The European Union and Ukraine have simultaneously ratified an association agreement designed to bring Ukraine in line with the EU on a wide range of issues from security to human rights, prompting Ukraine’s President to hail the event as a “historic” day. However, following talks in Brussels between the two parties and Russia last week, further agreement on free trade has been postponed until 2016.
Russia is opposed to the free trade provisions as it claims its market will be flooded with cheap EU goods shipped through Ukraine. Ukraine has therefore agreed to keep in place the current tariffs on EU goods entering the country, although it will be able to export products to the EU without restriction. In return, Russia has pledged to keep in place its current trade provisions, which are favourable to Ukraine as an ex-Soviet state.
Fighting is ongoing in Eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian rebel forces have been shelling the government-held airport at Donestsk, and continue to engage with government forces in both the Donestsk and Luhansk regions, despite a ceasefire signed on the 5th September. Russia has been accused of sending troops and weapons into the area to help the rebels; an accusation it denies. At least 3,000 people have already been killed in the conflict, with over 310,000 more abandoning their homes in the region thanks to the conflict.
The ratification follows the signing of the political provisions of the agreement between the two countries in March of this year, which brought into effect close political co-operation between the two regions. A press release circulated at the time by the delegation of the EU in Ukraine read: “Today’s signing highlights the EU’s strong support for Ukraine in these difficult times. The EU Heads of State and Government also reaffirmed their commitment to signing the remaining provisions. In the meantime, the EU will soon temporarily remove customs duties on Ukrainian exports to the EU. These steps are proof of the EU and Ukraine’s shared wish for closer political association and economic integration.”
The total agreement is hugely wide ranging. The EU delegation in Ukraine website describes the agreement as follows: “The key parts focus on support to core reforms, economic recovery and growth, and governance and sector cooperation in areas such as energy, transport and environment protection, industrial cooperation, social development and protection, equal rights, consumer protection, education, youth, and cultural cooperation.
“The Agreement also puts a strong emphasis on values and principles: democracy and the rule of law, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, good governance, a market economy and sustainable development.
“There will be enhanced cooperation in foreign and security policy and energy.
“It includes a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area – this will go further than classic free trade areas, as it will both open up markets but also address competitiveness issues and the steps needed to meet EU standards and trade on EU markets.
“The Agreement will also highlight Justice, Freedom & Security issues which also include provisions on mobility.”
Votes on ratification in both the EU and Ukraine Parliaments today secured strong support, with 355 of Ukraine’s 381 Parliamentarians voting in favour, and the European Parliament voting 535 in favour, 127 against, with 26 abstentions.
Ukrainian President Poroshenko, speaking at the ratification in Kiev, said “From tomorrow I task the government with approving the implementation of the agreement and immediately implementing it into the force of law,” adding that Ukraine “has embarked on the European path, and nobody can shut the door on EU membership for Ukraine.”
During their plenary session in the European Parliament, MEPs also discussed EU policy towards Russia today, with some political groups urging stronger sanctions against Moscow. “We want to see actions and not words from Russia” said Elmar Brok, a German member of the EPP group. Stressing that Russian tanks and troops were still in Ukraine and the ceasefire was not being respected, he continued “Until this is the case, we must maintain the sanctions and strengthen them further. Russia must know that the rule of law stands”.
Charles Tannock, a British Conservative MEP in the EDF group said “We must take proactive rather than reactive steps in this conflict, sending to Putin the message that there is a hard substance behind our rhetoric.”