Ukraine and the EU: Understanding Mutual Expectations
On May 24, 2016, The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) partnered with the Ukrainian, Swedish, and German embassy in France, to organize a conference entitled “Ukraine and the EU: Understanding Mutual Expectations.”
The event was structured around two on-the-record keynote speeches by Ivana Klympush-Tsintsadze, vice prime minister of Ukraine for European and Euroatlantic integration; and Katarina Mathernova, deputy director general of the directorate general for neighborhood and enlargement negotiations (DG NEAR) at the European Commission. In addition to the speeches, there were two panel discussions held under the Chatham House rule.
The two keynote speakers presented comprehensive views on the situation in Ukraine, and of the difficult engagement with European capitals. They first outlined the renewal of the Ukrainian government and highlighted the necessity for the country to implement a few crucial reforms to allow transparency in the banking system, decentralization, make changes in the civil and economic services, and judiciary system. These initiatives are essential steps in the fight against corruption, and would help diversify the energy supplies of the country, revive economic growth, allow the establishment of privatizations, and visa-liberalization. The presentations underlined in particular how Ukrainian reforms could lead to the decrease of its public deficit of 10% GDP, regain the control of the border with Russia, and find a solution to the political crisis in Donbass. Despite the domestic cacophony, the two keynote speakers remained, however, optimistic about the future of the country and highlighted the unique resilience of Ukrainian society in this crisis, as many anticipated the collapse of the Ukrainian state after the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass. They concluded that turning a blind eye to the current situation would be particularly dangerous as the future of Ukraine is likely to impact the future of the European project as a whole, and it will continue to define the security environment of Central and Eastern European countries, and frame EU-Russia relations in the long-term.
The first panel focused on Ukraine’s reforms and challenges in its relations with the EU. The discussants were Vsevolod Chentsov, director-general for the European Union in the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Stefan Gullgren, deputy director-general for the department of Eastern Europe and Central Asia in the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Hans-Peter Hinrichsen, head of division for Russia, Belarus, Moldova, and EU-relations to Eastern Europe, and Central Asia in the German Federal Foreign Office. The panel was moderated by GMF’s Transatlantic Fellow for Central and Eastern Europe, and Director of the Fund for Belarus Democracy Jörg Forbrig. During the first panel Chentsov, Gullgren, and Hinrinschen discussed the challenges and reforms Ukraine has faced since 2014. They first raised the issue of corruption, which is mainly embodied by the presence of oligarchs in the administration and is the biggest problem in the country, insisting that reforms are the best solution to this political crisis. The discussants added that Ukraine needs to be sure that the EU shares a good level of solidarity in order to achieve the implementation of the Minsk agreement II but remained optimistic. The speakers also discussed the success of the reforms, stating that the EU should congratulate Ukraine because it has accomplished more in terms of reforms in the past two years than in the previous 20 years. The speakers also recommended that Ukraine strengthen its agenda of reforms to achieve the decentralization and the judiciary and electoral reforms, and, to a lesser extent, reopen its market to Russia to revive economic growth.
The second panel focused on the EU’s responses to the Ukrainian crisis with a discussion between Carl Bildt, former Swedish prime minister and minister of foreign affairs; Florence Mangin, director of continental Europe for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Katarina Mathernova. The moderator of the second panel was GMF’s Senior Transatlantic Fellow, and Paris Office Director Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer. In this debate Bildt, Mangin, and Mathernova compared their different perspectives on the EU’s response to the Ukrainian crisis. They all mentioned the crucial role of the Association Agreement and of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFDA) between the EU and Ukraine, both of which are supposed to allow long-term transformations of the economy. They also highlighted the fact that the idea of partnership with the EU is very much liked in Ukraine and that the EU should continue to support Ukraine. They reminded the audience that the current negotiations and mediation are relying on four working groups, which have achieved some progresses, especially in the security field, the core element of the stabilization’s process. The discussants also reaffirmed their optimism on the future of this crisis, highlighting that on May 24, the Russian, Ukrainian, French, and German president have restated their willingness to achieve the implementation of the Minsk agreement II. Finally they concluded the panel by focusing on the role of the EU in the framework of the neighborhood policy, and underlined the fact that the EU has partially lost its ability to pick up the signals of Russian tactics in this crisis. According to them, the EU should support Ukraine in its reforming process, especially in terms of energy efficiency, and encourage the development of its Eastern Partnership.
The event was attended by 45 participants, including officials, journalists, and representative of the private sector.