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EU-Ukraine relations today: Between high hopes and rising worries (interview)

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A.U.: It would be great if changes took place in all three "angles". The EU should start considering Ukraine as a prospective member, Russia should leave behind her imperial paradigm, while Ukraine (and, ideally, Russia too) should take Western political principles more seriously. Of course, this scenario is difficult to imagine today, but everything changes quickly. Three years ago, it was also difficult to imagine that Ukraine would receive a visa liberalisation roadmap from the EU. Perhaps, in five years, we will already find ourselves in a different situation - especially in the case that the Free Trade and Association Agreements are signed and are going to be implemented. The most important task today is to finish the job regarding their conclusion. Such a move may by itself create an entirely new political reality, in Eastern Europe .


- Ukraine aspires to attain the membership prospect within the Association Agreement. Is it so important?


A.U.: I think it is. The EU's persistent refusal to give such an unequivocal promise are obviously determined by its many current internal problems and are somewhat understandable, against this background. In addition, Turkey and the countries of the Western Balkans are in queue for EU membership. To add Ukraine too to this queue is psychologically difficult. However, from my point of view, European leaders need to overcome their fears and should include Ukraine 's membership perspective into the Preamble of the Association Agreement. In fact, such a statement does not bind the EU to much. Turkey has been granted Candidate Status for Membership in the EU in 1999. But, as of now, it is still unclear whether Turkey will ever enter the EU. On the other hand, Ukraine 's (or any other European country's) membership prospects are, in fact, already guaranteed in Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union. Therefore, the inclusion of this phrase into the Association Agreement would mean little substantive change of the current status quo for the EU and its member states. In fact, a formal declaration of Ukraine 's membership prospects would be beneficial to the EU, in view of Ukraine 's geopolitical significance.


- But one can hardly hope that, if Ukraine were granted a membership perspective, Kyiv's authorities would instantly start pro-European reforms and transformations - namely a process of real European integration.


A.U.: Naturally, in substantive terms, nothing would change quickly. But the political climate, in Ukraine , would change immediately. This would concern the mood of both - the elites and society. There would, for the first time, be a credible long-term perspective for the country's development. Psychologically, this would be rather important for Ukraine and its citizens today.


- On 1 July, Poland took over the Presidency of the EU. Can that be considered a positive factor for the successful outcome of the negotiations on the Association and Free Trade Agreements?


A.U.: Indeed, it is a fortunate concatenation of circumstances that Poland will preside in the EU in the course of the (hopefully) final stages of the negotiations. From my point of view, Ukraine 's most urgent problem is a lack of attention from most EU member states. With Poland , this is not the case. That is why its Presidency in the EU may be beneficial and productive for the EU's future relations with Ukraine .


- In its recently published report, Freedom House predicts that the former Soviet states, including Ukraine, may reach an impasse, when their regimes can be changed only through revolutions, since the democratic procedures do not work there. Is this a viable prospect?


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============================================================================== Andreas Umland, CertTransl (Leipzig), MA (Stanford), MPhil (Oxford), DipPolSci, DrPhil (FU Berlin), PhD (Cambridge). Visiting fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution (more...)
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