On 9 July, the 20th EU–Ukraine Summit was held in Brussels. It was the first meeting at the highest level since the EU–Ukraine Association Agreement entered into force in September 2017 and, at the same time, the last one before Ukraine’s presidential elections, planned for March 2019. Contrary to the expectations of the Ukrainian side, the summit did not give political impulse to deepening bilateral relations.
In what circumstances did the summit take place?
A growing number of EU Member States are now in favour of a tougher stance on Ukraine due to the slow pace of reforms there. The Union accuses Ukraine of simulating the fight against corruption and failing to comply with the provisions stemming from the Association Agreement, among other things. The Hungary-Ukraine dispute over a new education law in the latter has had an adverse effect on EU policy towards Ukraine, too. During the summit, however, EU leaders limited public criticism of the Ukrainian authorities, probably out of fear that stronger public rhetoric could result in weakening the country’s international position in the face of Russian aggression and be used to discredit pro-European political forces (the current authorities included) during the upcoming presidential election campaign.
What arrangements have been made?
For the first time in the last three years, the summit ended with an adopted joint declaration. The document includes a statement that the EU acknowledges Ukraine’s European aspirations, which is a success of Ukrainian diplomacy. EU leaders confirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of the Russian aggression and announced further assistance to Ukraine for reform measures and implementation of the Association Agreement. Before the meeting, the EU extended its economic sanctions against Russia to 31 January 2019, and approved a new package of macro-financial assistance for Ukraine worth €1 billion. During the summit, Ukraine also signed an agreement with the European Investment Bank to finance road safety projects.
What are the prospects for the further development of EU-Ukraine relations?
The meeting did not bring a decision about deepening bilateral EU–Ukraine cooperation, which the Ukrainian authorities had expected. During the last summit in July 2017, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared his country’s desire to become part of the digital union, join the energy union and the Schengen zone, and create an EU–Ukraine customs union. So far, the EU has not expressed interest in implementing those initiatives. In the joint declaration from the summit, there is only a sentence on Ukraine pursuing harmonisation of its national law with EU legislation in the areas of the digital market, energy, and customs cooperation. Therefore, possible deepening of EU–Ukraine cooperation depends on the prior implementation of the provisions contained in the Association Agreement and further progress in reform.
What is the significance of the summit for Ukrainian politics?
The meeting will be exploited for use in the political rivalry in Ukraine ahead of the presidential election. President Poroshenko, who is seeking re-election, will try to take advantage of his contacts with EU leaders to further legitimise his own position within the domestic political scene, where he will present himself as the only guarantor of maintaining the pro-European direction of Ukrainian foreign policy. His opponents, especially the current favourite in the elections, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, will strive to build political capital by pointing to the EU’s ambivalent attitude towards deeper cooperation with Ukraine and criticism from the EU as being tied to the current head of state.