Politics

Cautious optimism on the European vector

The European Neighbourhood Policy is in a systemic crisis today. How can Ukraine convince the EU of the advisability of its renewal?

At the beginning of October, Ukraine saw the holding of quite an important foreign policy event – the 22nd Ukraine-EU Summit, the first direct meeting with a non-EU member since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nagornyak Ivan
coordinator on economic issues, SD Platform
The summit became a dominant issue for Ukrainian politicians and foreign policy experts. On the eve of the Ukraine-EU summit, former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko was somewhat skeptical about the future results of the meeting and announced a crisis of confidence in the Ukrainian leadership on the part of international partners. One of the warning signs of an impending crisis from representatives of the European elites is an open letter from three MEPs to the head of the Servant of the People party Davyd Arakhamia. The letter notes the pressure on anti-corruption bodies in Ukraine and the possibility of imposing sanctions, including the abolition of the visa-free regime for certain Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs. However, no such acute statements were made during the summit. Moreover, the final Joint Statement has generated a lot of positive feedback in Ukraine about its ambitiousness.
At the same time, if to analyze mainstream European media and even those traditionally paying more attention to Eastern Europe, one will find it pretty difficult to find more than one or two publications about the summit. The attention of Europeans is now distracted by other issues, such as the pandemic, the US election, budgets of member states and the EU itself and, in some cases, integration initiatives, like the European Green Deal.
Most likely, it was the main factor, together with the desire of the European Union to encourage Ukrainians to gather pace in conducting pro-European reforms, that forced the EU to make tangible concessions in the wording of the Joint Statement. An extremely positive assessment was given to the actions of the Ukrainian authorities. In addition to the crucial position regarding support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, it contained tough statements against Russia about the occupation of Crimea and support for the war in Donbas as well as explicit messages on updating the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, a process that could begin as early as January 2021.
Up until recently, among the countries of the Eastern Partnership, only Belarus maintained a relative peace in terms of security. Now, in connection with the escalation in the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and the protests in Belarus, we can safely say that the possibility of holding a full-fledged Eastern Partnership summit in 2021 is under question.

These and many other circumstances indicate the need to update the Neighbourhood Policy, and they will have a bearing on the impact of the planned summit, even if officials in the EU are not yet willing to agree with the need for a fundamental change or even restarting this cooperation format.
Up until recently, among the countries of the Eastern Partnership, only Belarus maintained a relative peace in terms of security. Now, in connection with the escalation in the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and the protests in Belarus, we can safely say that the possibility of holding a full-fledged Eastern Partnership summit in 2021 is under question.

These and many other circumstances indicate the need to update the Neighbourhood Policy, and they will have a bearing on the impact of the planned summit, even if officials in the EU are not yet willing to agree with the need for a fundamental change or even restarting this cooperation format.
In any case, to demonstrate its European ambitions, Ukraine must succeed in implementing the Association Agreement, primarily in parts that have lagged in recent years, including transport, finance, consumer rights protection, customs issues and intellectual property. But above all, the country's legal system must demonstrate the ability to ensure equality of all citizens before the law and unquestionable responsibility for corruption, both at the regional level and among high-ranking officials. Then, it will have much more grounds to demand that the EU form a more ambitious format of bilateral relations or even exclude it from the Neighbourhood Policy and create a new political platform for interaction with European neighbors.
The article reflects the personal opinion of the author exclusively and cannot be regarded as the position of the government of Ukraine.
10.11.2020
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