Written by Naja Bentzen,
When Ukraine’s then President Viktor Yanukovich caved in to Russian pressure and refused to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement in 2013, he triggered the ‘revolution of dignity’, that paved the way for his own ousting on 22 February 2014 and sparked hope for a European future. Today — two years after the Euromaidan revolution, Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the eruption of the conflict in eastern Ukraine — the country is still at a crossroads between war and peace; between corruption and reform; between crisis and transformation; between past and future.
Russia launched its hybrid war against Ukraine to prevent the country from moving towards the EU and escaping Russia’s sphere of influence. Since the crisis erupted in March 2014, more than 9 000 people have been killed, nearly 21 000 people have been wounded and 1.1 million have been displaced. Progress in the implementation of the Minsk II agreement — negotiated by the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia in February 2015 — has been very limited.
At the same time, however, Ukraine has taken several steps towards Europe. The EU-Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Trade Area was signed on 27 June 2014 as part of the Association Agreement (AA) and came into force on 1 January 2016. Russia immediately retaliated by cancelling free-trade privileges for Ukraine. While the EU suspended visa liberalisation talks with Russia in 2014 over its role in Ukraine, the European Commission announced in December 2015 that it would present a legislative proposal in early 2016 to lift visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens with a biometric passport.
Still, the country’s on-going reforms — not least anti-corruption measures — are key to any further progress. However, this process has suffered several blows over the past months. Strains have deepened within the government coalition and between the government, parts of the parliament and President Petro Poroshenko, thus hampering the passing of key bills. The pro-European coalition government has been crumbling since one of its key reformers, Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavičius resigned on 3 February, citing high-level corruption and accusing senior government officials associated with Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arsenyi Yatseniuk of blocking reform. Key Western donors protested against Abromavičius’s departure, and the IMF warned that without ‘substantial’ reform efforts, its assistance to Ukraine would be jeopardized. While Yatseniuk’s cabinet survived a no-confidence vote, two parties have left the four-party government coalition.
Amid this fluid political situation and given the mounting external and internal pressure on Kyiv — new, unprecedented cyber-threats further exacerbating the precarious security situation; the dire economic situation; the on-going aggressive Russian disinformation campaign; the split within the EU vis-à-vis the Russia-backed ‘Nord Stream 2’ gas pipeline; and the planned April 2016 Dutch referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, to name but a few — the need for strong democratic institutions seems particularly urgent.
Against this complex background, the European Parliament is hosting Ukrainian MPs for a joint three-days high-level conference from 29 February-2 March. Focusing on capacity building for reform, the ‘Ukraine Week’ brings more than 40 Ukrainian parliamentarians, including the leadership of the Ukrainian Parliament (the Verkhovna Rada), together with MEPs, national MPs and representatives from other EU institutions.
In line with the Memorandum of Understanding that EP President Martin Schulz and Volodymyr Groysman, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, signed on 3 July 2015, former EP President Pat Cox has prepared a report and a roadmap on capacity-building for reform. It will be presented on 29 February and will form the basis of a first round of high-level discussions on law-making, representation and good parliamentary practices, including parliamentary oversight and ethical standards for Parliamentarians.
The official opening of the conference — co-chaired by Elmar Brok, Chair of EP Foreign Affairs Committee, and Andrej Plenković, Chair of the EP delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee — will take place on 29 February at 16:30. Martin Schulz, Volodymyr Groysman, Pat Cox and EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, will deliver the keynote speeches.
Supporting Ukraine’s EU-oriented reforms is key to long-term stability. Although the on-going refugee crisis, the situation in Syria and the threat from the IS seem to overshadow Donbas, Crimea and the political collapse in Kyiv, Ukraine’s role in the European security order remains crucial. According to US historian Timothy Snyder, the history of Ukraine has revealed the turning points in the history of Europe. He concludes that ‘Ukraine has no future without Europe, but Europe also has no future without Ukraine’. Just like past, future and present are inextricably intertwined, the distinction between the EU and ‘non-EU Europe’, including Ukraine, is — to paraphrase Albert Einstein — only a ‘stubbornly persistent illusion’.
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See also an interactive timeline ‘Ukraine: timeline of events‘ on the European Parliament’s website.