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