Ukraine and EU swapping place at the Association Council meeting

Author : Serhiy Sydorenko

Source : 112 Ukraine

Confidence of Brussels to Ukraine is even greater than Kyiv’s trust in the EU
11:29, 21 December 2016

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Council of Europe

On Monday, the third meeting of the EU-Ukraine Association Council took place in Brussels. In some sense, the meeting was out of formal ranks, and its progress was largely unexpected.

Despite all the complications, we can talk about a new phase or new realities in the EU-Ukraine relations. Kyiv and Brussels have essentially reversed in the perception of each other. Confidence of Brussels to Ukraine is even greater than Kyiv’s trust in the EU, in recent months, the first has increased significantly, while the other has fallen.

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Losing Prime Minister

EU Association Council is a key bilateral body established under the Association Agreement, and the second time in a row the Ukrainian government cannot reach the meetings without "lossless."

Recall that last year the government officials arrived in Brussels literally for a couple of hours, and after the event they immediately rushed back to Kyiv to talk with US Vice President Joe Biden. Then there was a period of crisis in the relations between power branches in Ukraine, everyone wanted to secure the support of American partners.

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This year the changes came again. And again, in the last moment. Delegation in Brussels had no doubt that it will meet with the prime minister; for this purpose was created a program of the highest level. The day before arrival, Ukraine informed the partners about changing the plans. Groisman stayed in Kyiv in order to resolve the situation with Privatbank. First Deputy Prime Minister Stepan Kubiv went to attend EU-Ukraine Association Council meeting.

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“On Friday, we supposed that perhaps everything could happen, so we drew up the documents in such a way that either Prime Minister, or First Deputy could sign them,” said our sources in the government.

In addition, Energy Minister Igor Nasalyk, who was also supposed to show up in Brussels, did not appear.

Does this approach offend Brussels?  The answer is not obvious.

At first glance, it might seem that yes. In diplomacy, the details are very important, but here they are not in our favor. For example, Federica Mogherini had to meet Ukrainian guest at the entrance of the building, and it did not happen - the EU High Representative arrived a few minutes before Kubiv, and she had no time to wait for him.

In addition, a planned meeting of Ukrainian guest with Donald Tusk has been canceled - President of the European Council was willing to talk to the prime minister, not to his deputy.

Not only protocol aspects are that important. Our numerous sources (both Ukrainian and the European) indicate that the conversation was fundamentally different.

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Not by "Privatbank" alone

Not only the protocol, but also the agenda was violated. Representatives of the European Commission and Ukrainian Government could not avoid the issue of Privatbank, which had not to be discussed at this level. Here started a pleasant moment for the Ukrainian authorities.

Brussels fully and unconditionally backed Ukraine, first during the private negotiations, then in public statements. "A strong decision," "courageous move" - these epithets are quite rare at the international events.

However, this is not something new for Brussels. Perhaps each meeting or speech of the last month contains some "honey flavor;" Brussels does not spare compliments for Kyiv.

So, a few days before EU-Ukraine Association Council meeting, the European Commission released a report on the progress of Ukraine, and this document has been incredibly positive and full of statements about the "unprecedented reforms" and "the restoration of democratic institutions."

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During the meeting behind closed doors and at a press conference, Federica Mogherini profusely quoted the document, highlighting the positive impression of Ukrainian reforms. Mogerini remembered not only about the completed projects, but also about the future plans: "It is important to move from adoption of laws and creating institutions to the implementation.”

Money for Ukraine

Our sources named two reasons why European officials think of Ukraine almost exclusively in a positive manner.

First, sometimes Kyiv really impresses the EU with the reforms, for which Brussels could not even hope. Launch of electronic declarations (in fact, the EU was quite skeptical about Ukraine's intention to run these changes) and changes in the gas sector (Ukraine eventually reforms faster than EU member states do), and civil service reform (where achievements are not that visible, but this year, Ukraine has made many times more than two years after the Maidan)...

Related: Ukraine, Russia, EU start gas talks in Brussels

Second reason is fundamentally different. Brussels often uses to hear: stop criticizing Ukraine.

Many European bureaucrats tend to believe that mechanism of "stick" stopped working. It is time for "carrot."

It is difficult to say for sure which factor is more significant.

But fact is fact: December 19, on the St. Nicholas day, Ukrainian officials have collected harvest gifts not only from Kolomoisky, but also from the European Union.

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Here is a descriptive list of money that Ukrainian governmental delegation will bring to Kyiv (albeit reduced, even without the personal presence of the Prime Minister):

- 600 million euro of targeted cheap credits from the European Investment Bank;

- up to 366 million euros of non-refundable aid for the cross-border infrastructure programs, including modernization of border crossings (the amount depends on how many projects would Ukraine and neighboring states offer);

- up to 104 million euros of non-refundable aid for civil service reform, of which 90 million will go to the budget and, among other things, will help increase the wages.

The last block deserves special attention.

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EU funding rules are such that Ukraine would unlikely get the said 90 million for budget support - the actual amount depends on the progress of reforms, and this process is never perfect, some indicators would not be unfulfilled. And even the total amount, 90 million euros are not enough in order to update the Ukrainian civil service or increase salary of civil servants.

These funds will go to support the "reform group" in the ministries, and there is no guarantee that it is enough. The value of this assistance in slightly different.

We have heard from the EU almost a dozen times, why no one allocates these funds, however they are long reserved for Ukraine. The problem was the issue of trust to the reform. Brussels did not have such confidence to Kyiv.

According to statements of representatives of the European Commission, today the level of confidence is the most higher since the Revolution of dignity.

Visa-free issues and around

The biggest problem in relations between Ukraine and the EU can be described in two words: "visa regime".

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This issue has not been discussed on Monday meeting in Brussels, because at this stage, nothing depends from Ukraine or the European Commission. This issue cannot be postponed though. Visa takes a very small part of relations with the EU. However, the visa issue, literally poisoned relations between Kyiv and Brussels. In general.

This development was not surprising - in summer, Ukrainian officials and activists warned the EU that it will happen if the EU delays its fulfillment of the obligations.

An interesting nuance: this time Ukrainian ministers and their deputies faced an atypical problem that added feeling of visa problems during their trip to Brussels. The officials got to Brussels by the airliner, with a change in Warsaw. And according to participants, Polish border guards checked the passports of Ukrainian VIP-passengers very strictly, seeking for overstay.

These inspections in Poland in recent years become permanent, but that rule was applied only to Ukrainian common passengers.

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"Now it is difficult to believe any EU promises," said Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal. EU has painfully accepted this statement. But this is the new reality. It does not benefit Ukraine. It does not benefit the EU.

All parties are supposedly interested in solving it.

But until this happens, we can continue to speak only of half-confidence between Ukraine and the EU.

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