Both the European Union and majority of Ukrainian society see future development of Ukraine in cooperation and further integration with the Union. It is a tangible proof of Ukrainians’ engagement in applying European standards. EU politicians are aware that this process will not end overnight – it will take much time and arduous work. Yet if Ukraine focuses on alternative paths instead of enforcement of the foregoing standards, the consequences could be dire. In my opinion, considering an alternative alliance with China or Arab states is just wishful thinking or an illusion. Political and economic costs would be too high.
Apart from a series telling the story of trying and imprisoning Yulia Tymoshenko that shadows everything else, Ukraine has recently sent two messages: one good and one bad. The former is our eastern neighbours’ confirmation of their European aspirations through initialling the Association Agreement. It is a huge achievement, summing up the period of intensive and tough negotiations, which just accelerated in 2011.
The initialling opens doors to signing the Agreement, but the fact that, at the same time, it does not equal assuming any legal obligations must be also emphasized. We had been expecting the initialling last year, during the Polish Presidency. It took place, however, in March 2012, for the complex character of the legal side of the Agreement as well as the preparation of its final version. Now, we are to wait several months while the process of translating the document into all EU official languages is taking place – it is one of the elements conditioning future signing and ratification of the Agreement.
Yet the bad news is the new idea emerging among representatives of Ukrainian authorities. Roughly speaking, it consists in thinking that, as the EU is afraid of signing the Agreement and the Eurasian Union is not a beneficial project, Ukraine should find the third way. I am convinced there is an error in such thinking. Right now, Ukraine should focus on reforms and applying democratic standards rather than seeking an alternative to being a vassal to Russia or a partnership with the Union. The main reason should be the majority of Ukrainians wanting the EU closer for the benefits it brings: trade exchange and economic development as well as cultural exchange, education access, tourism, etc.
The European Union wants to integrate Ukraine further, despite political elites on the Dnieper bank challenging this state of affairs. The message that the Union does not want Ukraine among its member states is untrue and seems like an attempt to conjure reality. Yet it still could become the fact if Ukraine did not show determination in putting the present agreements in practice. The political context of the Agreement was constructed by the European Parliament in a way that forces Ukrainian authorities to confirm their readiness for creating pro-reform conditions. There must be no doubt about adopting democratic values. These expectations were voiced in the letter of the Foreign Ministers of the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Sweden and the UK, published by The New York Times in March this year. The Ministers stated that the factor conditioning the future of Ukraine in Europe is conducting parliamentary elections in accordance with democratic standards. At the same time, this statement was an expression of a belief that the opportunity of freely electing one’s own parliament and government is of the highest value in democracy. Therefore, maintaining the highest standards while preparing legal regulations regarding elections, defining the borders of precincts and holding the elections themselves are so important.
The condition under which the signing of the Association Agreement could take place in the future is democratic elections in Ukraine. The same requirements regarding democratic standards are not imposed solely on Kyiv. In case of similar violations in, for instance, Paris, Budapest or Madrid, the EU would react as strongly, not excluding strict sanctions.
About the author: Paweł Zalewski (born 1964), Member of the European Parliament, Vice-Chairman of the EP International Trade Commission. He studied history and law at Warsaw University and belonged to the Independent Student Association in the ‘80. In the years 1989-1991, he was an adviser to the Minister of National Education. For many years, he was associated to groups of conservatives and was a Member of the Polish Parliament I,V and VI term of office. Paweł Zalewski was also the Chairman of the Sejm’s Foreign Affairs Committee of the fifth term of office, engaged in the process of integrating Ukraine and the EU. In 2011, he was placed on the 5th position in the prestigious ranking of the TOP 10 lobbyists of Ukraine in the world, drawn up by the Kiev Institute of World Policy, based on the opinions of 50. Ukrainian and international experts.
Translated by KD