Ukraine is optimistic about the possibility of further EU-integration, but the country’s tense political situation is inhibiting it from reaching an official agreement with the European member states to enhance political and economic ties. The European Union requires Ukraine to address its political corruption, the imprisonment of government officials, and to seriously reconsider joining the Customs Union with Russia before any settlement is to be ratified. Where does Ukraine currently stand and what are its prospects of Euro-integration?
The domestic political tension in Ukraine became clearly visible with the imprisonment of former opposition leaders, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and ex-Minister of the Interior Yuri Lutsenko. They were found guilty on a number of charges ranging from abuse of political power to tax evasion, but in the eyes of the international community they were unfairly accused and the victims of politically motivated justice.
Matters in the country got even worse during the parliamentary elections this past fall. The wide-scale manipulation of vote counts and restrictions in the election run-up as well as unequal access to media sources amongst political competitors damaged Ukraine’s international reputation even further.
Despite these apparent non-democratic policies, Ukraine is optimistic about reaching an agreement with the European Union on closer economic and political ties. However, these are the main reasons why the previously negotiated association agreement and an accompanying far-reaching free trade agreement between the European Union and Ukraine have been on ice for a while now. The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, has asserted that these conditions are non-negotiable and have stated that they are only willing to ratify the association agreement at the Eastern Partnership summit in November if Kiev reforms electoral law and brings an end to ‘selective’ justice against opposition figures. Unfortunately, Ukraine does not seem to be making significant progress in adequately addressing either of these concerns.
Ukraine’s Minister of the Exterior, Leonid Kozhara, has responded to the concerns voiced by the European Union by stating that if by selective justice is meant repression, such a political system does not exist in Ukraine. He has furthermore emphasised that Ukraine is making progress in multilateral talks with EU representatives regarding the imprisonment of Ukrainian government officials and that Kiev has taken a tough stance on political corruption since the inauguration of President Yanukovic.
In order to promote closer EU-Ukrainian collaboration, EU officials should better communicate the advantages of closer economic and political ties. Once the Ukrainian population recognises what opportunities they may gain, they are likely to put more pressure on the country’s elite. The EU also needs to engage more actively in cooperation in the energy sector, for instance on energy efficiency or the diversification and modernisation of Ukraine’s decrepit power grid, as well as in the difficult negotiations with Russia over a new gas agreement.
Ukraine is also being swayed to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which would lead to a deeper integration economically with its Eastern neighbours. Both further integration into the European Union or the Customs Union will inevitably lead to an increase in Ukraine’s domestic welfare level, but they are mutually exclusive and most Ukrainians would not want to join the Customs Union if this would be at the expense of Euro-integration.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission has asserted that Ukraine must take decisive action in its reforms by May this year in order for the European Union to ratify the settlement in November. Unless the cases of Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuri Lutsenko are properly addressed, and there is sufficient confidence that there will be no more use of selective justice or political corruption, the EU will not sign the association agreement with Ukraine for further integration.