Seven Reasons Why the Association Agreement Is Important for Ukraine
During the March 21st summit of the heads of state of the European Union, the Council of the European Union and Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk signed the Association Agreement.
The political portion of the Association Agreement with the European Union will create mechanisms for reform in a variety of fields in Ukraine and strengthen cooperation between the two parties. It will allow for greater integration between Ukraine and EU structures and focus on harmonising Ukraine’s institutions with EU standards and norms.
The economic portion of the agreement, which is called the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, has not yet been signed. This Agreement, which will open EU markets to Ukraine and vice versa, will most likely by signed after the May 25th 2014 presidential elections in Ukraine.
Nevertheless, the signing of the political portion of the Association Agreement will be significant for Ukraine in many respects, including:
1. It aims to curb corruption
One of the key problems in Ukraine’s politics and political environment remains corruption at all levels. Corruption has been one of the factors fuelling the EuroMaidan anti-government protests. In 2013, Ukraine was labelled by Transparency International as the most corrupt nation in Europe, ranking 144th alongside countries like Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Iran.
The Association Agreement provides a framework to reduce and work towards the elimination of corruption, which could have a very positive impact on Ukraine’s politics and economy. Specifically, the agreement calls for the EU and Ukraine to “ensure implementation of relevant international standards, in particular those of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and standards equivalent to those adopted by the Union” in efforts to curb corruption in politics and business.
2. It promotes human rights, democratic principles and fundamental freedoms
The EuroMaidan movement demanded that Ukraine’s government respect human rights and democratic principles. The Association Agreement with Ukraine has these principles in its foundation. Title I Article 2 of the agreement reads: “Respect for democratic principles, human rights and fundamental freedoms, as defined in particular in the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe of 1990, and other relevant human rights instruments, among them the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and respect for the principle of the rule of law shall form the basis of the domestic and external policies of the Parties [Ukraine and the EU] and constitute essential elements of this Agreement.”
3. It promotes the rule of law and will require judicial reform
Since the Yanukovych presidency (2010-2014), Ukraine’s judicial system has become nearly wholly dependent on the executive branch of government. The presidential administration recently wielded profound influence over the appointment of judges to the courts as well as the Supreme Council of Justice. Judges who were “too independent” were often dismissed with disciplinary actions.
The Association Agreement calls for both sides to “attach particular importance to the consolidation of the rule of law and the reinforcement of institutions at all levels in the areas of administration in general and law enforcement and the administration of justice in particular.”
4. It will create a structure for constant dialogue
According to the agreement: “Political dialogue in all areas of mutual interest shall be further developed and strengthened between the Parties. This will promote gradual convergence on foreign and security matters with the aim of Ukraine’s ever-deeper involvement in the European security area.”
The agreement will also establish an Association Council which will advise both Ukraine and the EU, as well as monitor the implementation and application of the Association Agreement. This council will be made up of members of the Council of the European Union and ministers and high-level officials from Ukraine.
5. It will counter Russian integration efforts
By aligning itself and integrating with European structures, any eventual integration with Russia is most likely impossible while the Agreement is in force. Back in September 2013, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Štefan Füle stated that membership in the Russian Customs Union (the precursor to the Eurasian Union) is not compatible with the Association Agreements and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements between the Eastern Partnership countries and the European Union. This can be interpreted to read that Ukraine will decisively choose the European path through the implementation of the Association Agreement.
Moldova and Georgia initialled their own Association Agreements with the EU in Vilnius in November 2013. The EU announced that they plan to sign these agreements no later than June 2014.
Armenia, on the other hand, announced in September 2013 that it intends to join the Custom’s Union. This led to the mutual decision between the EU and Armenia to not initial the Association Agreement in Vilnius in November 2013.
6. It will not fix everything overnight
Ukraine has a long way to go before it is on the road to stability and will be considered in line with European standards and values. Ukraine’s economy is in a very difficult situation as its coffers are nearly empty and the state is desperately seeking aid packages from the International Monetary Fund, the United States and the European Union. What’s more, with Crimea being annexed by the Russian Federation, the situation remains very unstable.
In addition, it is important to point out that signing the Association Agreement is not the end of the process. The agreement will need to be ratified by Ukraine’s Parliament as well as all 28 member states of the European Union. Once ratification is complete, the next steps will regard the implementation of the agreement.
What has not been signed yet is the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement which would foster strong economic integration between Ukraine and the EU. Once this is signed and implemented, it will also reform the economy of Ukraine to be much more in line with EU standards and norms.
7. It sets the stage for further integration
Should Ukraine and the EU ratify and implement the Association Agreement, it would lead to further integration between the two parties. While it is not explicitly stated in the Association Agreement, the path of reforms laid out specifically by the Agreement should allow for Ukraine to eventually meet the Copenhagen criteria, which allow for accession negotiations and eventual membership in the European Union.
This is a lengthy process, however, and will require solid long-term commitments from both the European Union and Ukraine.