Andrej Plenković, AP file photo

‘We should seize the opportunity offered by the Association Agreement’

An exclusive UNIAN Q&A interview with Andrej Plenković, Chair of the EP Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Co-operation Committee

Andrej Plenković, AP file photo

1) What do you want to achieve as a Chair of EP delegation to the PCC EU-Ukraine?

My political objective is to actively assist Ukraine in achieving substantial progress in undertaking comprehensive reforms leading it towards the European Union. After the provisional entry into force of the Association Agreement on November 1, 2014, we will formally establish the Parliamentary Association Committee (PAC) that will give further impetus to relations between the European Parliament and the Verkhovna Rada. 

I believe that we should seize the opportunity offered by the Association Agreement to enhance the parliamentary dimension of the EU-Ukraine relations and set out a clear and ambitious working program. One of the tasks of the PAC will be to closely monitor the implementation of the agreement and to make timely and specific recommendations to the Association Council.

2) How do you see the work of the EP delegation within the EP and with the Verkhovna Rada?

I see our political dialogue as an intensive and open exchange of views aimed towards achieving common objectives for Ukraine and the EU. The EP Delegation for Ukraine will meet on a monthly basis to ensure a close and constant follow-up of the developments and EU-Ukraine relations. We will provide political input to the resolutions adopted in plenary session and to debates organised by other parliamentary committees.

Together with our colleagues in the Verkovna Rada, we will follow the implementation of the Association Agenda and accompany the process of the adoption of European standards in Ukraine. Our goal is to use the PAC to discuss all aspects of political, economic and sectorial reforms. The EP delegation has the ambition of strengthening overall EU-Ukraine relations and to increase the visibility of the EU in Ukraine.

3) What kind of agenda do you have and what will be your priorities?

The priorities of future PAC will be agreed jointly with the new Ukrainian Delegation that will be constituted soon after the parliamentary elections. I believe that we should hold without delay the first meeting of the PAC in order to start implementing the provisions of the Association Agreement. At our first working meeting in October, we reiterated our support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in a flagrant breach of international law. Our priorities will be to oversee the entire reform process and the harmonization of the Ukrainian legislation with the EU acquis (EU legislation).

I want to stress the importance of enhancing Ukraine's administrative capacity to implement reforms and fight against corruption. In this regard, I welcome the recent adoption of important anti-corruption legislation by the Verkhovna Rada as well as the Law on the Prosecutor's Office. We shall closely work with the Commission's Support Group for Ukraine on economic and financial matters, headed by Mr Balas who, along with Ukrainian Ambassador Yelisieiev, already shared with us his views two weeks ago.   

4) What is your assessment on the current situation Ukraine? What is your vision for Ukraine in general?

The last two months can be characterised by three main points: 1) the Minsk ceasefire, 2) the DCFTA postponement and 3) the deal on the gas price. All of them should be seen together as a part of the peace efforts creating a conducive context for the parliamentary elections.  

The majority of the Ukrainian people chose Europe as the future direction for the country. That was very clear during the ratification of the Association Agreement in Verkhovna Rada on September 16 simultaneously with the European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg. Ukraine's clear European vocation should be respected and supported by the EP and the EU and its member states. There is no space for any external pressure that would throw into question that orientation.  

The challenges standing in front of Ukraine are manifold and demanding. Ukraine is faced with a rebellion in parts of its two eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where mercenaries are supported by Russia. It is a hybrid type of aggression. Ukraine has already seen too many human casualties, too many refugees and displaced persons, and too much destruction at a very high cost. Therefore, it is urgent to implement the Minsk Protocol and follow-up Memorandum in their entirety. I am concerned by the daily violence and increasing death toll occurring in the east despite the ceasefire. The recent meeting in Milan in Normandy+ format as well as bilateral talks between Presidents Poroshenko and Putin should hopefully bring about a positive impact to the peace plan’s implementation.

Also I hope that the postponement of the DCFTA until 1 January 2016 will provide enough time for Ukrainian economic operators to prepare for competitive pressures coming from the EU, while enjoying the prolongation of the Autonomous trade preferences by the EU in the meantime. I appreciate the efforts by Commissioner Oettinger in reaching a reasonable deal between Ukraine and Russia and Naftogaz and Gazprom regarding the price of gas, which should ensure there are enough supplies during the winter months.   

Ukraine also has to face a lot of economic and social challenges. After the parliament elections, the new Ukrainian institutions will have to embrace the ambitious European reform agenda. The EU will support the economic reforms with 11 billion euros. There is a need to proceed with reforms and to strengthen the rule of law, to engage in comprehensive constitutional reform, to eliminate corruption and to guarantee respect of human rights.

5) What do you expect from upcoming parliamentary election? Do you think they can be free and fair? How and where will your delegation work?

I believe that the upcoming parliamentary elections on October 26 are important for the consolidation of democracy in Ukraine. I hope that the new Verkhovna Rada will form a stable majority after the elections. That would enable the formation of the government, which will continue the internal reform processes and ensure the reintegration of the entire Ukrainian territory into the legal and constitutional order of the country. Despite obvious difficulties in some parts of two eastern regions, I expect that the elections will be conducted in accordance with recognized international standards.

The European Parliament is sending a 14 member delegation to observe the elections. The delegation will meet with all the relevant representatives from Ukrainian authorities, political parties and the central election commission. MEPs will also meet with actors from civil society and NGOs, as well as EU ambassadors and international community representatives. Besides Kyiv, MEP's will be deployed in Cherkasy, Odessa, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk. It is my honor to Chair this EP Delegation which will be integrated into the OSCE/ODIHR International Election Observation Mission. Our joint assessment regarding the organization of the parliamentary elections will be made public at a press conference on Monday, October 27.

6) What are the main issues and problems in Ukrainian politics? How they can be solved?

Given the current internal and external challenges faced by Ukraine, I believe that politicians in Ukraine have to demonstrate a great level of commitment and responsibility. Following the Maidan revolution, expectations from citizens are high, and these expectations should not be disappointed. There is an urgent need to address long standing demands notably in the field of good governance, the rule of law and the fight against corruption. The current situation requires statesman leadership and determination in combination with strong diplomatic skills fully assessing the complex context of Ukraine's position. 

7) What is your opinion on the issue of sanctions for Russia? When they can be lifted? 

I think that the EU sanctions against Russia were justified and they seem to have an effect. The scaling down of restrictive measures and sanctions is entirely linked to the evolution of the peace process in Ukraine. At this stage it is premature to debate any scaling down of sanctions. Russia needs to stick to its commitments from the Minsk agreements, which includes withdrawing all of its forces, weapons and equipment from Ukraine, securing and respecting the international border between the two countries with OSCE monitoring, and ensuring that all hostages are released.   

8) Do you see a possibility for a customs union between EU and Russia?

Instead of developing strategic partnership with the EU, with its recent policies Russia has taken the path of being strategic rival of the EU - as President Barroso has said. The crisis in Ukraine has considerably strained the relations between Russia and the EU and it will be necessary to completely reassess this relationship. Following the illegal annexation of Crimea, the negotiations on the future framework agreement between Russia and EU were suspended. The evolution of the EU-Russia relations, notably in the trade field, will largely depend on Russia's attitude regarding the settlement of the situation in Ukraine including its own disengagement.

9) Do you think the EU should help Ukraine with weapons and equipment?

It is up to the member states to take decisions regarding the export of weapons and equipment. The deployment of the CSDP advisory mission for civilian sector reform to Ukraine is an important step. However, the main objective of the EU's policy is to find peace and reach a political solution to the crisis, while fully respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. This should be considered in the light of the recent Laws on amnesty for the rebels, except for those involved in serious crimes and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, as well as the Law on the decentralization of certain parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In this context, I believe it is important for the EU, especially after the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum, to be part of the wider efforts of the international community targeted towards stabilizing the situation, maintaining the ceasefire, and control of the Ukrainian-Russian border by the OSCE monitors, thus enabling Ukraine to fully reintegrate its territory.

10) What is your position on the possible membership of Ukraine in the EU?

I am of the opinion that Ukraine, as with any other European state and in accordance with the Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty, may apply to become a member of the union. It has to adhere to the principles of democracy, fundamental freedoms, human rights and the rule of law. The timing for submitting the application needs to be carefully considered by the Ukrainian authorities and agreed in advance with the EU side, taking into account the specific situation of Ukraine as well as the wider context of the enlargement and neighbourhood policy of the EU. In the course of the implementation of the Association Agreement, Ukraine will transpose a large part of the EU acquis and adopt European standards. The association framework will bring the EU and Ukraine closer together. Based on Croatia's recent experience, I can say that the EU-oriented reform process awaiting Ukraine is long and demanding. We should jointly focus our efforts in putting the Association Agreement provisions to practice.

11) When the parliament of your country will ratify the Association Agreement EU-Ukraine?

I appealed publicly to the Croatian government to swiftly put into the legislative procedure the Law on the ratification of the Association Agreement with Ukraine. I expect the Agreement will be ratified by the Croatian Parliament (Hrvatski sabor) in the following weeks. Croatia should show solidarity towards Kyiv, as Ukraine is now standing in defense of the European values. Also, Ukraine was the third country to recognize Croatia internationally as an independent state in December 1991. My political party, the Croatian Democratic Union (EPP political family), strongly supports this ratification.

Interview conducted by UNIAN Europe Correspondent Iryna Somer in Strasbourg

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