“The main priority of Ukraine’s foreign policy is European integration. This position was stated at the beginning of our country’s independence in 1991.”
GDL: For many years, Ukraine has developed its relations with the European Union. As a result of this cooperation, in the summer of 2014, Ukraine signed an Association Agreement with the EU. What are the subsequent steps for the development of this bilateral dialogue?
VS: The main priority of Ukraine’s foreign policy is European integration. This position was stated at the beginning of our country’s independence in 1991.
For many years, Ukraine has developed a dynamic bilateral and multilateral dialogue with the EU on the political, economic, legislation and sectoral levels, whilst participating in the various European programmes and funds. As a result of this collaboration, the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union was signed in Brussels in June 2014, which also includes a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. In September 2014, the Agreement was simultaneously ratified by both the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and the European Parliament.
The next step is the ratification of the Agreement by the Parliaments of all EU Member States. Today, the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU has been ratified by almost all Parliaments of the Member States and we expect that in the near future the Agreement will also be ratified by the newly-elected Hellenic Parliament.
Naturally, this Association Agreement is just one more step towards the ultimate goal of the European integration of Ukraine; its full membership in the European Union, which we aspire to reach in 2020.
Due to the security situation in East Ukraine, our country continues to work closely with its international partners, and in particular, with the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, for the full fulfilment, and within a provided term, its obligations to the Minsk Agreements for insuring peace and stability in the region.
GDL: Why is it important for Ukraine to join the EU and what are the main benefits?
VS: Even after many years, the idea of joining the EU has not lost its relevance for Ukraine. Associative EU membership, as I said, is a way of bringing Ukraine closer to European standards and another step toward Ukraine’s full membership in the Union.
Agreement means, above all, political association and economic integration, an integration of the Ukrainian energy market within the EU market, providing structural reforms, improving living standards, ensuring a long-term stability. By integration into the European Community, Ukraine receives adequate security assurances for strengthening its independence and inviolability of its borders, the possibility of significant participation in the process of regional and continental integration, improving the investment climate and development of the visa dialogue with the EU.
“By integration into the European Community, Ukraine receives adequate security assurances for strengthening its independence and inviolability of its borders, the possibility of significant participation in the process of regional and continental integration, improving the investment climate and development of the visa dialogue with the EU.”
A deep and comprehensive free trade zone between Ukraine and the EU opened the way for Ukraine to economic growth, with access to the world’s largest single market, encouraging cooperation in various fields.
It is estimated that, in the long-term, economic output for my country could grow an additional 1% a year due to increased exports in goods and services and growth of European investment in Ukraine. Ukrainian exporters will save almost 500 million euros a year because there is no need to pay customs duties. Ukrainian exports to the EU are expected to increase by 1 billion euros a year, including greater sales of textiles, metals and food products.
At the same time, the Association Agreement is also important for the EU. First of all, Ukraine’s accession to the EU means the implementation of the principle of expansion of the ‘European Neighbourhood Policy’; and, of course, Ukraine, being the largest country in Europe, opens for its European partners, its market, as well as the opportunity of its economic, energy, agricultural and human resources.
GDL: Could you say some words about the position of your country at the Ukraine-EU-Russia Trilateral Consultations on the Ukraine-EU DCFTA implementation?
VS: As you probably know, Ukraine has demonstrated maximum flexibility and readiness to work on practical solutions to the ‘concerns’ of Russia, either within the context of the existing flexibilities available in the DCFTA, or within the context of the existing bilateral cooperation frameworks, as it was agreed upon at ministerial level. Certainly, we have some divergence on our positions that deal with for example, Technical Regulations, Customs Administration, as well as Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.
Our, by that I mean, Ukraine-Russia bilateral trade was declining in 2013-2014 and in the course of the first semester of 2015. In particular, Ukraine’s share of exports of goods to Russia in the overall consistently fell from 25.6% in 2012 to 12.5% in the first semester of 2015. Within the context of the EU-Ukraine DCFTA implementation, we are waiting for the benefit from trade liberalisation under DCFTA and the diversification of trade with third countries.
GDL: In what other format does Ukraine cooperate with the EU? How would you describe this cooperation?
VS: During the negotiations towards the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU, Ukraine joined the new EU initiative ‘Eastern Partnership’ in 2009, which is a specific Eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy.
For Ukraine, cooperation within the ‘Eastern Partnership’, that was established as a response to modern challenges and aspirations of the state-partners, lies on the principles of differentiation, joint ownership and joint responsibility, security issues and the approach “more for more”. Such cooperation also gives Ukraine the opportunity to exchange information and experiences with partner countries within the context of reforms within the EU.
“The Association Agreement is also important for the EU. First of all, Ukraine’s accession to the EU means the implementation of the principle of expansion of the ‘European Neighbourhood Policy’; and, of course, Ukraine, being the largest country in Europe, opens for its European partners, its market, as well as the opportunity of its economic, energy, agricultural and human resources.”
GDL: Without doubt, recent developments require an appropriate response from all members of the ‘Eastern Partnership’. How, in your opinion, can the policy of the EU be improved upon?
VS: According to Ukraine, the ‘European neighbourhood policy’ should be more ambitious and comparable with the expectations of the partners of the EU.
Under the principle of differentiation, ‘increased association’, as a new stage in the rapprochement with the EU, and within the context of a deep and comprehensive free trade area, ‘Eastern common economic space’, would be possible. A practical content to the principle of ‘more for more’ will enable for more ambitious EU partners to get more (in terms of support and prospects), including progress in the implementing of necessary reforms.
An essential within the EU is the development of a strong security component. One more key element should be mobility, because partnership is impossible without the free movement of people and the involvement of human potential to expand upon the possibilities of partnership and cooperation. Within this context, the main goal for Ukraine is to receive in 2016 a visa regime for its citizens. An important, in our view, initiative ‘neighbours of neighbours’ or ‘neighbours of the Eastern Partnership’, will involve cooperation with third countries that share EU principles. The possible involvement would be ‘adapted assistance’, which will be based on the real needs of each participating country. A strengthened cooperation with the EU is possible under the principles of ‘common property’ and ‘shared responsibility’, including the reform and transformation processes in the countries.
“A practical content to the principle of ‘more for more’ will enable for more ambitious EU partners to get more (in terms of support and prospects), including progress in the implementing of necessary reforms…”
“An important, in our view, initiative ‘neighbours of neighbours’ or ‘neighbours of the Eastern Partnership’, will involve cooperation with third countries that share EU principles.”
GDL: Does Greece support the process of Ukraine’s integration into the EU? What is its role in this process?
VS: Greece, which has been and remains a reliable friend and strategic partner of Ukraine, from the beginning, expressed its support to Ukraine’s European aspirations. It is significant, that the signing of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU took place during the Greek Presidency of the EU Council in June 2004.
Greece provides Ukraine the necessary expertise and technical assistance across the spectrum of European Integration, working with our country in the European programmes ‘Twinning’ and ‘Tayex’. An important role is also played by the existing bilateral Ukrainian-Greek Commissions within the framework of which consultations on the European integration issues, bilateral and international issues at the level of Deputy Foreign Ministers, etc., have been held.
At the Ministerial level, cooperation exists within the framework of the Memorandum on Cooperation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine for the Rapprochement of Ukraine to the European Union, which was signed in 2009 and came into force in 2011.
I would like to underline the important role and support of the Greek Foreign Ministry on Ukraine’s European integration plans, that we feel at every level, and especially by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, as well as by the employees of the relevant departments and the Hellenic Foreign Ministry.
Incidentally, the draft law on the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU was represented in the Hellenic Parliament (on November 9th) by the Alternate Foreign Minister for European Affairs, Nikos Xydakis.
Regarding the ratification of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU by the Hellenic Parliament, I would like to stress that Greece fully understands that it is extremely important for Ukraine and made its best efforts to support it. Upon the implementation of all necessary national procedures, the Agreement was ready to be ratified by the Hellenic Parliament in July 2015. However, as a result of early elections in the country on September 20th, the ratification was delayed due to objective reasons.
Nevertheless, despite the difficult political situation in the country, on November 9th 2015, during the first meeting of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Parliament, the draft law on the ratification of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU was discussed. The discussion was very objective and constructive. Within this context I would also like to underscore the positive attitude of the Greek MP’s, which they demonstrated during the debate on this draft law.
Given the fact that this draft law has passed the deliberations in the parliamentary committees, we expect that it will be voted on at the plenum of the Parliament of the Hellenic Republic in the near future. Such a ratification, we hope, will give the impetus to further develop bilateral Ukraine-Greek relations within the context of European integration.
I also congratulate Moldova and Georgia with the completion of their ratification process and hope, that together with Ukraine, these countries will celebrate the ratification of the Association agreements with the EU by the Hellenic Parliament. At that time, I look forward to jointly congratulating my colleagues here in Athens – the Ambassadors of Moldova and Georgia.
Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life
Published November 2015