On 1 of July, Lithuania takes over the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union. During its time in the Presidency, Lithuania will host what is being called the most important event for the European Union in 2013: The Eastern Partnership summit. The summit marks a critical turning point during which the EU will try to bring its six eastern neighbors — Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine — into closer association with the bloc. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius has spoken this week about his views on the upcoming summit, particularly when it comes to Ukraine
Ukraine, according to Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, is tipped to sign the Association Agreement with the EU, however the path to signing has been fraught with difficult and tumult. The country, failing to meet the EU’s 3 reform requirements by May, was granted an extension until November. All eyes are expectantly, or sceptically, fixed on Ukraine.
Minister Linas Linkevicius has expressed his opinion that Ukraine needs close and contact with Lithuania in the run-up to the summit, highlighting Lithuania’s crucial role in assisting the country on its way to greater integration with the EU. He also spoke about the need for realistic expectations for the Ukraine, as well as the other EaP countries when it comes to pinning hopes on November’s gathering:
“Each of these countries [is] different, having different expectations, motivations, ambitions, and that is true. But when I am asked about the success of the summit…let’s manage the expectations as well,” the Minister said.
“We have a vision beyond 2013. It is not the end of the game, it is just the beginning. We will be able to implement very important principles. One of them is ‘more for more’ — when these countries are delivering more, we should set a mechanism to do more as well which is not always the case, if you agree. I can talk a lot about these things, but briefly, this is also a success.”
Speaking further about the potential success of the summit, Linekivcius expressed:
“An additional success is to sign an Association Agreement with Ukraine by the summit. It is possible, it is doable. [There are] a lot of obstacles, as you said, but [we are] still moving towards that direction.”
However, the Lithuanian Minister’s expectations are still realistic, as earlier this month, he described the difficulties Ukraine is having in demonstrating reforms adequately enough to impress the EU:
“.. there are points where [Ukraine’s] progress can be hardly seen. But we are struggling to find at least any signs of improvement in the situation. In the questions of elections there are some, but we see not even that much progress in the remaining two spheres [reform of the judiciary system and elimination of selective justice]. So, I have to admit that if we are to make decision on the European Union’s preparedness to sign the Association Agreement today, it would be negative.”
— Dalia Grybauskaitė (@Grybauskaite_LT) June 13, 2013
This realistic perspective is one similarly expressed by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, who spoke about the reformation process in Ukraine, particularly as it applies to the case of ex-Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Grybauskaitė expressed the view that Tymoshenko’s case could be seen as a symbol of the wider processes taking place in this country. The release of Tymoshenko is one of the requirements the Ukraine has to fulfill in order to sign the Association agreement, and one which has been met with controversy. A heated debate epitomised in Estonia’s Prime Minister Andrus Ansip remark that “It is wrong for the future of Ukrainian-Estonian and Ukrainian-EU relations to depend on one lady.” Grybauskaitė spoke about this requirement saying that it was about far more than ‘one lady’ but an indication of a larger problem:
“Sometimes one person’s case symbolises and is like a pyramid of the whole process. Therefore, I understand that one person should not be an obstacle, but if that person and his/her case symbolises a certain process in the country, and this is how other countries see this case, it is a totally different problem then.”
Grybauskaitė also reiterated Lithuania’s strong support for Ukraine’s EU integration hopes, saying:
“…Of course, I am trying to unite the front, as I say, or the group of countries that really support Ukraine’s aspiration for as many countries that might support the prospect of signing of the EU-Ukrainian Association Agreement to be in Vilnius. Of course, we remind Ukraine that there’s no one-way street, and it is vital that Ukraine continues and swiftly implements law-enforcement reforms and those ensuring human rights. But, nevertheless, this whole Central European group, and those participants who are here in Bratislava today, including Mr. Van Rompuy, President of the EU Council, we all understand very well and our opinions on Ukraine’s prospects in the EU really match.”
Meanwhile, however, Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius has postponed his visit to Ukraine earlier scheduled for June 13-14, Butkevicius was set to hold talks with Mykola Azarov, Prime Minister of Ukraine, and meet with Verkhovna Rada Chairman, Volodymyr Rybak and the reasons for the postponement of the visit have not been disclosed.
Simultaneous to this – at the 18th Summit of Heads of State of Central Europe held in Bratislava, Slovakia – Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has underscored Ukraine’s commitment to European integration, saying:
“United Europe is a clearly declared civilized choice of Ukraine. Such a choice is based not only on the geopolitical realities and economic feasibility, but also, above all, on the natural European identity of our nation, its historical, cultural and value unity with the rest of the Europeans. I do not see any objective reasons, which would deprive Ukraine and several other countries in the region of such a powerful integration tool.”
Amidst rising concerns about Ukraine’s readiness to the sign the Association Agreement, the Ukrainian President explained: