On these days, the sixth meeting of the EU-Ukraine Association Council, chaired by Prime Minister of Ukraine Oleksiy Honcharuk, ended in Brussels. This was the first joint meeting of the new composition of the Ukrainian government and the new composition of the European Commission. The parties discussed a number of important issues and adopted a joint statement. The Council noted the ambitious plans of the Ukrainian Government and confirmed the continuation of assistance to Ukraine by the European Union. In addition, the strengthening of political association, economic integration of Ukraine with the European Union and concrete results in that direction, such as the growth of bilateral trade, were positively assessed. In a joint statement, the EU noted the significant progress of reforms in Ukraine and stressed the need to continue them, in particular, to create transparent and equal conditions for business and investment activities. The EU positively noted the government's steps to bring national legislation in the field of digital economy closer to European law.
Following the results of the Association Council, the parties separately noted the importance of Ukraine as a strategic state in the field of gas transit. The text of the document also mentions the importance of the new Gas Directive and the need for EU member-states to comply with the common gas rules. The parties paid special attention to cooperation in the field of environmental protection and combating the effects of climate change. The parties also confirmed their joint intention to continue working together on opening College of Europe courses for Ukrainian civil servants. The European Union reaffirmed its unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders and positively noted Ukraine's efforts for a peaceful settlement in the Donbas.
The parties strongly condemned the violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, which began with acts of aggression by the armed forces of the Russian Federation since February 2014. The EU recalled that as before the duration of sanctions against the Russian Federation depends on the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements by the parties, drawing particular attention to the responsibility of the Russian Federation. The EU confirmed its policy of not recognizing the illegal annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The EU also condemned the deterioration of the human rights situation in Crimea. In a joint statement, the Association Council condemned the deterioration of the human rights situation in certain areas of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. The EU condemned the holding of so-called local elections in Crimea, the construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait without coordination with Ukraine, the opening of a rail link and the further militarization of Crimea, as well as the Black and Azov seas. The Association Council called on the Russian Federation to ensure unhindered and free navigation through the Kerch Strait in accordance with international law. The government also opened public access to the «Pulse of the Agreement» - an online system for monitoring the implementation of the action Plan for the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
On February 19, the Center “New Europe” held a public discussion "The Eastern Partnership and Ukraine: looking back, thinking ahead", organized in partnership with the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EU ISS). The event was dedicated to two main ideas: firstly, experts assessed the implementation and opportunities of the Eastern Partnership on the basis of the EUISS document "The Eastern Partnership a decade on: looking back, thinking ahead"; secondly, a public discussion was held on the reform of the Eastern Partnership Initiative. Document: analyzes the evolution of the Eastern Partnership Programme; investigates the attitudes of the participating states; proposes ways in which the Eastern Partnership can be adapted to modern realities in order to prevent regional challenges and take advantage of opportunities in the coming decade.
According to the New Europe Center the following ways are main:
Differentiation. Currently, there is a gap in the Eastern Partnership Programme between the associated states and states that do not seek to join the EU – in fact, the Eastern Partnership is an initiative of “different speeds”. Moldova and Ukraine can apply for a separate status, for example, "Eastern Partnership Plus", which will provide an opportunity to expand cooperation with the EU.
Extending security dimension. The number of regional offices of the European Union Advisory Mission Ukraine (EUAM Ukraine), for example, in Mariupol, and the number of mobile teams of the mission should be increased; the EU could also offer Ukraine participation in some Permanent Structured Cooperation projects (PESCO); the proposal of the European Parliament to create a post of EU Special Envoy on the situation in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea deserves serious consideration.
Increasing funding for economic transformation. Without a substantial program aimed at financing the economic transformation, Ukraine will not be able to take full advantage from the FTA with the EU. Ukraine needs more support in such areas as certification, compliance with EU standards, creation of export potential and integration with business partners in EU states.
Partial involvement in EU policy making. There is a large structural asymmetry in the Association Agreement and FTA between Ukraine and the EU. Ukraine does not have access to the formation of the EU legislative process, although it will have to adopt this legislation in one form or another. In order to improve cooperation with the EU, Ukraine may be given access to the EU policy-making process at an early stage in the future (by consultations), as it already takes place in the European Economic Area.
The prospect of EU membership. Ideally, Ukraine would like the EU to clearly recognize the prospect of membership or a specific milestone after which such a prospect can be granted. The political elite in Kyiv is fully aware of the EU's restrictions on the statement of membership. However, Ukraine does not perceive membership as a direct process, but rather as a pursuit of a goal that must be preserved as a powerful motivational incentive.
Permanent involvement of the EU in the reform process. It is extremely important that the EU continues to oblige Ukraine to implement reforms. Ukrainian citizens expect that the government will continue the path of European integration, and the EU will put pressure on the states's authorities to implement reforms.
At the end of the event, Director of the European Union and NATO Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Maryna Mykhailenko said: «Ukraine is interested in the success of the Eastern Partnership. However, the main problem with our initiative is that the ambitions of the three Associated Countries and the EU's ambitions towards the Eastern Partnership are distant. Moreover, given the latest comment by one of the EU leaders, the EU's ambitions on the initiative are much smaller today than even during the launch of the the Eastern Partnership. This can get in the way of the initiative's success. I am convinced that the Associated Countries with their energy and experience can give a new impetus to the Eastern Partnership».
Thus, results of the two events show that relations between Ukraine and the EU will continue to develop. Regarding the implementation of the Eastern Partnership it should be noted that Ukraine has shown progress in recent years, in particular, it has signed an Association Agreement, implemented a number of reforms, continues to actively participate in EU programs, and so on. However, sometimes European Union shows passivity towards Ukraine, first of all, it concerns the provision of the prospect of membership, which will certainly become an important impetus for our country.