Interview with Hanna Hopko, MP, Head of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Parliament of Ukraine
What are the key problems of the further European integration of Ukraine?
It is critically important to establish a single governmental coordination unit responsible for Ukraine’s further move to Europe. It could be, for example, an office of a vice-Prime Minister for Eurointegration — this idea has been discussed in Kyiv for quite a while already — keeping in touch with all ministries and offices responsible for the implementation of European norms, standards, and regulations.
In Poland they had a vice Prime Minister and an office of about four hundred people. We may well use this experience to carry out sectoral reforms, adapt legislature, and elaborate free trade regulations and all other norms necessary to get closer to Europe. We have seen how slowly things were moving regarding a visa-free regime for Ukraine. Politicians promised its delivery on several occasions, namely in February and May of 2015. As a result, people’s expectations were exaggerated, and when a positive report by the European Commission on Ukraine’s progress towards the visa-free regime was released in December, it was received skeptically by many. The European Commission’s positive signal was largely misperceived by Ukrainians due to their inadequate expectations generated by earlier promises of Ukrainian officials.
It is also extremely important to achieve political stabilization in the country. It is a tough challenge for Ukrainian political establishment, whether we call it “elite” or not, as some would argue. Stability and predictability should become precursors for economic recovery. The implementation of a free trade area agreement between Ukraine and the EU will become a certain test for Ukrainian institutions’ capabilities to enhance national interests, boost exports, and strengthen the specific branches of economy. In 2015, we witnessed a certain drop in Ukrainian export not only to the EU, but also to Asia, Africa, and other directions due to overall economic problems.
Economic recovery, increased military effectiveness, and overall state efficiency should be kept in focus while moving further on our way to the European Union.
Should the role of the Parliament in developing and carrying out the foreign policy of Ukraine be increased?
Already in February 2015, the Committee on Foreign Affairs prepared a draft law, which could amend Article 13 of the current Law on Diplomatic Service, allowing preliminary consultations with the Parliamentary Committee regarding the appointment of ambassadors. I am stressing that such consultations would have an advisory function only, so that no one suggests that the Parliament is targeting the powers of any other state institutions. What the Committee had in mind is sharing responsibility. This is common practice. Take a look at the Baltic States or the USA, where the Senate plays an exceptionally important role in appointing ambassadors. Unfortunately, the draft has not been supported by the Parliament, although the Rada is responsible for overall control over foreign affairs, as well as for elaborating foreign policy in general. It is critically important that we work together as a national team, coordinating our efforts with the President, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Administration of the President in what concerns resistance to Russia’s aggression, contributing to trans-Atlantic unity in assisting Ukraine to overcome the consequences of the crisis in the East and further economic recovery.
The Parliament is also a place where important draft laws on issues of foreign policy and national security are being prepared. They also touch on aspects of international security. Our Committee has initiated several meetings on reforming security and defence, especially after attending The Marshall Center in Garmisch- Partenkirchen, focusing on cooperation with NATO. After the Parliament cancelled the non-block status of Ukraine, getting closer to NATO standards and criteria has become an important priority in reforms of security sector. Our Committee has launched series of consultations with Parliamentary Committee on European Integration and Parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defence focusing on these reforms. We also have a very active parliamentary delegation to NATO, headed by the first deputy head of the Committee, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze.
This year, it was the Parliament lobbying for increased financing for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What the Ministry has been offered so far was more a survival budget unsuitable for development.
Along with the ratification of basic international treaties in military, scientific, and technological cooperation, the Parliament speeded up the ratification of other international documents, say, the treaty on protection of investments with Japan. Another very important initiative, supported by the Parliament, was Horizon 2020 project — one of the EU scientific projects, aimed at enhancing academic exchange, innovations, and educational cooperation. Our Committee initiated Parliamentary discussions of the strategy for protecting national interests in what concerns resisting acts of aggression, the annexation of the Crimean Autonomous Republic, and other crimes committed by Russia against Ukraine. When the lack of clear vision was evident in what concerned protecting national interests, namely in pursuing international lawsuits against Russia for the annexation of the Crimea, we initiated wide discussions on these issues. We also paid special attention to mechanisms and ways to control the effectiveness of transparency in using international assistance to Ukraine. Each time we ratify agreements concerning these issues, we have to understand that the ways these funds are used are influencing the international reputation of Ukraine. Starting from April, we have paid special attention to these issues.
Another important question we raised jointly with the Parliamentary Committee on Industrial Policy and Entrepreneurship concerns the “economization” of foreign policy. Increasing Ukrainian export is important, while in many of Ukraine’s trade missions there is lack of staff and there is no strategy for promoting Ukrainian export. We need a more professional approach to assessing trade agreements, free trade areas, and the development of closer economic cooperation worldwide. Special attention should be paid to promising partners, e.g. China and Turkey, as well as to perspective Ukrainian industries: food, construction, and military.
We have also created a Civil Board of the Committee, encompassing representatives of the country’s most prominent thinktanks, NGOs, and expert groups. It is actively involved with the efforts to reform Ukrainian diplomatic service, enabled by the recent Law on State Service, which will come into force on May 1, 2016. We do hope that certain analytical pressure from civil society will speed up the efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to present its vision of reforms in the diplomatic service of Ukraine as well.
We usually speak about coordination between ministries of defence or ministries of foreign affairs when analysing cooperation between states. How important is interparliamentary cooperation today?
To a certain extent, we have witnessed a renaissance of the parliamentary diplomacy during the recent year. We have changed the criteria for selecting the heads of “groups of friendship”, as well as the heads of parliamentary assemblies, with the knowledge of foreign language becoming one of the prerequisites. A number of successful resolutions passed by OSCE and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe indicated that Ukrainian MPs are not just international tourists, but effective advocates of national interests worldwide.
The Parliament is playing an increasingly important role in foreign policy by strengthening Ukraine’s diplomatic “fortifications”. In 2015, 68 interparliamentary “friendship groups” were established. The Members of parliament are taking an active part in parliamentary diplomacy: they exchange visits with their foreign counterparts, participate in parliamentary assemblies of NATO, OSCE, the Council of Europe, and other international organizations.
On the other hand, more efforts should be put into building a stronger Ukrainian position at major international security forums, like the recent one in Halifax, Canada. These should be used to raise the issues of rebuilding Ukraine’s territorial integrity, as well as to broadly discuss the problems of damaged international security architecture. It is important to cooperate with various ministries and institutions inside Ukraine on these issues as well. It is becoming evident that there is a problem of coordination in the sphere of security and foreign policy in Ukraine. Our Committee, for instance, is working together with the World Congress of Ukrainians as well as Ministry of Defence of Ukraine to monitor carrying out of a bilateral Ukrainian- Canadian Defence Agreement. We believe it is very important to communicate with our international partners, to be transparent, and to inform them as fully as possible how decisions are taken within Ukraine as well.
What is more important in today’s international relations — politics, security or economy?
Well, it is close to asking what is more important for a human body — a brain, a heart or lungs. In both cases there is a huge interconnection. Politics, security, and economy are influencing each other and define the general framework for state development.
The world is watching Ukraine, as Joseph Biden put it during his recent visit to Kyiv. Not only Ukrainians in Ukraine and all over the world, but also many other people are wondering whether Ukraine will become an example of a complex transformation, encompassing economic, political, and security dimensions. The issues of politics and security are highly interconnected in the East of Ukraine, which is suffering from the Russian aggression. The assistance from the international community in dealing with the consequences of the crisis is also designed in a way that reflects interconnection between the various aspects of security in a modern world. Many states offer help to Ukraine, some of them, like Japan, for instance, clearly understanding that breaches of the international law and revisionism from Russia are vital threats. Not only security and politics are influencing each other, but also events and processes in distant parts of the world can generate far-reaching consequences.
I would say that various elements and dimensions of security are interconnected in a modern world. One cannot be safe only economically or just politically. Security encompasses numerous dimensions and elements. That is why it is sometimes so hard to achieve.
What are the main achievements and mistakes in Ukraine’s foreign policy in 2015?
Ukrainian foreign policy has to be more active, innovative, and creative. We need to use all opportunities offered by the modern means of communication to deliver a positive image of Ukraine to the world. Ukraine is a country with rich cultural traditions and a long history. It is a European country with European people, paying a high price for the crimes of corrupted elites and willing to live according to European values.
Among the main achievements of Ukrainian foreign policy in 2015, first of all, the European Commission positive report on the visa-free regime should be mentioned. It is a good signal for business and society. However, it also means additional responsibilities. We have to prove that recently passed anticorruption laws are not just on paper, that they are real instruments for preventing and fighting corruption in the country. We have to provide enough money for anti-corruption institutions in the state budget for 2016.
In 2016-2017 Ukraine will be a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council, which is also an important achievement of our diplomacy. In the Security Council Ukraine will concentrate on protecting its sovereignty and territorial integrity, investigating the tragedy with the flight MH-17, and ways of reforming the UN and the Security Council.
Also, in 2015 a number of resolutions were passed by international organizations calling for Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine, condemning annexation of the Crimea, and expressing support for Ukraine.
It is important for us to keep the trust of the international community. There were many issues important for Ukraine in 2015, when international support turned out to be stronger than the actual Ukrainian participation. We have to be more effective in lobbying and using international forums for enhancing our interests.
Extremely high expectations in the realms of foreign policy and security were among Ukraine’s weak points in the recent couple of years. For instance, we expected — often publicly — a visa-free regime at the Riga Summit, which was certainly too early. Sometimes we do not have an effective planning of activities and lack coordination among various institutions.
With regard to reforming the security and defense sector — one of the most important ones today — we still lack cooperation between ministries. The same is true about cultural diplomacy and economic aspects of foreign policy: Ministry of Foreign Affairs keeps pulling the blanket with Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Economy, in both cases having no clear strategy of dealing with urgent issues.
There are also problems with staff. In many countries, there are still no appointed ambassadors, and having ambassadors in some of these countries is really crucial. On one hand, Eurointegration, keeping Euro- Atlantic unity and broadening international coalition to contain Putin’s aggression are important. But on the other hand, enhancing relations with our neighbors has always been a top priority. Focusing on Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Baltic States, Belarus is important. At the same time, there is no Ukrainian ambassador in Minsk, a city that has become one of the peacemaking capitals for Ukraine in the context of the Minsk process. The same is true about Hungary, taking into account Hungarian minorities in Transcarpathia. We also have to think of avoiding a “fatigue scenario”, when the world could just be tired of bad news from Ukraine.
We have to be more active in key regions. We also have to be more sustainable and to build a foreign policy capable of developing regional cooperation in vital spheres.