There should be no drama around the fact that the Ukraine-EU Summit saw no traditional joint declaration. Actually, it hasn’t been adopted for a single reason: Kyiv insisted that the phrase from the Association Agreement be repeated in the statement – the one on the EU supporting Ukraine's European aspirations.
The very significance of the summit is that it has opened a new stage of cooperation between Ukraine and the EU as the Association Agreement has been fully and definitively ratified. This means it is beginning to be enforced not only de facto but also in a legal field. This also means that Kyiv has received a road map of the country’s transformations, to be implemented jointly with the European Union. It really brings Ukraine’s relationship with the EU to a totally new phase.
According to unverified reports from various undisclosed sources, a very detailed, seven-page declaration was expected to be signed following the summit, where all these points should have been written out and repeated, just as laid out in the Association deal.
Why hasn’t the declaration been adopted, and why did it not include a provision on the support of Ukraine’s European aspirations? In my opinion, this is mostly due to certain internal political considerations of some EU member states. It is known that this was the Netherlands’ position – not to repeat the wording. We remember that the Dutch authorities had held an advisory referendum that complicated the Association deal’s ratification process. But Ukraine has untied this knot with the help of the EU, the Dutch, and the Ukrainian diplomacy.
Nevertheless, the Netherlands has retained their reservation - they don’t want to promise Ukraine any prospects of EU membership. Moreover, sources said the Dutch position was also supported Germany and France. But this is rather an appeal to the electorate of these countries and to the part of the society in these countries, wary of the EU enlargement. In fact, this statement does not mean that Ukraine is automatically moving toward EU membership. It's just fixing the current stage of relations.
Indeed, there are some things about Ukraine that Brussels is anything but happy about, for example, the dragging and non-effective fight against corruption. These issues are discussed at the highest level, and, I think it's a good thing that the EU is putting pressure on Kyiv authorities to force Ukraine introduce the changes it needs so much. This is a normal thing. But in this case, it’s about the principled position of the Ukrainian side, who was faced with a real dilemma - either to sign an extensive declaration without this phrase, or not to sign anything. All cons and pros considered, Ukraine decided that it would be worth maintaining a principled stance. That’s because everything laid down in the declaration has already been enshrined in the Association Agreement and will be implemented anyway. Obviously, Ukraine has decided that it is extremely important to have this provision laid out straight. And if the Europeans, or rather the three countries, don’t want to do this, let them think of why they don’t. Thus, Kyiv has, to a certain extent, exacerbated the situation, confronting the EU with a simple question: "Hey, EU, where are your principles now? If it's been laid down in the Association Agreement, why are you so afraid to repeat it?"
So, Kyiv has shown Brussels that Ukraine would not sign everything, only based on the EU considerations. Ukraine has its own internal consolidated political position and it enjoys public support. After all, Ukrainians have died and are still dying at the front line for a European idea. So we threw the ball to the EU pitch, saying: "Hey, EU, think about your values. After all, your position should be principled and consistent."
I emphasize that the situation changes absolutely nothing in terms of the plan of the Association Agreement’s implementation. Ukraine will continue to move along its path, to receive EU assistance, and to do its "homework" as this is primarily in the country’s own interests.
Oleksiy Haran is a Research Director at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, Professor of Political Science at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy