The annual EU-Ukraine summit on July 7-8 came just over one week after the NATO-Ukraine Committee met during NATO’s Istanbul summit. At the NATO-Ukraine summit relations did not advance; but nor did they deteriorate. The NATO-Ukraine Action Plan was not upgraded to a Membership Action Plan, but cooperative relations remain in a wide variety of military areas. NATO membership remains on offer for Ukraine and is largely dependent on the country’s progress in democratization.
In contrast, the EU-Ukraine summit led to a decline in Ukraine’s already poor relations with the EU. Since the 1990s both sides have undertaken indirect policies toward one another that have now reached their nadir.
President Leonid Kuchma repeatedly has said that the EU should send a “signal” indicating that it sees Ukraine as a future member. This gesture would then allegedly influence Ukraine’s domestic reforms for the better. The EU has repeatedly replied that Ukraine should begin reforms first, prove itself worthy of EU membership, and then the EU would positively take notice.
President Kuchma’s negative international image has provided a convenient excuse for the EU to continue to deny membership to Ukraine and to de facto continue to categorize it as lying beyond “Europe” in the Eurasian CIS. Kuchma’s second term in office had a paradoxical inconsistency: Kyiv’s greater clamor for EU membership took place during a time of democratic regression.
Together with the Council of Europe, NATO, and Western governments, the EU also emphasized the importance of holding free and fair elections this year. The EU also joined the international chorus condemning attempts to change the powers of the presidency during an election year (Financial Times, December 27, 2003). On January 28 the EU issued a statement to this effect (https://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/ukraine/). The EU High Representative of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, has continued to warn against changing the constitution in September, when bill 4105 is to be presented for a second parliamentary reading, only one month ahead of the elections.
On March 12, the European Parliament issued a highly critical resolution that pointed to a growing gap between the EU and Ukraine over the latter’s lack of commitment to “shared common values” (Ukrayinska pravda, March 12). On March 18, the EU issued a second statement stressing the importance of media freedom and democratic standards during the election campaign.
Between January and March, when pro-presidential forces unsuccessfully attempted to railroad through constitutional changes, the EU’s critical position was similar to that of the Council of Europe and United States. Solana warned that relations could only be “constructive and friendly” if Ukraine held free and fair elections (Ukrayinska pravda, February 6).
These serious issues influenced negotiations over drawing up the “Action Plans” that are the basis of the EU’s 2003 “Wider Europe Initiative” policy to establish a ring of friendly neighbors. On April 1, Ukrainian First Deputy Foreign Minister Oleksander Chalyj revealed delays in negotiating the “Action Plans.” During the same month the EU backed the Council of Europe, NATO and United States in strongly protesting blatant election fraud in the Mukachiv mayoral elections.
Both the EU and portions of the Ukrainian side have become increasingly alarmed over the deteriorating relationship. Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Brian Coven told his Ukrainian counterpart that close relations between the EU and Ukraine depend, “mainly upon concrete actions towards the strengthening and development of European values, one of the most important of which is the principle of free and fair elections” (Ukrayinska pravda, April 29). This message was repeated to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych during the Council on EU-Ukraine Cooperation meeting in Brussels the following month. This slowly developing crisis in relations was also seen on the Ukrainian side. In May Chalyj resigned in protest over Kuchma’s declining interest in European integration. Ukraine’s European integration efforts had reached a dead end.
As the July summit approached, Kuchma made clear that he would no longer demand that the EU give a “signal” of eventual membership. Kuchma’s program of achieving EU membership by 2011 had obviously been unsuccessful. Instead, the main demand that Kuchma laid before the EU was to recognize Ukraine as a “market economy,” an important step on the road to WTO membership (which Kuchma had also unsuccessfully failed to achieve by his self-declared target date of 2004).
These fault lines in the EU-Ukrainian relationship came to a head during last week’s summit. The Independent (July 9) reported that Ukraine’s “dismal human rights record” dominated the summit. The summit’s host, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, again reiterated the importance of holding free and fair elections. Western diplomats were dismayed to hear Kuchma’s response to questions on the failure to find the murderers of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Kuchma dismissed the issue by pointing to unsolved crimes in EU member states. Kuchma was visibly angry over journalist’s questions about his involvement in corruption.
The root of these difficulties is the differing political cultures. One EU diplomat concluded after Kuchma’s outburst that, “We have gone as far as we can” (The Independent, July 9). Both sides seemingly speak different languages. This “clash of “civilizations” has also influenced EU-Ukraine relations because of the EU’s lack of trust in Kuchma’s assurances. Although President Kuchma has often promised to guarantee free and fair elections, the EU (as The Independent noted), NATO, and United States no longer believe him and demand concrete proof.
The time for words is over. Western governments and international organizations are now demanding action. This would mean creating a level playing field for all presidential candidates, especially in access to media. Kuchma’s response at the EU-Ukraine summit to such demands was to air his concern that the West would only consider elections to have been “free and fair” if the opposition wins. Kuchma and his allies continue to brush aside Western criticism over the lack of media freedom, such as the just-released Freedom House report (freedomhouse.org/media/pressrel/070704.htm), by arguing that media freedom actually does exist in Ukraine.
This claim again shows the degree to which different political cultures block any consensus on what constitutes a free and fair election. The West is exasperated by Kuchma’s duplicity; saying he supports free and fair elections while doing the exact opposite.
At the same time, Ukraine showed a disinterest in the Wider Europe Initiative offered by the EU. Kuchma said, “Solidifying Ukraine’s status as an EU neighbor is more likely to freeze relations rather than help to develop them” (Interfax-Ukraine, July 8). Kuchma warned that negotiations over “Action Plans” would not progress unless they opened “up the prospects for our further progress” (i.e. membership). This criticism was echoed by philanthropist George Soros, who warned that the Initiative would fail without, “the EU’s most powerful tool of influence . . . [the] “prospect of membership” (Financial Times, March 29).
This was the first EU-Ukraine summit where Kuchma did not openly call for the EU to send a “signal” of future membership prospects. Instead, the summit ended with the EU refusing to grant “market economy status” (pointing to Ukraine’s failure to amend its bankruptcy laws and to introduce a transparent pricing policy for its exports), and Ukraine dragging its heels over the “Wider Europe Initiative.”
These two issues may be resolved by December, but by then Ukraine will have a new president. The deeper misunderstandings in EU-Ukraine relations can only be overcome if the candidate who wins the elections espouses the same political culture as that found inside the EU. Otherwise, the clash of civilizations will continue to bedevil EU-Ukraine relations.