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Last Wednesday, the overwhelming majority of the European Parliament deputies voted to adopt the recommendations for the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit (hereinafter "EP"), which envisages strengthening the dynamics in the relations of the European Union with its eastern partners. As is known, the "EP" initiative introduced in 2009, in addition to the EU itself, includes 6 participating countries: Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. According to the definition of the EP, three of them - Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova - are tirelessly proving their European aspirations, and therefore deserve a new level of cooperation. It is for them was introduced a new format called "Eastern Partnership +" (hereinafter - "EP +"), which will act on the principle "more - for more, less - for less." This time to word "more" the European Union, in particular, brought the prospects for membership in a number of relevant EU unions. For Ukraine this could be a new European integration step, but there are many obstacles on the already difficult road.
For today, the EU Customs Union includes not only the EU countries, but also Turkey, Andorra, Monaco and San Marino. That is, Ukraine's participation as an EU non-member state is possible. The specificity of this union is the absence of all customs duties for member countries, the existence of a single external tariff for goods from third countries and the general trade policy.
Of course, any customs union has advantages and disadvantages for its members. For example, membership in it involves the loss of the country’s sovereignty in conducting of independent customs policy. In case of accession, Ukraine will have to agree with a single external customs tariff, jointly introduced by the EU for third countries. In addition, none of the CU is aimed at protecting the domestic producer, but, on the contrary, contributes to increased competition. Undoubtedly, not every Ukrainian commodity producer will be able to compete with European quality first.
On the other hand, the absence of quotas and customs fees among the members of the Customs Union will allow our country to significantly expand the sales markets for domestic products. Despite the high competition within the Customs Union, we will have an advantage, in comparison with third countries, in the export of goods to the EU. After all, even if our price is higher, due to the absence of duties, Member States benefit from buying from their neighbors. In turn, strong competition forces domestic producers to constantly modernize production, improving and making goods more affordable, which will improve the welfare of the population in Ukraine.
Of course, for membership in the CU, Ukraine will need to implement the next package of reforms at both the legal and practical levels. In addition to formal unification of the domestic customs legislation with the European one, our state will have to significantly expand the profile infrastructure and improve the work of the relevant institutions for their effective functioning as part of the EU's single customs "body".
In particular, in case of accession to the Customs Union, Ukraine will be an eastern member bordering third countries, which will create more "customs burden" for us than some other European countries (for example, the Czech Republic, which has only a few customs controls). This will require the need to strengthen control on our northern, southern and eastern borders, the expansion of the customs staff and the capacity of checkpoints.
Now Ukraine already enjoys economic preferences, which became available after the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU. And according to the head of the EU Delegation in Ukraine, Hugues Mingarelli, we need to first introduce a comprehensive free trade zone provided by the agreement, and only then talk about the CU. "You need to bring your norms and standards into line with European standards, and after that, manufacturers must implement them. It will require a huge amount of resources and energy and will take several years, it will be exactly more than five years," he said in a recent interview.
We shouldn’t hope for Ukraine's sooner accession to the EU Customs Union due to Kyiv's lack of control of part of the Ukrainian-Russian border. In the European Union, the problem of smuggling is acute, which comes mainly from the eastern and southern (Mediterranean) borders. Obviously, Brussels is unlikely to invite to the CU a state that does not control part of its border with a third country, especially Russia.
The main goal of the European Energy Union is to create a single energy market in order to increase the level of energy security and energy efficiency, reduce prices and reduce dependence on the resources of other countries, in particular the Russian Federation. Unlike the Customs, the Energy Union does not yet have a clear regulation and is in the process of creating.
EU will allow the European community to diversify the supply of energy resources, in particular oil and gas, thereby increasing the level of energy security. Thus, it will be possible to protect, for example, Russia's next manipulations with the price and supply of blue fuel. After all, the EU is well aware that individual member countries, such as Bulgaria or Estonia, are almost entirely dependent on Russian gas, which allows the Kremlin to influence EU policies. Also, within the framework of the Energy Union, it is planned to introduce a cross-border electricity trade scheme, which among other things will ensure the rapid supply of surpluses of the latter to the countries of the commonwealth.
Ukraine can become an indispensable participant in the such Union. First, our state annually produces about 20 billion cubic meters of gas. Secondly, the domestic gas transportation system and the largest underground gas storage facilities in Europe (over 30 billion cubic meters) are needed by the EU to assist in providing gas to countries with small storage facilities. For example, the annual volume of gas use by Poland is more than 15 billion cubic meters, and its gas storage cannot contain even 3 billion. During the summer conference "The Role of Ukraine as a Strategic Energy Partner of the EU" (Brussels, June 2017), the Vice President of the European Commission on energy community issues Maros Shefovich directly called the Ukrainian gas storage "a strategic asset for the energy security of Europe."
In addition, the number and capacity of Ukrainian power plants give us the opportunity not only to meet domestic needs of the country, but also to export surplus electricity to the EU countries. As early as 2015, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted an order on the implementation of the "Energy Bridge Ukraine-EU" pilot project, within the framework of which it is planned to unite the national and European (ENTSO-E) energy systems, and the second unit of Khmelnitsky NPP will be fully directed to long-term export to countries of the European Union.
Of course, to join the European Energy Union Ukraine will have to solve the problems with Firtash’s gas, which is located in our storage facilities, and also take into account the construction of two new powerful NPP Paks power units in Hungary constructed for Russian funds. In addition, the Energy Union is at the stage of creation, and therefore inclusion of the non-EU state in it would be difficult.
To date, the European Digital Union, like the Energy Union, is in its infancy. Summing up the results of the recent EU Council meeting on digital technologies (Tallinn, September 2017), the Prime Minister of Estonia, Jüri Ratas, said that the West had achieved its goal - the European community recognized the need for cooperation to build a "digital Europe". The first step in this direction should be the Single Digital Market, which is planned to be established by the end of 2018.
Such Digital Union tools as the SDM are designed to provide free movement of people, services and capital using online technologies in various fields. According to Ratas, as a result of the introduction of the SDM, there will be a need for investment in the development of infrastructure, in particular in 5G, global scientific research, for example, in artificial intelligence development.
It is known that Ukraine is leading among European countries in terms of the number of IT specialists. Today there are more than 100 thousand of them, and the growth rates indicate that this number may double by 2020. Therefore, the entry of our state into the European digital community would be a logical step. As a result, the mentioned professionals could facilitate the transition of our country to the "online-rails" with the simultaneous introduction of unified European principles and norms in the electronic sphere.
The Digital Union is indeed the most promising EU alliance for Ukraine, given the absence of global obstacles to this and the current human resources. European officials also agree with this. "Undoubtedly, close cooperation in matters of digital technologies for the benefit of our economies and our societies meets the interests of both the EU and Ukraine," European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Digital Society Günther Oettinger said in the summer of 2016. "Ukraine has already played a constructive role in deepening digital cooperation with the EU and other neighbors, supporting the declaration of the First Ministerial Meeting of the Eastern Partnership on the Digital Economy in June 2015," he added.
But the chances of Ukraine joining the Schengen zone are rather illusory. The European Union is now engaged in the migration crisis and security problems because of regular terrorist threats. Even if we do not take into account the critical situation on the eastern Ukrainian borders, the expansion of the Schengen zone for Europeans is now just not up to the time. "Now the EU is talking about even regaining control inside the Schengen ... Is it realistic that under these circumstances the request of any partner country for association could be considered? I doubt it," Mingarelli said.
It is clear that the Schengen zone, as well as the majority of the EU's profile unions, except perhaps Digital, are yet inaccessible to our state. So the recommendations of the European Parliament in this aspect have the real character only in the distant future. And Brussels is well aware of this. However, taking into account the provisions of the Association Agreement with the EU, we can already work on harmonizing our legislation with European norms and implementing practical reforms. And then at a certain point, joining the above-mentioned internal EU unions will not only be easy, but become just a formality.