Interview with Amb. Kostiantyn Yelisieiev,
Deputy Head of the Administration of the President of Ukraine

Has the Eastern Partnership succeeded? Can it be further improved?

Ukraine considers the Eastern Partnership as a complementary track to our bilateral dialogue with the EU. It is clear that our main milestones – visa-free regime, Association Agreement, macro-financial assistance – are the achievements of the bilateral track.
Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership. We deem this date should officially formalise differentiation within the EaP. The ‘EU+6’ format could continue existing in parallel with the ‘EU+3’ and cover such initiatives as harmonising of roaming prices among the Eastern partners, cultural and youth cooperation (EaP European School, Erasmus+, Creative Europe, Horizon 2020), enhancing of cyber security, etc.
Ukraine remains committed to the success of the Eastern Partnership and is ready to lead in the process of its further development and enhancement.

Should it be EaP+ to encourage the three states (Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia) that signed the Association Agreement for further European integration?

The future of the Eastern Partnership is closely linked to deeper differentiation. Ten years of implementation showed that the EaP became a multi-speed initiative where different partners have different expectations.
The possibility of an enhanced dialogue with Associated Partners is enshrined in the Brussels Summit declaration. The informal ministerial meeting on trade and DCFTA-related issues in the ‘EU+3’ format became the first practical implementation of such a dialogue. It has proved its importance as a platform for discussions related to DCFTA implementation and coordination of efforts to promote trade and regulatory convergence with the EU and between DCFTA countries. In particular, the meeting was very useful to compare notes among the EU and the DCFTA partner countries on homework done in several key DCFTA priorities: reform of public procurement, customs facilitation, promotion of SMEs, and approximation of the SPS standards.
Ukraine is interested in regular and close cooperation with the EU and other DCFTA countries on these and other priorities in order to ensure effective implementation of the DCFTA goals and objectives. In this regard, it is necessary to set up regular ministerial meetings in this format and propose to host the next meeting in Kyiv.
Moreover, we deem that this experience could be transferred to other areas of cooperation and cover approximation of partners’ legislation in such areas as Digital Single Market, customs cooperation, and Energy Union. Extending the benefits of the Digital Single Market to the EaP countries would help the EU and partner countries gain greater opportunities from emerging digital technologies in terms of economic development, infrastructure modernisation, and promoting trade, as digital economy is one of the most important and beneficial areas of cooperation.

What are three biggest opportunities the EU Association Agreement generates for Ukraine?

  • The Association Agreement is offering huge opportunities for Ukraine’s transformation into a modern European democratic state.
    First, I would like to highlight a strategic opportunity this Agreement generates for Ukraine. As a result of implementation of the Agreement, Ukraine would de facto reach political and economic criteria that would make our country eligible to join the EU.
  • When we talk about benefits of the Association Agreement, the first and most obvious answer would be “trade”. Our DCFTA has been in force since 2016 and we can already see remarkable results. Today the EU is our main trade partner with a share of 41.2% of Ukrainian total trade in goods and services. Moreover, our export to the EU increases every year. We had 26.7% of growth in 2017, and 18.9% of growth during January-July of 2018.
    Statistics shows that Ukrainian businesses can be competitive in the EU market. Thus, we expect that our export to the EU will continue to grow.
    DCFTA opens up huge prospects for investors. We see European companies that are seeking new opportunities in our market. Just during last month: we had $450 million from NBT of Norway, which invested in renewable energy in Ukraine; IKEA started a new large-scale project in Ukraine; H&M opened its first store in Ukraine; Ryanair launched flights from Ukrainian airports to a number of destinations in the EU countries.
    DCFTA became one of the major driving forces for development of economic recovery of the country.
  • By signing the Association Agreement, the EU and Ukraine have committed to enhancing energy security, facilitating the development of appropriate infrastructure, increasing market integration and regulatory approximation towards key elements of the EU acquis.
    Ukraine shares the objectives of the Energy Union, of all its pillars – energy security, market integration, decarbonisation, environment, and research. Currently there are different legal and policy frameworks for Ukraine-EU cooperation in the energy sphere. They include the Association Agreement, Energy Community, EaP initiatives, etc. These instruments allow Ukraine and the EU to synchronise fully their ways to achieving the goals of the Energy Union.
    We make every effort for a speedy integration into the European energy market and obtaining the internal market regime in energy. Success of this process will depend on sufficiency of Ukraine’s progress in transposing the EU requirements into Ukrainian law and practice.
    Full internal market treatment of Ukraine by the EU in the gas market should be the cornerstone of the framework for post-2019 gas supply to the EU and Ukraine. Such treatment envisages equal and reciprocal rights and obligations for Ukrainian and the EU companies in the market. It will oblige Gazprom to comply with the EU legislation already at the Ukraine-Russia border as well as at any other eventual entry point to the integrated EU-Ukraine gas market.
    Ukraine seeks equal treatment of the Ukrainian Gas Transportation System and North Stream 2 project within the scope of EU law as a necessary guarantee for more reliable market behaviour of Gazprom, since greater integration of Ukraine and the EU in the gas market will provide more instruments for mitigating risks of unpredictable hostile actions by Gazprom.

What are three biggest risks?

  • The Russian military aggression, which is aimed at blocking the integration of Ukraine into a single European space, caused drastic changes in the external and internal security environment of our country. We have to find new mechanisms for ensuring Ukraine’s national security and to make Ukraine’s civilisation choice of European and Euro-Atlantic integration irreversible.
    Under these circumstances, it is of paramount importance to make constitutional amendments consolidating the aspiration of Ukraine’s membership in the EU and NATO, as was proposed by President Petro Poroshenko. Setting forth at the constitutional level Ukraine’s path towards the EU and NATO membership will mobilise Ukrainian society and promote reforms aimed at achieving the necessary criteria for such membership.
  • The biggest risk that Ukraine faces in the process of implementation of the Association Agreement is the risk to miss DCFTA opportunities by not delivering on regulatory reforms or by implementing ill-conceived populist measures that violate our Agreement.
    Implementation of sanitary and phytosanitary measures can be a good illustration of the importance of regulatory reforms. By complying with the European SPS requirements, we can open the EU market for several product categories that Ukraine cannot export now. The same would be true for other technical regulations and standards for industrial products.
    The EU is not only Ukraine’s largest trade partner, but also one of our biggest donors and a faithful supporter in many strategic issues including security. Therefore, the negative impact of non-compliance with either the letter or spirit of the Agreement sometimes goes far beyond trade and economic issues.
  • However, to my mind, one of the biggest risks remains ignorance, Euroscepticism, populism, and ultra-nationalism in the EU member states’ political circles, which are significantly supported and boosted by Russian propaganda and money.
    These factors could have a discouraging effect on Ukrainian citizens who struggle against the Russian aggression and its socio-economic consequences. The narratives in the EU capitals like ‘you are not welcome in the EU’, ‘nobody cares about Ukraine’ are as dangerous as Russian bullets and missiles.
    In these times, I can assure you that the Ukrainian nation remains one of the most committed believers in democracy, the rule of law, and common European values. And it is not wise for the EU to construct artificial fences to restrain the expansion of the values and democracy in Europe.

What is more important for Ukraine in terms of the Association Agreement – the process of its implementation or the final goal – joining the EU?

The Ukraine-EU Association Agreement is a unique document in many ways. It is a genuine symbol of the Ukrainian people’s European choice. The Ukrainians have paid an extremely high price for this Agreement in 2014 and our country continues to pay this price today, fighting for its freedom and independence.
It is also the most ambitious Agreement the EU has ever had with any third country. In fact, the Association Agreement with Ukraine is about adaptation of 80% of EU acquis into Ukrainian legislation. It means that Ukraine’s commitments under the AA/DCFTA are comparable to those of pre-accession countries.
The only way to benefit from all opportunities of the Association Agreement is to ensure its successful implementation.
As a result of implementation of the Agreement, Ukraine would de facto reach criteria that would make our country eligible to join the EU. When this happens, the whole discussion about granting the European perspective for Ukraine would look very different from today’s discussion with our European partners.

Kostiantyn Yelisieiev is a Deputy Head of the Administration of the President of Ukraine since 2015. He holds a rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine. Mr. Yelisieiev is a career diplomat, who served at different positions within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in a diplomatic mission of Ukraine in France and representations to the UN in New York and the EU in Brussels. From 2007 to 2010, he was Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.

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