilise, divide and weaken Ukraine. So the best response is to stay united, and keep working toward the prosperity and stability that come from sound economic policies.
The EU is ready to support Ukraine in doing this. We urge all reform-oriented political factions to come together and give a clear signal of Ukraine’s determination to make its reform path irreversible.
This will be one of the main messages that I will convey to Prime Minister Shmyhal tomorrow.
The EU is helping Ukraine to create the right conditions for prosperity and peace. Ukraine has our support: political, financial and technical.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-201976
Madam Chair, Honourable Members,
Before I conclude, I would like to agree with another part of your report. You rightly commend the Ukrainian civil society, young people and NGOs for their vibrant activities.
All who have visited Ukraine during the last years, including myself, have been deeply impressed by their determination to forge a better future. I know that the conflict and the economic situation have weighed heavily on young Ukrainians. Many have been internally displaced; many others have emigrated.
Some leave for a short time as students, taking advantage of the Erasmus+ exchange programme to gain experiences elsewhere in Europe. In fact, Ukraine is among the most active and successful participants in the Erasmus+, having access on the same terms as EU Member States.
I believe that today we can send them a joint message of support and recognition for their invaluable contribution. Ukraine’s future is in their hands.
Europe is standing strong for Ukraine.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-201978