The EU and Ukraine: What’s next?
Pawel Kowal, an MEP with the ECR group and chair of the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, in an interview with COMECE answers questions about the situation in Ukraine and the future of Ukraine-EU relations.
Mr Kowal, you are following closely everything that is happening in Ukraine, you even visited the protestors in Kiev. What is your impression of what happened on Maidan?
The Euromaidan has changed much over the last few months. The one from before the summit in Vilnius was still full of hope that Ukraine’s government would sign the Association Agreement with the EU. Many relied on that to happen. After just a few weeks the same protest resembled more a revolution, still full of hope, but a revolution nevertheless.
It wasn’t the first Maidan in history either. Few remember today the protests of 1990 when the last communist prime minister of Ukraine was forced to resign or the ‘orange revolution’ of 2004. Some similarities with the past protests come to mind but the Euromaidan has its own character. What is distinctive this time is the significant participation of young people, the pro-European sentiments and the conviction that Europe is the destination of Ukraine, not Russia.
What really struck me was to see this large group of well-organised, highly-motivated young people. I think that this is what the EU should take more notice of too.
Most MEPs’ opinion is that the EU should not abandon efforts with Ukraine; however these declarations don’t seem to be supported by any contingent actions…
When it comes to evaluating EU actions with regard to Ukraine it’s important to distinguish between the situation from before the Vilnius summit and after it. Before the summit it seemed plausible that signing of the Association Agreement would take place. All EU institutions were motivated to act in such a way as to make that happen without delay. Of course one can feel disappointed that Ukraine didn’t receive more substantial economic assistance or that the EU didn’t react fast enough to Russia’s intimidating attempts. We need to remember, however, that it was Ukraine that backed down from the Agreement.
What is to be done now is a different question. In my opinion some politicians have, to some extent, admitted failure after the Vilnius Summit and are now ready to go into a sort of hibernation mode.
And yet the people on Maidan proved that there are political partners in Ukraine who want to see their country in Europe.
My conclusion is as follows: since it’s currently impossible to sign the agreement it’s important to maintain that intention on our part and suggest further EU actions in two areas. First, there is the question of young people and cooperation in educating the elites. I believe solutions should include an expanded Erasmus scheme, student exchanges and scholarships, as well as plans to create the Eastern Partnership University that would educate, at graduate level, the future personnel of the country. Finally, an area where EU-Ukraine cooperation is essential is the energy industry, with special focus on improving the Ukrainian activity in this sphere.
The EU struggling with an economic crisis might not be able to counterbalance Russia’s attempts to push Ukraine away from her European aspirations…
There are many ways in which the EU could show Ukrainian citizens its willingness to help overcome their economic problems. The available measures are not in any way antagonistic towards Russia. Opening of the market and signing an agreement on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area are some examples.
This is why, even after the events in August when Russia shut its borders to Ukrainian exports, my appeal was to not focus on sanctions against Russia but on efforts to help Ukraine. It is not a question of the EU performing some kind of charity work towards Ukraine. On the contrary, it’s in the EU’s best interests to influence the situation in Ukraine in a positive way.
In your publications and speeches in the European Parliament you promote the idea of abolishing visas for Ukraine’s citizens to the EU. It seems that the moment for initiating this debate might not be ideal given the recent attempts to question the free movement of people by some political leaders…
It is a problem, of course, that voices are heard in Europe in support of limiting access to the job market or free movement of persons. However, this is a kind of political game played by some politicians on the far right in some countries in Europe. The truth is that this rhetoric has nothing to do with reality. The EU needs immigrants. The demographic crisis affects even countries like Germany, which finds itself in need of new educated citizens for the successful development of society.
In the case of Ukraine we are talking only about abolishing the visa requirement, which is simply a gesture of good will. All research shows that the current visa requirement, as well as the humiliation associated with waiting on the border, are some of the biggest obstacles in building bridges between Ukraine and the EU. It concerns each EU Member-State individually because often the resentment of Ukrainians concentrates on specific countries that issue visas on behalf of the EU. Ukrainians don’t realize that particular consulates cannot act differently but have to apply these rather severe procedures.
I wouldn’t link the situation of Ukraine with the ongoing debate in Europe, although I do consider it to be exaggerated and populist. The fact remains that maintaining the visa requirement is one of the stumbling blocks on the road to Ukraine’s further integration with Europe.
The interview was conducted by Jan Kapaon