As a presidential candidate and as the current head of state, Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly assured that Ukraine does not intend to turn off the European integration course. And we will soon have the opportunity to prove the seriousness of his intentions. The EU-Ukraine summit will be held on July 8. The venue is the Ukrainian capital.

Zelensky’s turn

It will be the 21st meeting in this format. A year ago, at the 20th-anniversary summit in Brussels, Ukraine was represented by Petro Poroshenko, whose five-year cadence was soaked in the European integration and the Euro-Atlantic policy. It is in the times of the president Poroshenko in 2014 that the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement (the document disregarded by Viktor Yanukovych has become a trigger in the story that ended with his relocation from Mezhyhirya to Rostov-on-Don), and in 2017, the Ukrainians got the visa-free regime.

Now it is Volodymyr Zelensky’s turn to demonstrate the real ways of rapprochement with Europe not in words, but in practice. Like Petro Poroshenko, he will have to deal with the European Council President Donald Tusk and the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the summit, whom he met during his first foreign visit to Brussels earlier this summer. The meeting with Mr. Juncker was especially warm.

“Having held several meetings with the international leaders, Volodymyr Zelensky is now not just “a new head of state”, but a full-fledged subject in the international arena,” a political expert Iryna Vereshchuk, the people’s deputy candidate from the Servant of the People party, told Opinion. “And our European colleagues understand who is who, as they rely on the will of the Ukrainian people. Otherwise, they would not support Ukraine on the way to joining the European space and would not provide financial assistance in the implementation of fundamental democratic norms and values. Given this, Ukraine continues its European course, regardless of who holds the presidency.

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The first EU-Ukraine summit was held on 5th of September 1997 in Kyiv. The Ukrainian capital will host this event for the tenth time, and in the last decade, it has been taking place in Kyiv and Brussels in turn. In Ukraine, the summit was held twice – in Yalta. It also took place in Austria, France, Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands. In 2012 and 2014 it wasn’t held.  

In Brussels, Volodymyr Zelensky stressed the immutability of the priorities enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine with the strategic course of the state towards full membership in the EU and NATO, the readiness of our country to adhere to its obligations, in particular, in relations with international financial institutions. And Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed the support for Ukraine from the EU regarding its European integration choice.

Specificity or formality?

Won’t we hear the same things at the summit? Will there be any specificity in addition to fervent assurances of strategic intentions and pleasantries exchange?

“It will be an abstract summit, which will show that Ukraine and the EU continue their cooperation – we do not deviate from the course of European integration, and the EU strongly welcomes this movement,” said Olesia Yakhno, a political expert, to Opinion. “There will be a common approach because all understand that we are in the state of elections. In fact, no one knows what will happen if they talk about substantive things, like financial assistance and specific programs for structural reforms. Everyone is waiting to find out what will the policy after the elections look like, who will be the prime minister and what will be the composition of the government. In recent months, there have been many different statements, but then they were refuted. But the specificities may exist only in some pre-established things that are in progress.”

Iryna Vereshchuk drew attention to specific things: the summit participants will discuss the war in Donbas, the Association Agreement with the EU, macro-financial assistance of the EU. The assistance in the acceleration of the reforms process in some sectors is expected from Volodymyr Zelensky. It is the introduction of the rule of law and the fight against corruption, bringing the legislation of Ukraine in line with the EU legislation, the continuation of changes in the energy sector, the reform of the land market and the privatization of large industrial enterprises.

“I will not say that the event will be purely formalistic, but I think that the full implementation of all its results will happen after the update of the Verkhovna Rada and will depend on how the European colleagues will assess the performance of the new parliament – if the president has a majority, they will understand that the laws necessary for the European integration will be adopted,” Ms. Vereshchuk added. “And that’s why the pessimistic statement of Klimkin (the Foreign Minister of Ukraine – E.D.) about the ‘possible entry only in 2035’s will not become a reality. Also, the President of Ukraine has the opportunity to discuss the extension of sanctions for the Russian Federation and once again emphasize the need for the release of the Ukrainian sailors and all political prisoners.”

There is no sense in formal actions anymore, and if we are limited to another declaration on friendship, there will not be a big advantage,” the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine (2007-2009) Volodymyr Ohryzko is convinced. The Ukrainian side should come to the summit with a number of specific proposals in the interests of our state.

“The topics such as industrial visa-free regime, the necessary regulations related to the power industry and the adaptation of the EU requirements to our realities should be on the agenda,” Mr. Ohryzko told Opinion. “It is necessary to conduct a detailed analysis of the Association Agreement. There are things that require clarification and amendments because life makes adjustments, and they should be the subject of careful discussion. We are under constant pressure. Therefore, reaching the solution to this problem will be a big plus. Many things need to be looked at from a practical point of view. And if we manage to bring it all to a common denominator, then this will be the main point.”

The factor of early elections to the Verkhovna Rada, which will be held less than two weeks after the EU-Ukraine summit, also cannot be discounted.

“The parliamentary elections, especially early ones, are a factor that reduces the effectiveness of negotiations, because after them there will be a new composition of the Verkhovna Rada, the government,” said the people’s deputy Svitlana Zalishchuk, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Euro-Atlantic Cooperation and European Integration of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Foreign Affairs. “But the European government will also change in the autumn – the elections to the European Parliament were recently held. It is important that all European institutions continue their work. And the important thing is that the course will not change with the changing of leaders. And from the Ukrainian point of view, we understand that the president has clearly outlined the strategy of the European course. I see no reason to change this course. Therefore, the developments, tasks, and interests of Ukraine will be put on the agenda and discussed at this event.”

Remember the shame of PACE

After the decision of PACE to allow Russia to return its delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly, many Ukrainians remembered Oleksandr Oles’ poem “Remember” with the refrain “Europe Was Silent”. In particular, poetry about the hard struggle of Ukraine against the enemy and the complete indifference of the Old World to our problems was quoted in social networks. The PACE deputies’ blow to Ukraine is very unpleasant, plus their cynical flirting with the aggressor and the dominance of material interest over justice.

Although PACE and the European Union are not the same, will this issue be raised during the summit? Should the EU leaders focus on the blatant injustice of the European organization towards Ukraine, which is fighting in the East and constantly emphasizes the return of the annexed Crimea?

According to Olesia Yakhno, it is unlikely that this issue will be touched, because it is considered incorrect when the representatives of one structure evaluate the decision of another organization. But Volodymyr Ohryzko does not exclude this possibility: “this can be done during the discussion of political issues. If our side focuses on the unacceptability of things that happen in PACE, it would be appropriate and logical.”

Iryna Vereshchuk also believes that this question can be ignored at the summit neither by Ukraine nor by the EU. After all, the Ukrainian diplomats and citizens are outraged by the decision to return Russia to PACE, and the activists in Kyiv picketed the embassies of a number of the European countries, the deputies of which supported the decision to return Russia to the Assembly. The response is serious: the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine withdrew the Ambassador to the Council of Europe to develop the plan of further action, and the Ukrainian delegation announced the suspension of its participation in the summer session of PACE, except for appealing the powers of the Russian delegation.

“We should not make sudden movements and lose balance in the cooperation with the European partners, but through dialogue, also within the framework of the planned summit on the 8th of July, it is necessary to clearly understand how the EU sees the mechanism of the policy of deterring the aggressor in the future,” continued Ms. Vereshchuk.

The language will not be touched

The European Union promised not to criticize the Ukrainian law on education at the upcoming summit. On the 13th of June, the ambassadors of the EU member states approved the relevant statement and sent it to Kyiv. The final communiqué of the last year’s summit also contained a similar interpretation. But there were negative statements about the law on education adopted in 2017 in previous statements. They were initiated by Hungary, which blocked all Ukraine-NATO commission meetings at the highest level. Will the EU be able to close the language issue?

“I do not think that Europe will close this issue forever, because the EU expects Ukraine to fully implement the recommendations of the Venice Commission on the law on education in a non-discriminatory way, in dialogue with national minorities and other stakeholders,” Iryna Vereshchuk explained. “More time should be given for gradual reform. Ukraine should prepare a step-by-step roadmap of the implementation of the language article. The Ministry of Education has already agreed with the recommendations of the Venice Commission that the transition period for the implementation of the article should be continued. This article should be implemented no earlier than 2023. The European Commission notes that Ukraine should guarantee all citizens the use of minority languages during training.”

“I do not want to make predictions, but we must do everything possible to close this issue,” Svitlana Zalishchuk assured. “At the same time, I see this as a risk, because Hungary conducts an aggressive policy not only towards Ukraine but also its other neighbours, using the language issue as an active geopolitical tool. Therefore, I doubt that this country will completely remove it from the agenda. Orban (the Prime Minister of Hungary – E.D.) uses the issue of language to mobilize its own electorate.”

Deal with the IMF!

Should Ukraine expect to receive financial assistance from the EU? The answers of experts on economic issues for Opinion are unambiguous – the money should not be expected without the IMF program.

Serhii Fursa, an investment banker:

“The macro-financial assistance from the EU is tied to the IMF program. And as soon as we resume full cooperation with the Fund, the question of obtaining funds from the EU will arise. This question can be touched on the summit, but it will not move according to the mentioned reason. As soon as a new government is formed in Ukraine after the parliamentary elections, it will become quite realistic.”

Yurii Panchenko, the editor of the online media European Truth:

“Of course, there will be promises, but the IMF is the key, without which it is impossible to open other programs. Therefore, it is important for the EU to declare the need for an early resumption of the program with the IMF, and for the Ukrainian authorities to show positive dynamics in cooperation with the Fund. I wouldn’t expect the breakthrough economic shifts. This is an issue of the government, and the current government is already finalizing its activity, and everyone is in anticipation of the formation of a new one.”

Hlib Vyshlinsky, the executive director of the Center for Economic Strategy:

“First, Ukraine should provide an agreement on a new program with the IMF, and only after that, a decision can be made to provide the next tranche of macro-financial assistance from the EU. Therefore, I think that no decision on the allocation of funds will be made at the summit due to the lack of a decision of the Fund. That is, this issue should be resolved with the IMF, not the EU.”

Text by Viktor Tsvilikhovsky

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