Wednesday, April 25, 2007

EU Parliament debates Ukrainian Crisis opting for rule of law and neutrality

Ukraine urged to solve its crisis peacefully, but could the EU have done more?

External relations - 25-04-2007 - 18:24

With the political crisis in Ukraine continuing, MEPs discussed the situation with the Council and Commission. While Ukraine is seen as a vital interest of the EU, there was a consensus that the country's politicians must find a solution themselves without outside interference. Some speakers, however, suggested that the EU might have played a more active role in Ukraine's recent political development.

Council and Commission

Opening for the Council, Germany's Federal Minister of State Günther Gloser welcomed this opportunity to debate developments in Ukraine, adding that their importance could not be overstated. Ukraine's 2004 "Orange Revolution" had set an example for other states in the region, he said, but the wrangling required to form a government thereafter had proven very difficult.

In April 2007, President Viktor Yushchenko had sought to dissolve Parliament, which had refused. The case was now before the constitutional court and the Council was in close contact with all the protagonists continued Mr Gloser. If the court could settle the constitutionality issue, then well and good, but political compromises would still be needed, he continued, adding that he welcomed assurances from both sides that violence would not be used to settle disputes. Free and fair elections and a free press are essential to the democratic process and would always have the EU's support, he concluded.

For the Commission, Vladimir Špidla reminded MEPs that negotiations for an expanded co-operation agreement with Ukraine had begun on 5 March and stressed that a solution to the current difficulties must be found. The Commission was especially concerned at the apparent hardening of differences between President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, he added.

"Stability is vital for Ukraine and its future in Europe", he continued, reiterating Commission President José Barroso's statement the previous week that "there is no political problem to which a solution can't be found".

The non-violence of street demonstrations in Ukraine demonstrates that its citizens understand the need to abide by democratic principles and the rule of law - including the independence of the constitutional court - and the Ukraine appears to be developing a "new style of compromise", including "controls on the political system".

"It is not the role of the EU to intervene" in these developments, said the Commissioner, but "we should call on all political forces to work together for compromise [...] we have confidence that Ukraine's young democracy will pass this test".

Since the Orange Revolution and the adoption of the EU/Ukraine action plan, political dialogue and co-operation have intensified, said the Commissioner, citing € 120 million in support under the new European neighbourhood policy, an agreement on visa regulations, and moves to free up trade. Work on the expanded agreement, to which Ukraine is strongly committed, opens up new prospects for co-operation on energy, he added.

"Ukraine is a key partner for the EU, and we are entirely resolved to enhance our relations" concluded Commissioner Špidla.

Political group speakers

On behalf of the EPP-ED group, Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (PL) told the House that the crisis in Ukraine is a "matter of concern" to all those who followed the country's progress since the Orange Revolution. It is "vital", he added, "that today's situation be resolved in line with the rule of law". As he then went on to say, the EU "could have done more to stop this crisis from developing" -- namely, with financial aid and more political support. The Union, he argued, must encourage democratic gains in Kiev, particularly by way of a new enhanced agreement with Ukraine. The present crisis, he added, "is a challenge for the Union" to step up its engagement in Ukraine. It is "high time to do more", he concluded. "Let's support Ukraine's European choice".

For the Socialist group, Jan Marinus Wiersma (NL), stressed that the Orange Revolution had led to greater democracy in Ukraine but that it had also given rise to the current conflict, which was "an expression of the divisions in the country". The problem was one of "balance between the institutions and the various political players in the country". It was not up to the EU to "take sides". If the political players would not compromise, constitutional solutions would not work. The challenge was "to overcome internal conflict so that they can undertake the necessary reforms to have closer ties with us".

On behalf of the Liberals, István Szent-Iványi (HU) said the situation since the Orange Revolution had become "more complicated than we had hoped". However, the crisis was of a "domestic political nature" and the EU could only help by remaining neutral - though it obviously had "an interest in a stable democratic Ukraine". Responsibility ultimately lay with the country's politicians and the current negotiations between the EU and Ukraine on a new-generation cooperation cooperation agreement would only succeed "if Ukraine gets back on course".

Guntars Krasts (LV), speaking for the UEN group, reminded the house that "democratic processes are quite successful in the Ukraine" and therefore we cannot exclude the possibility of Ukraine as a candidate for EU membership in the mid-term. The integration of the Ukraine into the world economy, Mr Krasts added, is "a good precondition for solving in a peaceful way the present crisis." A crisis which, Mr Krasts continued, "should be considered a test for maturity." The role of the EU should be "to facilitate a compromise between the militant parties." Mr Krasts concluded by stating that "At the end of the day it is the people of the Ukriane who have to decide how to run their country."

On behalf of the Greens/EFA, Rebecca Harms (DE), said that "despite the confusion", the conditions in Ukraine are "so much more stable than we could have hoped for four years ago." Such conditions are important for the EU, which has "so much interest in ensuring a stable development in Ukraine." The new elections in the Ukraine are "essential" but it is necessary that "all of the parties must respect the outcome of the elections." The parties must also "do a lot more to make sure that the constitutional reforms finally occur." Mrs Harms ended with a reference to Poland as "the most important advocate of the Ukraine in the EU", with the hope that Poland can "pass on the European approach to the Ukraine."

German MEP Helmut Markov, for the GUE/NGL group, underlined that "when a president dissolves a parliament, this obviously needs to be in line with the rule of the constitution of the given country." Hence, the question of whether President Yushchenko's decision was in line or not was a legal matter rather than a political, Markov added. Parliament had the tendency to "put parties into neat little boxes", considering Yushchenko on the one hand as a partner for the European Union and Prime Minister Yanukovych "as the Russian protégé." Instead, Parliament should acknowledge that, even though there were two different nationalities involved, "they are both citizens of the Ukraine, they both represent the interests of that country".

On behalf of the IND/DEM group, Bastiaan Belder (NL) expressed the firm belief that "the future of the EU and the future of Ukraine are closely interlinked", since "the EU-27 will have to extend its borders" and "Ukraine will be taken on board one day". This prospect was also a good incentive for "the powers in the Ukraine that want to bring about a reform", Mr Belder stated. He insisted that "Council and Commission cannot ignore what is happening there" and that the EU should "have to look at the overall crisis situation, but also at our European neighbourhood policy", which "could be useful in trying to bring about stability."

British MEP

Charles Tannock (EPP-ED, UK) said he had observed the 2006 Ukrainian parliamentary elections, which had been "held in exemplary fashion" but "regrettably the outcome then produced neither a stable government nor a climate of fianncial probity amongst many of the RADA MPs who had little interest in politics and really only a vested interest to protect their business interests or avoid prosecution by acquiring parliametnary immunity". He believed the EU Council "missed a trick in not granting Ukraine in the heady days of the Orange Revolution the same status as western Balkan countries like Albania of being called a potential candiate for eventual EU accession. This would have been a great carrot to westernising democratic reformist forces." He welcomed EU plans for a deep free-trade and visa facilitation travel area after Ukraine joins the WTO. Above all, "Ukrainians must be brought closer to the European Union where they rightfully belong".

Council and Commission responses

Responding to the debate for the Council, Mr Gloser said that on many points there was agreement between Parliament and Council. It was, he said, for those with political responsibility in Ukraine to decide from themselves on how to proceed. “The EU cannot act as a broker, it is a domestic matter. The President and Prime Minister of Ukraine need to come together to find a solution.” Javier Solana had been in close contact with both groups, he said, the EU was not keeping out of the situation, but was being neutral. It was necessary for people in Ukraine to decide what to do.

For the Commisssion, Mr Spidla said his institution agreed with much of Parliament's assessment. “We will follow the development of the crisis and try to make a contribution, encouraging those with positions of responsibility in Ukraine to think of the good of their country and seek a compromise,” he said, adding that the Commission stood by the EU's agreements with Ukraine and recognised Ukraine as one of the EU's key partners.