The result of the Ukrainian presidential elections will undoubtedly bear crucial influence on both the internal and foreign policies of Ukraine. The new President Viktor Yushchenko has clearly designated the accession of Ukraine to the European Union as one of his priorities. It is possible to expect that the Ukrainian effort in this direction will be much clearer and much more resolute than during the government of his predecessor, for whom the topic of integration of the country into the Euro-Atlantic structures was nothing but an elegant and useful phrase. Alongside Yushchenko´s victory the already very strong expectation of a more accommodating attitude of Brussels towards the question of possible integration into the EU has grown in Ukraine as well. Together with the change of situation in Ukraine, the time came for the Union to decide if it is going to grant this country the right to future accession and agrees with it on time horizon and new arrangement of mutual relations or if it is going to leave it in uncertainty, economic, security, political and value vacuum and thereby under the influence of Moscow.
Ukraine has declared the accession to the European Union to be its goal already in the mid-1990s. In 1998 the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between Ukraine and the European Communities, signed in June 1994, entered into force. In the same year, Ukraine adopted the Strategy of Integration into the EU and began the process of harmonising its legal system with the legislation of the Union. With the international-political isolation of President Kuchma after the scandals concerning the murder of journalist Gongadze and selling military equipment to Iraq and numerous violations of human rights and freedoms, the real content began vanishing from the declared will to European integration more and more and only an eye-catching shell remained. The European rhetoric was handy for Kuchma both in the West, but mainly as a strong card in negotiations with Russia. Kuchma’s efforts to become popular with Moscow in exchange for consecrating the instrumented transition of power to the then Prime Minister Yanukovich culminated in September 2003 by signing the Agreement on Common Economic Space among Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine and last year’s altering the explicit reference to integration of Ukraine into the EU and NATO in the defence doctrine of the country into a vaguer term of Euro-Atlantic integration.
After Viktor Yushchenko won the elections, it is possible to expect a substantial change in this attitude, not only because by expanding the EU, the “25” became the largest trade partner of Ukraine with whom it also shares several hundred kilometres long border since May. The new Ukrainian president has a solid chance of assigning a real content to the slogan of integration into the EU and pushing through the so much needed economic and legal reforms, improve the situation in respecting the human rights, start the promised fight against the corruption and considerably improve law enforcement. In this situation, the European Union would make a grand mistake not to support this process decidedly.
Contrary to Russia, which has compromised itself by openly interfering with the election process well worth and in line with the Soviet Union traditions, during the days of the Orange Revolution the European Union became a symbol of hope for better and democratic future of Ukraine. The people who in Kiev and other cities made a stand against the attempt to manipulate the elections and their new president will not settle for the status of perpetual neighbour of this Union, of someone expelled to the “buffer” space between Europe and Russia. Until now (including the first reaction to the repeated second round of the presidential elections which without any greater objections met democratic standards) the EU has been willing to offer Ukraine just the status of a neighbour within the framework of the newly conceived European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), the aim of which is to build a “circle of friendly states” around the Union. The European Union has never clearly stated that Ukraine can become its member in the future. Top representatives from Brussels were mostly uttering statements which it is possible to consider a discouragement from the effort to integrate with Europe and an indirect encouragement to join the integration directed by Moscow.
If the Union has real interest to support Ukrainian reforms and if it wishes to border with a democratic, stable and prospering country, it should make Ukraine a strategic partner, not only on paper but also in reality. It is necessary to realise that the format of the ENP, which involves countries of Northern Africa and Caucasus, is in Ukraine considered insufficient and often also undignified for its importance and ambition. Despite the current “overload” with the enlargement, Turkey, the Balkans and with adopting the Constitutional Treaty, the Union has to find enough courage and strength to clearly answer the democratic and European ambitions of Ukraine and clearly say that Ukraine has, after completing specific conditions, the right and a real chance to become its member in the future. Nothing has, for that matter, contributed to stabilising and supporting the reform process in the Central European and Baltic countries in the 90s of 20th century as much as the perspective of joining the Union. And yet, Ukraine is not by the least bit less European and from the strategic point of view less important country than Turkey which the EU already intends to start the accession negotiations with. To let Ukraine wait for the decision on its European perspectives equally long time could be dangerous.
The European Union itself should now offer the new Ukrainian representation the change or extension of the Action Plan of cooperation within the ENP which was settled with the former Prime Minister and presidential candidate Mr. Yanukovich and which was, not very auspiciously, adopted by the EU Commission during the dramatic events in Ukraine on 9 December together with similar plans for Jordan, Moldova, Tunisia, Morocco, Israel and the Palestinian self-governed territories. Otherwise, the new Ukrainian government will likely ask for such revision. The Union should also grant Ukraine the status of market economy as soon as possible, same as Russia has already been granted, and in the intermediate perspective and in the case of positive development and advances in implementing democratic and economic reforms it should offer the signing of the Association Agreement.
The Czech Republic can also get substantially involved in the process of stabilisation of Ukraine and in supporting its democratisation efforts. The experience of the last 15 years with the transformation of economy, law and political institutions and integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures can substantially help Ukraine, and the fact that we do not share a common border with it can be more of an advantage than an obstacle. A great opportunity would also be establishing close cooperation between the Visegrad Group and Ukraine. The visa requirements for travelling to the Czech Republic remain an onerous problem for the Ukrainians, and there exists a considerable space for, at least, simplifying and humanising the requirements and procedures of issuing visa.