Ukraine’s EU hopes far away

by Oksana Bondarchuk, Kyiv Post Staff Writer
Oct 12 2006, 03:14

Ukraine’s acceptance into the European Union “is not on the agenda,” EC ambassador to Ukraine Ian Boag has said. And joining NATO is not in itself a stepping stone to the EU, he added. Future bilateral relations will depend a lot on whether Ukraine joins the World Trade Organization, according to Boag, a British citizen who has been serving as the top Eurocrat in Kyiv for over two years.

KP: How would you describe the current state of EU-Ukrainian relations?

IB: I think that current relations are very good. They are very productive. You see that the new prime minister [Viktor Yanukovych] went twice to Brussels in a very short space of time [at the end of last month]: once to head the Ukrainian delegation to the Cooperation Council, and the other time to meet the president of the [European] Commission and the president of the European Parliament. I think that this was very useful. We have a lot of things ongoing at the moment. We have the implementation of the Action Plan. We have the memorandum of understanding on energy. We have initialed and will soon sign a memorandum on cooperation in agriculture, which will be in addition to the Action Plan…

KP: Could you explain what you mean by “cooperation in agriculture?”

IB: Basically, it is a memorandum, which sets outs a framework whereby we agreed to consult and discuss on a variety of issues. It does not settle substantive points, because there is not too much about agriculture in the Action Plan. And, therefore,this is designed to set a framework in which we can discuss various things about trade in agriculture products and discussions from geographic indicators, which is very important to us. This will be signed, I think, in Brussels on the 18th of this month…

KP: Have bilateral relations changed since the second premiership of Viktor Yanukovych, whom many see as pro-Russian?

IB: Well, I always felt that the description of people as being pro-Western or pro-Russian is rather simplistic. The prime minister of Ukraine is the prime minister of Ukraine. I have to say that when Prime Minister Yanukovych went to Brussels, we had very good talks. And what he said about reform, about

relations with the European Union, about joining the WTO [World Trade Organization], which for us is an absolutely fundamental question, was very satisfactory. Obviously, as the president of the European Commission said, what we do with every new government is that we judge what that government does.

One of the first tests is, obviously, the question of membership in the World Trade Organization. Upon this depends what we will be doing in the future.

At the beginning of next year, we hope to begin negotiations on what we call an in-house agreement, and this will contain very far-reaching elements, one of which will be a free-trade agreement, and not just free trade that abolishes customs tariffs.

It will envisage approximation of legislation, the harmonization of industrial norms and standards… All of the things that will bring Ukraine very much closer to the European Union, the single market of the European Union. Without that, without the WTO, we can’t start talks on this. Therefore, this is absolutely vital…

KP: Is Ukraine really ready to enter the WTO, because you have said that its economy is still unstable?

IB: Well, the way that we would view it is that joining the WTO means to become a fully-fledged member of the global economy. It allows a degree of transparency, because Ukraine has to obey the rules of the rest of the world, and the rest of the world has to obey the rules vis-à-vis Ukraine. To give you a concrete example: at the present moment, there is a quota for the export of steel products to the European Union.

If Ukraine is a member of the WTO, that quota falls, because we are not allowed to impose quotas within the framework of the WTO. So that is a benefit for Ukraine.

And once Ukraine is a member of the WTO, it allows for negotiations on a free trade agreement.

Both membership in the WTO and the possibility for a free trade agreement will certainly encourage foreign direct investment in Ukraine and, indeed, encourage Ukrainian investment in Ukraine.

There are, of course, certain individual sectors in the Ukrainian economy which have raised concerns, and that is what will be discussed at the meeting I mentioned in October.

KP: Do you think the Ukrainian government is doing enough to get into theWTO?

IB: As I say, the key things are the 21 – which I understand is the figure – laws or amendments to laws which have to be passed in the Verkhovna Rada [parliament].

The government has completed all the bilateral memoranda, except two, with Taiwan and Kyrgyzstan, which we hope will be wrapped up soon.

So, the really key thing is the legislation in the Verhkhovna Rada. We very much hope that the government will push this very strongly. And we very much hope that there will be a substantial majority in the Verkhovna Rada in favor of this.

KP: How do you assuage the concerns about particular branches of the Ukrainian economy with regard to WTO entry?

IB: There are individual branches of the economy that have been identified to us as having particular concerns … One of the ideas that was put forward as a way forward for Ukraine in agriculture was the whole area of organic farming. There is a premium market for organic products, and it may be that Ukraine has a possibility to take advantage of that market…

KP: Getting back to the Brussels visit of Ukrainian Prime Minister Yanukovych.

Have his statements about halting Ukraine’s progress toward joining NATO changed the perception of Ukraine in Europe, or was the feeling that he just said what everyone knew anyway?

IB: You have to separate the question of NATO from the question of the EU.

All I can point out is that not all members of the EU are members of NATO and vice versa. The question is that since the disintegration of the Soviet Union many countries that want to join the EU also want to join NATO and they want this to be done one before the other or more or less at the same time. But there is no absolutely necessary correlation between these two.

I can’t speak about NATO announcements. It is quite possible to join the EU without joining NATO. In many cases, the run up for the preparation to NATO membership goes in the same direction as the run up to the EU in terms of reforms.

KP: So can we say that such statements by Ukrainian officials don’t influence Europe’s attitude toward Ukraine?

IB: No, the EU takes its own attitude towards Ukraine.

KP: The EU has occasionally accused Ukraine of not following through on promises of reforms. How has this changed since the Orange Revolution?

IB: I think the Orange Revolution brought about a great deal of change. It brought in a new government, which had its own, very clear attitude to its relations with Europe, to its desire to carry out reforms. It is not easy to carry out reforms. We recognize that. I think most Ukrainians wish it could be possible for Ukraine to go much faster with reforms. We have mechanisms to help Ukraine to carry out these reforms, we have the Action Plan.

KP: Could you give some examples of such mechanisms?

IB: Well, we have various projects we are in the process of implementing.

For example, we have a project on bringing Ukrainian legislation closer to European legislation.

We also have projects in the fight against corruption, to promote judicial reform, to promote administrative reform, to promote energy efficiency, which is also vital for Ukraine because Ukraine is very energy inefficient, and there is a lot that needs to be done to improve that.

KP: Do you feel you get good support from Ukrainian officials?

IB: Yes, we do. We have very good support.

KP: Can you name some achievements by Ukraine toward its goal of joining the EU?

IB: There are a number of things. And I think I would go back to the Action Plan.

For example, one of the priorities of the Action Plan was the holding of free and fair elections, not only the 2004 presidential elections, but also the parliamentary elections in March this year, which all international observers recognized as free and fair. This is important.

Another tremendous step is cooperation over the question of [Moldovan breakaway republic of] Transdnistria, which was initiated by President [Viktor] Yushchenko at the GUAM summit last year [regional union of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova]. We very much appreciate the commitments of Ukraine to this.

KP: How will the recent independence referendum in Transdnistria influence your work in this region?

IB: You know that the EU said, like almost everybody else, that it doesn’t recognize the referendum or its results. We want to see an improvement in that situation and hopefully, a solution.

Also, since Romania will join the EU on Jan. 1 next year, we will have a direct border with Moldova.

Of course, we are interested in the situation in our neighborhood being stable and peaceful.

And the present situation in Transdnistria means that this is not the case. We are working as much as we can on this problem.

We work very closely with Moldova, where we have many programs. We raise the issue of Moldova at meetings with the Russian government at the highest level.

KP: Getting back to Ukraine, what are Ukraine’s prospects for EU membership, taking into account the fact that after Romania and Bulgaria have joined the EU, the EU will stop its expansion eastwards?

IB: One has to say very frankly that at the present time Ukraine’s membership is not on the agenda. It doesn’t mean that you will never join. It is in the future. There is a queue of states waiting to join, like Turkey, Macedonia and others.

Recently, the EU got a significant enlargement with new members. The fact that Ukraine’s membership is not on the agenda has nothing to do with the evaluation of Ukraine’s merit. Its membership, in general, is basically on hold.

At the present moment, what can be said is that if Ukraine continues to make progress in reforms, in integration into the European market, in becoming more attractive by increasing the country’s GPD, improving the standard of living of its population, it will be moving in the right direction.

KP: Don’t you think that certain realities in Ukraine could make Russia more attractive, especially taking into account the pro-Russian leanings of the present government?

IB: I think that even without membership, the EU offers a lot that is attractive to Ukraine.

It is a market with about 500 million consumers with a very high standard of living (including imminent membership of Romania and Bulgaria). In addition, there are industries looking for investment opportunities, and Ukraine being close to the EU is very attractive.

Also it is not only a question of economics, but of people-to-people contacts. When I traveled all over Ukraine and visited universities, I talked to students who wanted to continue their studies in Europe. Many of them would like to go work in the EU. So the EU is really attractive for Ukrainians everywhere.

It is not simply a question of choosing between Russia and Europe. Ukraine has its geography and has a big neighbor – Russia – on one side and another big neighbor – the EU – on the other.

It is obvious that Ukraine needs some good relations with both the EU and Russia. I think that is not really a question of choice between one and the other.

What, I think, Ukraine is really in the process of choosing, is a set of values: how to live, how to do business. What we encourage Ukraine to do is to adopt the global transparency values of democracy and human rights.

KP: It was announced recently that the cost of visas for Ukrainians traveling to the EU will rise. Doesn’t this send the wrong signal?

IB: Well, it depends, because it may be that the prices will go up within the framework of the visas-for-invitation agreement, which is in the process.

There is a disposition. There is a general rise in the price of visas in Schengen areas.

There is a disposition for the price not to rise for those countries where we are in the process of negotiations about the visa-invitation agreement. There are a number of categories of Ukrainians who receive free visas.

But, as I said, these negotiations are still ongoing, so we can’t see what the final shape will be.

I can’t go into the details of these negotiations, but I can only say that they are aimed at making it easier for people to travel.

KP: Could something be changed in these negotiations if pro-Western Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk leaves his post?

IB: I don’t want to get into a discussion about Ukrainian domestic politics.

The one thing I can say is that the post of foreign minister is one of those posts whose candidacy is selected by the president.

And I believe that all Ukrainians would like to see the visa regime as generous as possible. So I don’t think it depends on the individuality of some people. I think it is what the entire country wants.

KP: As you know, Germany and Russia have agreed to build a gas pipeline around Poland and Ukraine, and this affects the interests of some Central European countries.

What would you say to calm Ukrainian fears that Europe could be more interested in cheap gas than a strong Ukraine?

IB: I am not sure that the construction of a new pipeline will make gas cheaper, and I think it is just a general desire to diversify energy sources. The key thing is that Ukraine retains ownership and control over its gas transit network.

Ukraine is obviously very important for the EU and Russia as a transit country, and I think it will continue to be so for a long time even if the additional pipes are constructed because the amount of consumption [in Europe] will probably increase.

KP: Do tell, what would you like to achieve as the ambassador of the EU in Ukraine?

IB: I think I would like to achieve what any ambassador would like: it is to promote relations as much as possible between, in my case, the European Commission, the European Union and Ukraine. Things have changed very dramatically since I came to Ukraine in September 2004. And I am very confident that we will continue to develop our relations, because of the logic of mutual interests and the desire to bring relations closer.


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