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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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European Commissioner Oliver Vargey’s visit to Kyiv: will Ukraine get an "industrial visa-free regime"?

On February 12, 2020, Oliver Vargey's visit to Kyiv was his first visit to the Eastern Partnership member-states after being appointed to the post and changing the composition of the European Commission. "This demonstrates that we attach the importance to Ukraine", Vargey said. He added that the reforms in Ukraine are continuing successfully and noted the progress in implementing the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. European Commissioner recalled that the trade turnover between the parties has increased by 60 percent in recent years. According to Vargey, further support of Ukraine by the European Commission will continue. Its goal is to grow the economy and increase jobs in particular in the areas covered by the European Green Deal: energy, transport, communications and education. In his opinion, the EU's support should facilitate the flow of foreign direct investment to Ukraine. According to him, the European Commission's close attention in cooperation with Kyiv will be focused on the synchronization of technical standards, freedom of the press and respect for the rights of national minorities. The European Commission's position on the support of the state sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine remains unchanged, Varhey noted.

Prime Minister of Ukraine, Oleksiy Honcharuk, in turn, said that the concrete result of Vargey's visit was the signing of an Agreement on providing European assistance for a new program to support e-governance and the digital economy in Ukraine for 25 million euros. "Our government's goal is to digitize 100 percent of public services by 2024. And translate the most popular public services into 80 percent in 2020," Honcharuk said. He expressed hope for signing an Agreement on joint aviation space with the EU by the end of this year, and also promised to make efforts to abandon "dirty energy", which is one of the priorities of the EU member-states.

A significant part of the negotiations with the European Commissioner concerned the preparation for the signing of an Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA), more commonly known as " industrial visa-free regime". The Ukrainian Prime Minister said that in recent years, Kyiv has done a lot to harmonize technical standards and certify industrial products according to European rules. However, European Commissioner Vargey noted that it is necessary to study first how much Ukrainian standards are compatible with European ones and only then go to the procedure of formal signing of the Agreement.[1]

Then Oliver Vargey met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Vadym Prystaiko. During the meeting, the interlocutors discussed issues of further integration of Ukraine with the EU, in particular in the sectoral, trade and economic spheres, as well as the continuation of the European Union support for the reform process in our state. In particular, next steps were coordinated towards the conclusion of an Agreement on joint aviation space, an Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products, the modernization of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTA)  and deepening of customs cooperation.[2]

Later, in an interview with "Interfax-Ukraine" Oliver Vargey said that the temporarily occupied territory are not an obstacle for Ukraine's European integration. Vargey noted that the EU will continue to insist on the restoration of Ukraine's control over the occupied territories. "Of course, we will continue to insist on the need to restore Ukraine's control over the occupied territories. And we want Russia to return these territories to Ukraine," Vargey said.[3]

Also on February 12, 2020, President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky met with Oliver Vargey. During the meeting, the interlocutors discussed in detail the cooperation between Ukraine and the European Union and agreed on the priorities of cooperation for the current year. "Thank you for your continued support of Ukraine's European integration course, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state," the President said. The parties discussed progress in implementing systemic reforms in Ukraine, in particular in the context of implementing the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, and agreed on further support from the EU to ensure the state's economic growth. EU-Ukraine Association Agreement Zelensky noted that Ukraine expects investment support from the European Union and EU member-states.[4]

It should be noted that during the visit to Kyiv, the European Commissioner met with leaders of national minorities, in particular with the Chairman of the Hungarian Culture Society of Transcarpathia, Vasyl Brenzovytch, who told reporters about the results of the event. "I consider this visit very important. It is also important that an ambitious person of Hungarian nationality holds the position of Commissioner of the EU's neighbourhood policy and enlargement", said Mr. Brenzovytch said.  [5]For his part, Oliver Vargey stated that local minorities: Hungarian, Romanian and Bulgarian are concerned about: the language law; language provisions of the law on education, which came into force in 2019; the law on general secondary education, which was adopted in January 2020.[6]

Thus, the main achievements of the visit of European Commissioner, Oliver Vargey were that Ukraine received significant investments for its own development, signed several important agreements and agreed on a further dialogue on "industrial visa-free regime". However, considering the Hungarian nationality of the European Commissioner it was expected that he would try to raise the issue of national minorities in Ukraine, namely their "concerns" about language laws. And given the intensification of discussions between Hungary and Ukraine, the issues of national minorities will not get off the agenda in the future and will be used as a means of pressure on Ukraine to blur the Ukrainian national identity and impose identities of other peoples.