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Europe’s dilemma concerning Ukraine association agreement

Europe should keep its hand outstretched for Ukraine, offering it a stronger link to the West, but first Kiev needs to turn its steer back in the right direction. In the discussion, organised by the Konrad Adenauer foundation “Which future for the European Neighbourhood policy?” the actual discussed question was “what to do with Ukraine, and the EU-Ukraine association agreement, after what happened in the case of Tymoshenko?”

The European’s Eastern Partnership policy has been established, seeking to support political and socio-economic reforms of the partner countries. The thereby coming demand for stability, responsible state leadership and economic developments, could be of strong importance for the EU and should therefore remain an important union’s policy.

In an opening speech the representative for Poland’s Embassy compared the EU-Ukraine negotiations with those of Poland in the 90´s. In Poland's opinion the start of more integration with the EU would not have been possible without a real impulse, a document. Brussels outstretched its hand towards Poland by starting the association agreement negotiations. It always meant for Poland the offer to longer and stronger cooperation. This should also remain for Ukraine. In the eyes of Poland, the association agreement is a very important step towards this direction.

Ukraine has been negotiating with the European Union for four years about a trade and association agreement. In the past twenty years many things positively changed in Ukraine. This, we should not forget, expressed Poland's representative. But since Mr Yanukovych defeated Ms Tymoshenko for the presidency in February 2010, things have been disturbed. Yanukovych has repeatedly acted to overturn all obstacles to his authoritarian rule. The seven-year jail sentence meted out to Yulia Tymoshenko, for exceeding her powers in a gas deal with Russia, was a step too far. At least for many European leaders, who now question if they should sign the agreement this December.

In Berlin the Polish representative finds more supporters who nevertheless think that Europe should keep offering these opportunities for Ukraine. But only when they’re ready for it. Right now, the overall feeling is that values as press freedom and the rule of law don’t function as they should be. And therefore there is a lack of faith in believing that Ukraine is even willing to be ready. But on the other hand, it should not be forgotten that Ukraine is still far ahead, when comparing to the other Eastern partnership countries. Ukrainian Euro-romantic politicians would have liked to see the agreement being signed as soon as possible, but realise at the same time as well that Ukraine is finding it self in a dilemma and therefore shouldn't sign the treaty. In the last two years under Yanukovich, lots of things have changed the relationship between the EU and Ukraine. Even though the signing of the treaty could offer the opposition to force the authorities for democratic reforms, voices as well as in Ukrainians opposition as in other countries in Europe think the treaty should not be signed as long as the authorities don’t change their policy first.

What it could mean for the Ukrainian civil society was also brought to the topic during the discussion. Of course the fact entering a labour market of 500 million Europeans and visa liberalization is and could be extremely important for the Ukrainian citizens. An other point which could stand for signing the treaty now is the fear that Ukraine will look the other way. No longer will Brussels, but Moscow become high priority. There is some sort of a conception that if the treaty won't be signed during the summit this December it could take a long time for the next chance to come. If Ukraine doesn't want to wait this long, the might decide focussing eastwards.

But not everybody in Germany shares this conception of Ukraine willing to tightening its ties towards Russia. The idea that Ukraine may decide looking into Russia’s direction where Vladimir Putin is trying to seduce Ukraine into a “Eurasian union” is in their eyes not realistic. Russia could offer Ukraine cheaper gas and other economic benefits, but this at the price of undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty. And that is something it may not want to give up.

Europe will and should stand by its offer, is the opinion shared by some German experts on this field. But Europe should be making it clear that they are serious about this. That is why many politicians and experts think, it is important that Europe first waits until things have changed in Kiev.

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