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

Foto: Yannick-Morel­li/

Im Rahmen unseres Pro­jek­tes „Öst­li­che Part­ner­schaft 2.0“ ver­öf­fent­li­chen wir eine Arti­kel­reihe über die drei EU-Asso­­zi­ie­­rungs­­­staa­­ten (Ukraine, Geor­gien, Moldau). Autorin­nen und Autoren aus der Region ( Paata Gaprin­da­sh­vili, Mariam Tsits­ikash­vili, Hen­na­diy Maksak, Angela Gramada) ana­ly­sie­ren die Erwar­tun­gen an die deut­sche Rats­prä­si­dent­schaft hin­sicht­lich der zukünf­ti­gen Aus­ge­stal­tung der Öst­li­chen Part­ner­schaft aus zivil­ge­sell­schaft­li­cher Per­spek­tive.

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.