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.