The EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine

The publication of a document purporting to be the Association Agreement drawn up by the European Union in its negotiations with Ukraine by a Ukrainian newspaper last week provides an interesting insight into the benefits both sides are hoping for. Josh Black distills its essence.

Verkhovna Rada, Kyiv

Verkhovna Rada, Kyiv

The European Union’s foreign policy towards its Eastern neighbours was formulated under the same Directorate as conceived the process for the enlargements in 2004 and 2007. As such, the ambitions of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP, rebranded as the Eastern Partnership in 2009 to allow for a more flexible policy towards autocratic Belarus) are sometimes expressed in a way that makes them seem similar to the transformations wrought in central and eastern Europe. This interpretation has led many to characterise the urgency behind the process as consisting at once of optimism and under-confidence in the EU’s transformative power. Supporters of a deeper relationship with Ukraine are apparently convinced that they can achieve results once the EU obtains greater leverage over that country, but worry that they will miss their chance and push Ukraine into a deeper relationship with Russia if they are not prepared to take a leap of faith.

The alleged copy of the Association Agreement leaked to a Ukrainian newspaper last week shows a different side to the relationship. While the familiar themes of conditionality and rule transfer from the EU statute books to those of Ukraine are present, the extent to which the EU needs Ukraine is also clear. Right from the off, a preamble offers a lengthy list of the kinds of problems the Association Agreement is designed to combat. These are arms controls, the economy, energy security, organised crime and trafficking, not Ukraine’s weak institutions or under-development. While human and political rights play a significant role in the democratic conditionality of the document, the Association Agreement itself does not add many new levers for improving these. They must, therefore, be rectified before ratification.

The benefits of the Association Agreement are somewhat ambiguous from the text itself. It will impose a huge regulatory burden. Perhaps more than thirty pieces of legislation will be required of Ukraine in the five years following ratification. With a presidential election in the midst of this process and a barely functioning parliament, it is anybody’s guess how much of this will be achieved. Tariffs will be eradicated within five-to-ten years of ratification under the Agreement, which both sides hope will contribute to a modest economic boom. Ukraine has lodged relatively few reservations, but one which the EU should have pushed back on – a 35% cap on investment in Ukrainian newspaper ownership – does make it into the document.

Ukrainian popular opinion is somewhat behind the Agreement, with 43% of respondents to one poll saying that it will benefit the country, but as many as 29% unsure of its effect. Interestingly, a poll by the Razumkov Centre on the most important aspects of the Agreement shows a relatively nuanced view. Cooperation on transnational social and criminal problems ranks most important, followed by security concerns. Only 29% of people say that visa liberalisation is very important. Indeed, the Agreement offers few real clarifications on this issue, which is progressing on a separate track, largely on a country-by-country basis.

As momentum builds behind preparations for the Vilnius summit of the Eastern Partnership in November of this year, both the European Union and Ukraine are nervous about the outcome. The imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko on charges of defrauding the state, which seemed to be a deal breaker when several European leaders boycotted the Euro 2012 final in Kyiv, now appears to be more of an embarrassment. With a definitive European Court of Human Rights judgement someway off, the presidential administration may be looking for a way out of its predicament without bolstering the opposition or losing face. Transferring Tymoshenko to a German hospital may be the answer.



One thought on “The EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine

  1. Pingback: Vostok Cable | Out of the Black

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