Sumario: January 26, 2005: The European Parliament and Ukraine (Brussels)
The President of Ukraine, Victor Yuschenko, who took office on 23 January, will address a plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels on Thursday 27 January at 9am. During the political crisis around the recent Ukrainian elections, Members of the European Parliament did everything possible to help resolve the situation and to ensure that democratic standards were - in the end - observed (including sending three ad hoc delegations and adopting three parliamentary
In his investiture speech on Sunday, Mr. Yuschenko underlined his country's wish join the European Union one day. This is a prospect that the European Parliament has never ruled out, in its resolutions or in statements issued by the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee.
A full member or just a good neighbour?
"Our road to the future is that of a united Europe" said the new Ukrainian President in his inaugural speech on 23 January. "We are part of the same civilisation and we share the same values. Our place is in the European Union. My goal is a Ukraine in a united Europe." On this point, Mr. Yuschenko's position is no different from that of his predecessor. For example, on 7 October 2003, at the EU-Ukraine summit in Yalta, whereas EU leaders emphasised that the new neighbourhood policy did not necessarily entail ultimate membership of the EU, President Kuchma said that the long-term strategic goal of his country was full and complete integration into the European Union.
Currently, however, relations between Ukraine and the EU are governed by the "European neighbourhood policy" put forward by the European Commission in May 2004, just after the EU took in 10 new Member States. This policy establishes a general framework within which specific action plans are to be drawn up and implemented for each of the EU's "new neighbours".
On 9 December 2004, the Commission adopted action plans for the first seven countries, including Ukraine. Ukraine's plan still has to be ratified by the bilateral Cooperation Council before it becomes operational. The aim of the plans is to hold out the prospect, not of membership but of gradual integration into certain EU policies (e.g. education, research, environment), to improve cooperation in fighting crime and in managing borders and population movements, and also to bring national laws gradually into line so that these countries can enjoy the benefits of the internal market. Many Ukrainian leaders, however, believe that the lack of any prospect of EU membership reduces the attractions of the action plan.
When questioned on Tuesday 25 January by members of the EP Foreign Affairs Committee, Benita FERRERO-WALDNER, Commissioner for External Relations and Neighbourhood Policy, said that the European Union "which has already just digested 10 new countries" must be "pragmatic". She went on "it would be a pity to drop the neighbourhood policy just as it has been set up". The Commissioner acknowledged that any European country which meets the "Copenhagen criteria" is entitled to apply for membership. "But there is one criterion which must not be forgotten", she said: "the European Union's absorption capacity".
Official EP positions on Ukrainian membership
In a resolution on the EU's new neighbourhood policy, which was adopted by a large majority on 20 November 2003, Parliament was already expressing the view "that the Wider Europe - Neighbourhood policy is in no way incompatible with certain European neighbouring countries' aspirations to EU membership or different contractual relations." MEPs also emphasised that "any European state which respects the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law may apply to become a member of the Union".
In this resolution the European Parliament also said that Ukraine, "by virtue of its size, geographical location, profound historical, cultural, economic and other links with central and western Europe, as well as with Russia, and its potential to become an ever more valuable partner of the EU in essential areas, must be given a particularly important role in the context of the EU's Wider Europe - Neighbourhood policy". MEPs added that Parliament "supports Ukraine's desire for EU integration and the Council's and the Commission's current focusing on preparing an action plan for Ukraine".
For the last seven years, the European Parliament has been closely following the political situation in Ukraine and keeping up regular contacts with the country. The EP's relations with the Ukrainian Parliament (the Verkhovna Rada) are based on the partnership and co-operation agreement which entered into force on 1 March 1998. A Parliamentary Cooperation Committee was set up under this accord to discuss issues of mutual interest and ensure implementation of the agreement (which covers economic reform and respect for democratic principles).
Since the agreement entered into force, the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee has met seven times, most recently in February 2004. Within this framework, MEPs have worked to forge closer bilateral ties with Ukraine. In the Joint Declaration of February 2004, MEPs and Ukrainian MPs said that the European Neighbourhood Policy must "constitute an important instrument enabling those countries neighbouring the EU to move towards the stage at which they are in a position to apply for accession" and that "the enlarged EU must not have closed external borders".
The presidential elections: the moment of truth
Against the background of these bilateral parliamentary ties and following the visit of an EP delegation to Kiev in September 2003, President Kuchma invited the European Parliament to send observers to the presidential election due to take place the following year. The EP had already sent monitors to the legislative elections of 2002.
Although the European Parliament has never ruled out the idea of Ukraine joining the EU one day, it has always stressed the need for Ukraine to meet the Copenhagen political criteria, which include holding free and fair elections. In a resolution adopted on 28 October 2004, three days before the first round of the presidential elections, the EP said the election would "provide an unambiguous test of the extent of the Ukrainian authorities' commitment to implementing common European values and standards". However, even at this stage, MEPs were deploring the increasingly tense atmosphere of the election campaign and the involvement of the administration and the media on the side of Victor Yanukovych. Parliament's resolution also urged "the Ukrainian authorities to put an end to the ongoing violations of democratic procedures".
On 29 October, a delegation of seven MEPs arrived in Ukraine, joining up with the delegations from the parliamentary assemblies of the Council of Europe, the OSCE and NATO. Marek SIWIEC (PES, PL) led the EP delegation and Charles TANNOCK (EPP-ED, UK) was the vice-chair. From talks with observers already in the country and their personal observations of the ballot, MEPs concluded that the campaign had been marred by worrying factors, such as the use of state resources by Mr. Yanukovych, restrictions on the free movement of other candidates and campaign bias in the state-owned media. MEPs also themselves observed practical problems in the polling stations, including defective electoral rolls and inadequate equipment. In general, however, the vote seemed to go off fairly normally in the large majority of polling stations they visited. The EP delegation reserved judgement until the second round, scheduled for 21 November, which seemed likely to take place in far more sensitive circumstances.
The atmosphere of the campaign in fact deteriorated considerably between the two rounds, particularly as widespread fraud had been suspected. The same EP delegation set off again on 20 November. On the day of the second round MEPs noted the lack of transparency and verification of the democratic process, particularly by the Territorial Electoral Commissions. At the end of election night, the MEPs felt that the real vote count was producing a victory for Mr. Yuschenko, just like the exit polls, whereas the Central Electoral Commission was giving initial results that went the other way. The observer mission witnessed the announcement of preliminary results which seemed unrealistic and generated suspicions of fraud and large-scale irregularities.
EP resolution described as a "bombshell"
The impressions of Parliament's observers chimed with those of many other foreign monitoring teams in the country. On 2 December, at a plenary session, the EP adopted a fresh resolution in which it said "it strongly condemns the conditions under which the second round of the presidential elections in Ukraine have taken place" and "expresses its solidarity with the Ukrainian people", who were by now showing their disapproval by demonstrating in hundreds of thousands in the streets. The EP condemned the decision by the Central Electoral Commission, which had proclaimed victory for Mr. Yanukovych without verifying the validity of the elections. The EP also called on the Ukrainian authorities "to annul the second round of the presidential elections and reorganise this second round before the end of this year". This appeal, which was backed by many other voices around the world, together with the steady nerves shown by the Ukrainian demonstrators and the mediating efforts of the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Javier SOLANA, and the Polish and Lithuanian Presidents, helped defuse the political crisis.
The political solution to the crisis reached on 8 December was welcomed in the following words by European Parliament President Josep BORRELL "we are satisfied with the efforts made by all concerned in order to overcome the crisis caused by the serious irregularities affecting the second round of the presidential elections. The Ukrainian people did not accept the result, and have demonstrated that by peacefully assembling in the centre of Kiev and camping out in the cold and the snow. I am delighted that they have been heard."
A re-run of the second round was arranged for 26 December. Once more an EP observer delegation - the third such mission - set off for Ukraine, this time led by Jacek SARYUSZ-WOLSKI (EPP-ED, PL), who said "the visit has put the EP at the forefront of the international community in searching for a contribution to a democratic solution of the dispute". At a meeting in Kiev with MEPs, Mr. Yuschenko said that the resolution adopted by the EP on 2 December was "a bombshell that expressed the truth in a way not seen in writing from any other international organisation so far."
From its observations on the ground, the EP monitoring mission concluded that this time the elections had been free and fair, in accordance with international standards, and that they had taken place in a peaceful atmosphere. They produced a clear victory for Mr. Yuschenko, who had won 52% of the vote as against 44% for Mr. Yanukovych.
Then, on 13 January this year, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in Strasbourg (467 votes in favour, 19 against and 7 abstentions) for another resolution which was finally able to welcome "the substantially fair elections held on 26 December 2004", which according to MEPs represented "a victory for democratic values, institutions and procedures in Ukraine".
In this resolution, the European Parliament "calls upon the new Ukrainian political leadership to consolidate Ukraine's espousal of common European values and objectives by taking further steps to promote democracy, civil society and the rule of law, by resuming the liberal market reforms and by overcoming the political divisions in Ukraine".
Parliament also pledged "its continuing support, assistance and commitment to the Ukrainian people's establishment of a free and open democratic system, their creation of a prosperous market economy and their country's assumption of its rightful place in the community of democratic nations".
In addition, MEPs welcomed "the Council's intention to organise an early EU-Ukraine Co-operation Council with a view to the swift adoption of the EU-Ukraine Action Plan". And, above all, MEPs called on "the Council, the Commission and the Member States to consider, besides the measures of the Action Plan within the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy, other forms of association with Ukraine, giving a clear European perspective for the country and responding to the demonstrated aspirations of the vast majority of the Ukrainian people, possibly leading ultimately to the country's accession to the EU".