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.