Ukrain­ian expec­ta­tions for the German pres­i­dency of the Council of the EU

Foto: Yannick-Morel­li/

As part of our project “Eastern Part­ner­ship 2.0” we publish a series of arti­cles about the three EU asso­ci­a­tion states (Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova). Three authors from the region (Paata Gaprindashvili, Mariam Tsit­sikashvili, Hen­nadiy Maksak, Angela Gramada) analyse the expec­ta­tions for the German Council Pres­i­dency as to the future shape of the Eastern Part­ner­ship from the per­spec­tive of civil society.

By Hen­nadiy Maksak

The Euro­pean Union is Ukraine’s biggest strate­gic partner in terms of finan­cial assis­tance, support for reforms and eco­nomic coop­er­a­tion. In both polit­i­cal and eco­nomic terms, the level of EU assis­tance to Ukraine helps our state to survive and boost its resilience. Just to mention one example, the recent EU support package to fight COVID-19 for the Eastern Part­ner­ship partner states has been very valu­able and timely.

Kyiv relies heavily on Euro­pean support, both in advanc­ing its reform agenda and in fight­ing Russian aggres­sion. Despite a very com­pli­cated track towards prospec­tive EU mem­ber­ship for Ukraine, the level of polit­i­cal support pro­vided by the EU to our state has been unprece­dented, with respect both to Ukrain­ian public author­i­ties and to civil society.

Now, with Germany assum­ing the pres­i­dency of the Council of the EU for the second half of 2020, all eyes are fixed on the pri­or­i­ties offi­cial Berlin has chosen for this period.

First and fore­most, we must point out that the German gov­ern­ment has been very active in pro­mot­ing progress along a Europe-ori­ented reform in Ukraine, espe­cially since the Rev­o­lu­tion of Dignity. It has pro­vided far-reach­ing finan­cial assis­tance and advis­ing in rela­tion to sec­toral align­ment with the EU norms and standards.

Many public and non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions from Germany have launched projects aimed at raising public aware­ness and capac­ity build­ing in areas related to imple­men­ta­tion of the Ukraine-EU Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment. The German public agency GIZ has been highly instru­men­tal in coor­di­nat­ing EU finan­cial assis­tance in Ukraine.

The upcom­ing German pres­i­dency of the EU Council has been lit­er­ally shaped by the recent geopo­lit­i­cal shifts and COVID-19 related crises requir­ing urgent responses from the Euro­pean Union. Clearly, the pri­or­i­ties iden­ti­fied by senior German offi­cials for Germany’s pres­i­dency in the second half of 2020 have been strongly influ­enced by press­ing issues such as the need to over­come the eco­nomic and social con­se­quences of the coro­n­avirus crisis, to broker and con­clude a new agree­ment with the Great Britain and to recon­sider rela­tions both with the USA and China.

Still, Ukraine attaches great impor­tance to Germany’s plans for its pres­i­dency with respect to boost­ing the EU’s resilience and secu­rity by making the it greener and more dig­i­talised. During recent talks with EU and German offi­cials, Ukrain­ian author­i­ties con­firmed their inter­est in coop­er­at­ing on the Euro­pean Green Deal and a com­pre­hen­sive digital agenda. And the list of other sec­toral areas of mutual inter­est is a long one.

Fur­ther­more, both Ukrain­ian author­i­ties and Ukrain­ian society are looking to German to main­tain a firm stance on con­tin­u­ing the regime of sanc­tions against Russia until Ukrain­ian ter­ri­to­r­ial integrity and sov­er­eignty has been restored. The secu­rity com­po­nent was one of the top issues during a number of high-level bilat­eral Ukrain­ian-German meet­ings held in the first half of 2020. And the fact that the pro­gramme for Germany’s pres­i­dency of the Council of the Euro­pean Union envis­ages efforts to find a solu­tion to the inter­na­tional con­flict in the Eastern Ukraine is a pos­i­tive sign.

Unfor­tu­nately, it appears that the Eastern Part­ner­ship, as mul­ti­lat­eral archi­tec­ture, is no longer a prime focus for Germany, but has shifted to the side-lines of polit­i­cal atten­tion. Even in media releases that refer to the exter­nal pri­or­i­ties of the pres­i­dency, let alone in the program for the pres­i­dency itself, it is easier to find ref­er­ences to Asia and Africa than to Eastern Europe and South Caucasus.

While the Croa­t­ian pres­i­dency was over­whelmed with EaP-related events, Germany appears quite reluc­tant to con­tinue the pace it set. Two high-level Eastern Part­ner­ship events were held in online formats in June of 2020. And a fully-fledged phys­i­cal EaP summit has been post­poned till spring 2021, leaving Berlin with some impor­tant but rather tech­ni­cal activ­i­ties in prepa­ra­tion for the meeting next year.

More­over, one can hardly say that Germany envis­ages a policy specif­i­cally for the asso­ci­ated coun­tries (Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) within the frame­work of the Eastern Partnership.

Although the EaP Summit Dec­la­ra­tion in 2017 made mention of an infor­mal dia­logue for the three states with asso­ci­a­tion agree­ments, this option was not very well devel­oped in terms of struc­ture or content. And while the Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ments and Deep and Com­pre­hen­sive Free Trade Areas were recog­nised as very impor­tant mile­stones of the Eastern Part­ner­ship in the context of the 10-year anniver­sary in May 2019, there is still no clear cut under­stand­ing on the EU’s side as to how to move forward from there with this club of three partner states that have made more progress.

The same approach, or lack of one, can be seen in the doc­u­ment “20 EaP Deliv­er­ables for 2020”, which offers no clear frame­work for dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing among the 6 partner states, while con­tain­ing a strik­ingly varied range of bilat­eral commitments.

Up to now, Germany has not been noticed in the camp of pro­po­nents of the so-called “Eastern Part­ner­ship +”. This ini­tia­tive calls for greater atten­tion to Ukraine, Moldova and Ukraine vis-à-vis a more ambi­tious polit­i­cal agenda and deeper sec­toral inte­gra­tion in the EU market. EaP + has been strongly advo­cated by the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, by national gov­ern­ments and civil society in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

But there is still reluc­tance to admit a two-speed approach towards EaP partner states in the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, in EEAS, and in the cap­i­tals of some EU member states, includ­ing Berlin. The fear is that less-inte­grated states (Azer­bai­jan, Armenia and Belarus) would “be lost in the dust” of front-runners.

Of course, this view is dis­heart­en­ing for Ukraine, one of the leading part­ners in imple­ment­ing its Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment and 20 EaP deliv­er­ables. In polit­i­cal terms, the loss of moti­va­tion is man­i­fest in Ukraine’s attempt to pub­licly sep­a­rate the Eastern Part­ner­ship as mul­ti­lat­eral track and bilat­eral Ukraine-EU coop­er­a­tion. In Ukrain­ian public dis­course, one seldom encoun­ters a ref­er­ence to the Eastern Part­ner­ship as the policy encom­pass­ing ele­ments like the Ukraine-EU Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment, DCFTA or the visa-free regime. Polit­i­cal dec­la­ra­tions emerg­ing from Ukraine-EU bilat­eral summits have more sub­stan­tive content than those from the EaP high-level meetings.

However, Germany could take further steps to crys­tal­lize a new frame­work for merit- and value-based rela­tions with the EaP part­ners that have made the most progress.

First and fur­ther­most, the time is ripe for the EU to align its approaches towards the Western Balkans and Eastern Part­ner­ship states. It is no secret that the asso­ci­ated states and Western Balkans states might be easily com­pared in terms of their progress towards ful­fill­ing cri­te­ria for mem­ber­ship and activ­ity in the area of align­ing with EU leg­is­la­tion. In these cir­cum­stances, the con­tin­ued appli­ca­tion of two dif­fer­ent policy approaches towards these regions may give rise to a feeling of being the victim of dis­crim­i­na­tion in three EaP partner states. Berlin could propose to adjust progress assess­ment method­olo­gies as a prac­ti­cal step to enable the appli­ca­tion of the “more for more” prin­ci­ple. This could be a task set for the EU Council pres­i­dency trio of Germany, Por­tu­gal and Slove­nia in 2020–2021.

Another step that Germany could under­take in the Eastern Part­ner­ship would be to propose more areas of deep sec­toral inte­gra­tion with the EU for Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova. These might include align­ment in the digital domain, and in the customs, energy and secu­rity areas. In some fields, Ukraine may serve as a success story (for instance, if Ukrain­ian author­i­ties succeed in joining the ACAA).

Of course, German diplo­mats need to pay greater atten­tion to the prepa­ra­tion of a new pro­gramme doc­u­ment to replace the EU’s current Eastern Part­ner­ship “road map”, the “20 Deliv­er­ables for 2020”. New pri­or­i­ties could be added for a 5–7 year period. This new doc­u­ment should be stricter and more binding with respect to ful­fill­ing com­mit­ments in the “polit­i­cal part” of the pro­gramme (rule of law, anti- cor­rup­tion, free and fair judi­ciary, pos­i­tive human rights record). All other sec­toral coop­er­a­tion should be con­di­tional to progress in these domains; in this way, a selec­tive approach, such as that seen with respect to the current doc­u­ment, could be avoided.



Hen­nadiy Maksak, 

Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Foreign Policy Council “Ukrain­ian Prism”, 

Chair­man of the Civic Council under the MFA of Ukraine, 

in 2016–2019 Coor­di­na­tor of the Ukrain­ian National Plat­form of the Eastern Part­ner­ship Civil Society Forum.