Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and Foreign Affairs Minister Louis Michel of Belgium–the country currently chairing the European Union–as well as the EU Commission’s President Romano Prodi and High Representative for Security and Defense Javier Solana met with President Leonid Kuchma and other Ukrainian leaders on September 11 in Yalta for a EU-Ukraine summit.
While welcoming Ukraine’s “European choice” and acknowledging its “strategic role in Europe,” the Western participants focused on areas in which they expect Kyiv to make up for its profound “reform deficits.” They urged a transparent privatization of state property, structural reform of the energy sector, overhaul of the public administration, serious and sustained efforts against corruption, reduction of the regulatory burden and introduction of Euro-norms, passage of overdue legal codes and of modern tax legislation, steps to guarantee the independence of the judiciary, and encouragement of Western foreign investment (the per capita level of which in Ukraine is second-lowest after Belarus among Europe’s transition countries).
The EU officials, furthermore, criticized the Ukrainian state authorities for restricting freedom of the media, and more generally challenged the Ukrainian leaders to “dispel the doubts, which have arisen in the EU, concerning the democratic process in Ukraine, and to prove that freedom of expression is a reality in Ukraine.”
In his public remarks, Kuchma rebutted the latter set of criticisms to his administration, while skirting over the first set. He pointed out that most of the electronic and print media in Ukraine are no longer state-controlled, but privately owned and directly dependent on the interest groups that finance them. Unlike Western media, Kuchma noted, Ukrainian media cannot live on advertisement because the internal consumer market is undeveloped. For this reason, he said, “there is no freedom of the press in the Western sense in Ukraine” and it would take a long time to catch up with Poland, for example, where the media’s aggregate annual advertisement budget is some thirty times larger than that of the Ukrainian media, according to Ukrainian officials. The president stopped short of admitting that oligarchic control of mass media is among the factors that forces him into tactical alliances with oligarchic groups, especially in election years.
In the run up to the parliamentary elections in Ukraine, the EU leaders called for a free and fair conduct of the campaign, and welcomed Kuchma’s invitation to the EU to send its observers early on during that campaign. The Ukrainians called attention to the recent decision to create the posts of commissioner for European Integration at the deputy prime minister’s level, and state secretary for European Integration in the Foreign Affairs Ministry. In this context, Kuchma expressed the perennial hope for more effective negotiations on EU-Ukraine mutual tariff concessions.
The sides decided to draw up, before the end of 2001, an EU-Ukraine joint action plan in the sphere of law enforcement and justice, with an emphasis on legal reform and anticorruption efforts. The EU confirmed its pledges to bear some of the costs of decommissioning the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and of upgrading nuclear safety in Ukraine. According to a joint statement, the EU has already allotted 90.5 million euros to support the Chornobyl Shelter Implementation Plan and will allot another 33.3 million euros.
In the communique, the EU uses some evasive language on the issue of travel visas for Ukrainian citizens to Schengen countries in an enlarged EU. That issue is of uppermost concern to Ukraine and will be difficult for Brussels to skirt, once Poland introduces those EU-required visas. Currently, Warsaw and Kyiv are seeking ways to ease the adverse impact on Ukraine of that planned measure. Among the EU’s member and prospective member countries, Poland evidences the clearest understanding of Ukraine’s problems and of the European interest in developing institutionalized ties with Ukraine.
The summit’s final documents register the intention to cooperate in matters related to illegal migration, readmission of refugees, smuggling and all forms of illegal trafficking, and money laundering. To that end the EU will assist Ukraine in enhancing border security and modernizing border infrastructure.
A joint statement on Russia underscores the shared interest of the EU and Ukraine in the continuation of Russia’s reforms and the development of civil society there. According to this statement, the EU and Ukraine will inform each other on their respective discussions with Russia on energy and other economic issues, conflict settlement and international events in general.
Pursuant to an EU initiative, eagerly accepted by Kyiv, the sides are considering including Ukraine in the planned European rapid reaction forces. The summit’s joint statement reaffirms the possibility for Ukraine to be invited to participate in the operations of those forces, once created. Under current plans, the European force would carry out relief and rescue, peacekeeping, and outright military operations in crisis situations.
Kyiv has already offered the services of its military transport aviation as an initial contribution. Kuchma declared during this summit that Ukraine can contribute in a variety of ways to the European forces. Solana, who is the top EU official in charge of that plan, has paid four visits to Ukraine this year; and Belgium’s Defense Minister Andre Flahaut held talks in Kyiv on that subject almost immediately after Belgium had taken over the EU’s chairmanship in July.
When Sweden rotated out of that chairmanship, its Prime Minister Goeran Persson concluded that the EU had on the whole neglected Ukraine for a long time, and that the Swedish presidency was handing over to the Belgian presidency a number of initiatives to correct that situation. Persson recommended: (1) practical steps, especially in the trade area, opening the prospect of a EU-Ukraine Association Agreement; (2) preventing the emergence of a new line of division on Poland’s and Hungary’s borders with Ukraine; ensuring these candidate countries’ participation in EU programs in Ukraine and drawing on their experience regarding Ukraine; (3) a clear differentiation in Brussels’ policies toward Ukraine and toward Russia; and (4) a more effective–rather than rhetorical–Brussels-Kyiv dialogue on the reforms needed for a real partnership, avoiding “either-or” attitudes toward Ukraine. On a general level, he underscored that “it is inadmissible for Europe’s policy to ignore this strategically placed country of great importance to the whole of Europe.” Assuming “serious intentions to continue reform policies” on the part of Kuchma and Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh, Persson warned against vindicating the anti-European elements in Ukraine and by implication in Russia, if the EU is seen as “turning away from Ukraine” (UNIAN, ICTV Television, AFP, September 10-12; Den, July 3; see the Monitor, August 1).
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