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Interfax.com  |  Interviews  |  Fule: We remain committed to Ukraine‘s political association and economic...



Interviews


November 28, 2013

Fule: We remain committed to Ukraine‘s political association and economic integration with EU


EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fule has given an interview with Interfax ahead of the Eastern Partnership summit Vilnius in which he speaks about the Ukraine-EU association agreement and the agenda of the upcoming summit.

Question: Ukraine has decided to suspend the process of preparation for signature of the Association Agreement with the EU. Has this decision taken you by surprise? In your opinion, what are the reasons for this decision?

Answer: The EU learned last week that the government of Ukraine had decided to suspend preparations for signature of the Association Agreement/Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (AA/DCFTA) with Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian government their decision was motivated by ‘national security considerations and by the wish to renew the trade lost over the last months with the Russian Federation and other members of the CIS and Customs Union‘. It is thus clear that this step is a response to a series of measures taken by the Russian Federation which have severely reduced bilateral trade and have inflicted economic hardship on many Ukrainian citizens.

Q.: Many media see Kiev‘s decision as a personal victory of the Russia‘s leadership. In your opinion, could this decision have a negative impact on the EU-Russia relations in general? Wouldn‘t it become a new stumbling block?

A.: Our relations with the neighbors are not a competition and they are not designed to be at the expense of Russia. Russia is a strategic partner for the EU and we want to use all the potential of this partnership. It would be illogical to ask our partners not to do the same. Actually we are encouraging our neighbors to develop their traditional ties with Russia. We see our relations with the Eastern Neighbors as a win-win situation, also for Russia. What we want to achieve with the Eastern Neighbors, is political association and economic integration, helping them to modernize their societies, increase democratic and economic standards for their people. And from this also Russia could profit. The Association Agreement is not a choice to make between Russia or the EU, nor is anybody asking Ukraine to renounce its traditional free trade agreement with Russia. It is entirely normal practice for companies to produce goods for different markets. Take the automobile industry for example where standards differ between the U.S., European Union and Japan and where producers sell variants on all three markets.

Q.: Some experts believe that Ukraine has taken a tactic decision but not a final one. Do you agree with such an interpretation? Can we assume that the door is still open for Ukraine and the negotiations on the Association Agreement will continue in the future? If yes, when can we expect the re-start of the negotiations?

A.: As we understand it, the Ukrainian government decided to suspend preparations for signature of the AA/DCFTA; in other words, Ukraine has asked for a pause in the process. We remain committed to Ukraine‘s political association and economic integration with the EU, and the possibility to sign the AA/DCFTA remains on the table.

Q.: Is the EU ready to show some flexibility in order to sign the Association Agreement, in particular to review its requirement for Tymoshenko‘s treatment abroad?

A.: The Ukrainian government cited national security and commercial concerns as its rationale for suspending the process. It did not mention the EU‘s benchmarks, on which important progress has been achieved. As far as the EU is concerned, we said clearly, that one of the conditions to sign the AA is to address the issue of selective justice, redress its effects and prevent the reoccurrence. Doing so will require the political will of the Ukrainian leadership and determined action and tangible progress on the conditions set out by the EU in December 2012. And it will be up to the EU Member States to make that assessment.

Q.: Victor Suslov, Ukraine‘s representative to the Eurasian Economic Committee, said recently that the EU had failed to hear a number of Ukraine‘s high-level statements about the need for financial support, about too high costs of compulsory transition to the EU‘s regulations and standards ($100 bln $500 bln). Is Brussels ready to listen to Kyiv in this regard so that the signature of the Association Agreement can take place at the end?

A.: The claims about the alleged costs of the impact of the AA on the Ukrainian economy are neither proportionate nor credible, it is not clear what, if any, data back them up. What is a clear fact is the following - the EU is the biggest international provider of technical and financial assistance to Ukraine. Since its independence in 1991, the EU has supported Ukraine´s transformation and modernisation with over 3,3 billion euro of grants. There were around 10,5 billion euro in loans provided by the European Investment Bank and EBRD and sizable bilateral assistance provided also by the member states. Our assistance was planned to be further stepped up in 2014-2020 in the follow-up to the signature of the AA/DCFTA to help with the implementation and further modernization of the country. Apart from that, already in the first year of provisional application of the DCFTA the Ukrainian exporters would save up to 500 million euro on import duties and the GDP would increase by 6,2% in the longer term. So yes, we not only listen to our partners, we also act in order to help them. Let me also add that I have been confronted with a lot of unrealistic numbers recently which seem to me like scaremongering. Just look at past experience: all Central and Eastern European countries who signed Association Agreements with the EU in the early 1990s, even before they had clear perspective of EU entry, had from 1990 to 1996 their GDP per capita increased by 57%; investments per capita increased by 61% and exports per capita increased by 65%. So how come the Ukrainians having to align with much less of the EU norms and rules and not in the most costly areas, would have to pay several times more than the countries that entered the EU and aligned fully with the whole EU legislation?! I am disappointed that the funding needed by Ukrainian businesses to modernize is seen as a cost rather than an investment. The Ukrainian economy needs huge investments but these are not costs. They represent future income, more growth, more jobs and more wealth for the country and its people.

Q.: Do you see a need for holding a trilateral meeting in the format of the European Union-Ukraine-Russia? If yes, what would you expect of it?

A.: We remain convinced that the Eastern Partnership and the AA/DCFTAs are not a zero sum game the EU, our partners and third parties stand to gain substantially from it. We have already explained this also to Russia and are ready to elaborate on the beneficial impact of increased trade and exchanges among neighbors. At the same time, we are committed to respecting the sovereignty and independence of our Eastern Partners and the bilateral nature of the AA/DCFTAs. If our Ukrainian partners have any concerns about possible impact of the AA on its neighbours, we are happy to discuss it with our Ukrainian partners and see how their concerns can be addressed.

Q.: The Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius was expected to be a historic event. Now following the decision by Ukraine, how has the summit agenda changed? What will be on the agenda? Do you expect a lower level of participation?

A.: Vilnius will mark an important step forward in the development of the Eastern Partnership and will witness the agreement of a number of significant deliverables, notably:

Initialling of AA/DCFTAs with Georgia and Republic of Moldova,

Signature of a visa facilitation agreement with Azerbaijan,

Signature of a framework participation agreement in EU-led crisis management operations with Georgia,

Initialing of a civil aviation agreement with Ukraine,

Endorsement of an EaP transport network and list of priority projects.

Recent developments have shown that building solid, sustainable relations with the EU must be underpinned by essential reforms to promote democracy and the rule of law: democratic checks and balances; independent judiciary; genuine fight against corruption; and effective and accountable public administration. Vilnius should be an occasion where this point is brought into picture. The EU will continue to support as much as we can the reform commitment of our Eastern Partners and their ambition to develop close relations with the EU. As a concrete example of matching progress on reforms with progress on getting closer to each other I‘d mention proposal of the European Commission just from this Wednesday, to allow visa-free travel to the Schengen area for Moldovan citizens. Ukraine and Georgia head in the same direction.

Q.: There are similar agreements between the EU and Georgia and Moldova. To what extent are they ready? Are there any obstacles on the way of initialling these agreements at the summit as scheduled?

A.: The AA/DCFTAs with Republic of Moldova and Georgia will be initialed at the Vilnius summit. It is the ambition of the EU as well as the Republic of Moldova and Georgia to sign these Agreements as soon as possible.

Q.: Do you share the view that the future of the Eastern Partnership depended largely on the signature of the AA with Ukraine? How do you see the future of this initiative?

A.: The Eastern Partnership builds on the will of our Eastern neighbors to come closer to the EU. The substance of the partnership is determined by shared aspiration for political association and economic integration. The Eastern Partnership also allows for a high degree of differentiation, tailored to each partner country‘s sovereign choices. While we respect Ukraine‘s decision to suspend preparations for AA/DCFTA, we are disappointed for the people of Ukraine, thousands of whom have rallied in recent days in support of getting closer to the EU. We believe that the future of Ukraine lies in a strong relationship with the EU and stand firm in our commitment to Ukrainian citizens who would have been the main beneficiaries of the agreement through the enhanced freedoms and prosperity the agreement would have brought. At the same time, the EU is strongly committed to other Eastern Partners, including Republic of Moldova and Georgia, to ensure they all benefit from necessary support to implement important reforms on the road to a closer political and economic relationship with the EU.



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