From Summit to Summit: Eastern Partnership context In Ukraine-EU relations

Hennadiy Maksak, Foreign Policy Council "Ukrainian Prism", National Coordinator of the Ukrainian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum

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July can be rightfully called the most fruitful month in the field of international relations. It easily left behind all the previous months in terms of the number of summits, as well as by the level of the diplomatic tensions prevailing prior and during these status events.

The Ukrainian diplomacy also did not trail behind in terms of the international affairs involvement and representation of the Ukrainian interests in the international arena. On July 9 the Ukraine-EU Summit, the main political event in the European integration direction, took place, and on July 11-12 Ukraine fought for its rights at the NATO Summit.

Significant anniversary Summit

The Ukraine-EU Summit was significant for Ukraine for several reasons. First, it was the twentieth anniversary summit at the highest level. Its symbolism made both sides compromise and seek out the hidden reserves to demonstrate a significant progress in the final documents. And signing the joint declarations itself could equal to success, taking into account the previous Ukraine-EU Summit that resulted in no joint document.

Second, this was the last summit for the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko in his current cadence as the head of the state. With the European integration slogans having been in the forefront of his election campaign in 2014, the demonstration of a successful first term in power, full of achievements in the European direction, was the top priority for the presidential team.

Third, it was the first summit after all the main mechanisms and bilateral cooperation institutions in Kyiv-Brussels relations were launched. In 2017, the visa-free regime between the EU and Ukraine was introduced, and the Association Agreement was fully implemented. The success of their implementation and execution was important for both sides. It was quite natural, that on the background of such large-scale political tasks facing Ukraine and the EU, the preparation was very serious and painstaking and took the first half of 2018. What and how to be declared in the final statement was repeatedly discussed through the diplomatic channels and behind the closed doors.

As a result, one can admit the European and Ukrainian diplomats managed to do a good job. The statement at the end of the Ukraine-EU Summit was full of the positive assessments of Ukraine’s activities on reform agenda implementation a, as well as additional assurances from Brussels in due support, both political and economic.

Multilateral cooperation in the Eastern Partnership – first and foremost

But we are most interested in the extent to which the Eastern Partnership policy was reflected in this statement, and how the final document echoed the positions noted in the Declaration of the Eastern Partnership Summit (EaP) of November 2017.

First of all, the reference to the decisions of the EaP Summit appears almost at the beginning of the Ukraine-EU Summit statement. In this context, it can be noted that paragraph 2 of the joint statement is almost entirely devoted to Ukraine’s participation in the EaP policy. In particular, this paragraph refers to the strong support provided by the parties to the Eastern Partnership format, as well as the need to implement the decisions of the Eastern Partnership Summit. Further it is stated that such a decision of the EaP Summit means 20 deliverables for 2020 in the Eastern Partnership region.

The appearance of this paragraph at the beginning of the statement text is not accidental, given how much work on the document was done by the diplomats. The achievement of 20 deliverables within the framework of 4 priorities will be of a special interest for Brussels in the next two and a half years. It is likely that the next EaP Summit will be held not in 2019 but in 2020 and will rely on the partner countries success indicators in fulfilling their commitments in the framework of the individual achievements.

We can already say that certain deliverables can be placed at the center of the further Eastern Partnership policy development on the basis of the more for more principle. But one thing is certain: the EU is trying to preserve the format of cooperation for six countries and to keep three states that have already signed the Association Agreements in it. That is why with all the imperfection of the approach with 20 deliverables, they will provide an opportunity to demonstrate the overall temperature in the ward – the success of all six partner countries in general.

For example, in the report prepared by the European External Action Service, the results of the EaP countries’ success in the implementation of 20 deliverables do not have a geographic approach. All information is submitted in the most generalized form, and the partner countries are not required to conduct a national assessment of success, that is, let’s admit it, very unusual.

Therefore, the reference to the Eastern Partnership format and 20 deliverables in the joint statement of the Ukraine-EU Summit can be considered an agreement between Brussels and Kyiv to continue the track of the multilateral cooperation including all countries in the region.

Green light to association club?

It’s no secret that Kyiv inclines rather towards the cooperation in the Association club, where political decisions have greater synchronism, than in the six participants’ format. Thus, because of s the unconstructive position of some EaP partner countries, the statements critically important for Ukraine failed to be included in the joint declaration of the EaP Summit. This document may give the impression that there was no Russian aggression in the Donbas region and no illegal annexation of the Crimea. This political sterility naturally cools down Kyiv’s aspirations for the deeper cooperation with the non-associated Eastern Partnership partners, who maintain close ties with the Kremlin.

If the reference to 20 deliverables for 2020 can be considered a European part in the joint statement text, then the mention of the possible trilateral Ukraine-Georgia-Moldova cooperation can be considered a Ukrainian response. The statement said that, while respecting the inclusiveness of the Eastern Partnership, those countries that signed the Association Agreements can participate in the joint discussions on the progress, opportunities, and challenges related to the reforms in the Association Agreements implementation.

It should be noted that this paragraph almost completely migrated from the final declaration of the Eastern Partnership Summit, where, in its turn, it appeared under the pressure of three states that signed the Association Agreements.

Brussels has long resisted the allocation of a separate format for the associated countries. Even in the reformed multilateral EaP architecture, officially launched in March 2018, there was no place for a separate permanent platform for Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.

It was important for Ukraine to secure this provision in the political document of the Ukraine-EU Summit. It is crucial for the current Ukrainian initiatives at the level of three states not to be perceived as hostile in the European offices.

Probably, at the moment, it is the cool attitude of the EU towards the format of the three that does not allow to fully launch an intensive intergovernmental work. For the time being such cooperation is limited to the joint statements at the level of the leadership of foreign affairs agencies.

At the level of the civil society, the Associations Forum was created in Kyiv in 2017, bringing together the representatives of the NGOs and think tanks from three EaP countries and experts from the EU. In 2018, the Ukraine-Georgia-Moldova Interparliamentary Assembly is on the final stages of its formation, initiated by the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Andriy Parubiy.

First to fulfill Association Agreement

Also paragraph 2 of the joint statement mentions the achievements in  implementing the bilateral instruments of the cooperation with the EU. First of all, the effective operation of the visa-free regime is noted, as well as the entry into force of the Association Agreement starting from September 1, 2017, including the section on the deep and comprehensive free trade zone of Ukraine with the EU.

In general, the leitmotif of the final document is the call for a more complete implementation of the Association Agreement by the Ukrainian side. Even those ambitious plans of the President of Ukraine regarding four alliances with the EU (energy, digital, Schengen and customs) smoothly shifted into the strengthening of the sectoral cooperation within the AA framework. This is a clear signal, both to Ukraine and to other associate partners that Brussels is not yet ready to go beyond the formed instruments, and insists on their full use.

The document also includes the EU External Investment Plan, the Common Security and Defense Policy Mission, and many other practical cooperation frameworks of interest to most of the EaP partner states, not just to Ukraine. But one of the most important for Ukraine messages of the joint statements was the support of the EU in combating the Russian aggression on the territory of Ukraine. That, unfortunately, could not be found in the EaP Summit declaration.

Ukrainian contribution to common portfolio

To summarize, we can draw several practical conclusions from the current context of the Eastern Partnership in the bilateral relations of Ukraine and the European Union. First, taking into account the focus of Brussels on 20 deliverables for 2020, it is advisable to come up with the format for the Ukraine’s success indicators on this path, where Kyiv’s contribution to the EaP portfolio is clearly indicated.

It would be also strategically correct to strengthen the trilateral cooperation at the level of the governments of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova to set the common indicators for the success of the Association Agreement and the visa-free regime implementation.

In general, the main challenge for Ukraine is the timely implementation of reforms, especially considering the start of the election season. Such concern can also be read between the lines in the final document of the Ukraine-EU Summit.