Director of foreign policy and defense at the Centre for European Reform, Tomas Valasek in his time as a policy director and as head of policy planning at the Slovak ministry of defense, consulted Ukraine, Bosnia, and Herzegovina on NATO and EU integration. He is a coauthor of the book Esternization of Europe’s Security Policy, is a regular contributor to influential magazines and newspapers, including Wall Street Journal, Jane’s Defense Weekly, and Cambridge Review of International Affairs. At the Bratislava Security Forum GLOBSEC 2012 Mr. Valasek moderated one of the panels. During one of the breaks at the conference he gave an interview to The Day.
Mr. Valasek, you must have read the article by Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Kostiantyn Hryshchenko, published in response to the criticism of five ministers of foreign affairs of EU member countries concerning the backpedaling on democracy in Ukraine. Ukrainian Foreign Minister emphasized, in particular, that the EU uses double standards in relations with Ukraine. Some foreign experts also think that the EU treats Ukraine worse than other countries. What do you think of this?
“The EU is no harder on Ukraine than it has been on other previous countries that have fallen afoul of democratic principles. Slovakia is a perfect example. When in 1993-98 Slovakia under Vladimir Meciar started persecuting political opposition, started limiting the political space to the opponents, and started corrupting the public procurement the EU responded equally harshly. It essentially suspended Slovakia from Accession track. There was the same thing held for NATO.
“Madeleine Albright famously called Slovakia the black hole in Europe. And in 1997 at the Madrid Summit Slovakia was very explicitly disinvited from Accession track or put aside.
“So the notion that Ukraine gets treated any worse is simply not true. The simple fact is that the European Union, as well as NATO, has a certain set of values, they are not just communities of interest, they are also communities of values and certain rules and principles.
“And if a country as Ukraine has started fallen afoul of those principles then, obviously, EU and NATO will respond by limiting their relations and by criticizing those missteps. That’s only natural. That’s not to say that EU policy on Ukraine is all well, it isn’t. The main problem is that too many EU member states have become skeptical of enlargement and because of that the EU has not been able to offer Ukraine a clear membership prospective, which is important. It’s been very important to Slovakia and to others. So EU policies do have shortcomings, but the main reason why EU-Ukrainian relations have been so harsh and so cold lately lie, frankly, with the Ukrainian government: its actions, its selective application of justice, targeting opponents of the regime, its treatment of the legal system, where the suspicion that there is political interference with the courts plus the continuing corruption, no matter which economic rankings you look at – whether it’s the ease of doing business or whether it’s perception of corruption, Ukraine is doing very poorly and increasingly badly. Those are the main reasons why the relations have suffered. It’s not, Ukraine is being treated by double standards, it’s being treated as any other country and it means it’s treated badly now because its policies have been so poor.”
As far as I know, even Germany does not consider Tymoshenko a saint. Then why the agreement on association is connected in the EU with her?
“There is a popular misconception that EU’s only interest is to protect Tymoshenko. The situation is different. EU’s interest is in seeing justice being applied fairly and evenly. And when one sees that five former ministers of the previous government are in jail, but people who are almost certainly equally corrupt or who are closer to the current government are not being persecuted, I’m sorry, that’s not justice, that’s vengeance. That’s the EU’s main problem.”
In your opinion, when will the Agreement on Association be signed?
“Under the present circumstances, unless there is a major change in the Ukrainian government’s attitude to justice and to political freedoms, I don’t see it being signed any time soon.”
Even after the October elections will be recognized as fair?
“It’s not about the elections of course. It works the other way around: if the elections are not free and they are not fair then the odds of the Agreement being signed are off for years, I suspect. But even if the elections are free and fair there would still be the issue of again the selective application of justice and corruption in the highest echelons of the Ukrainian political circles and that is still going to be a factor even after the elections and it’s still going to keep EU from signing the Association Agreement. It’s not just about the elections, it’s about the change of attitudes of the current authorities towards law, towards the opposition, about respecting certain basic political freedoms, which do not appear to be respected. So, that’s the main obstacle.”
But Tymoshenko even from prison urges the EU to sign this Agreement.
“We respect the opinion and, obviously, whether the Agreement is signed or not on the European side is the decision up to the EU member states, and EU member states feel very strongly that a country that is going to enter into this closer relationship with the European Union, a country that many of us in Europe would like to see as a part of the European Union at one point, ought to be behaving differently from the way that Ukraine has been behaving lately, since… over the past few years. The signature is the European decision and, certainly, enough member states feel strongly that it shouldn’t be signed, that it won’t be signed until there is a change of behavior.”
What is your vision of future Europe? Will there be more federalism or nationalism?
“Both. The main important thing that’s happening is that Europe is dividing into two different camps. There are those countries, obviously, those core countries that use the Euro that are going to be far more integrated when the Fiscal Compact is ratified than Europe has ever seen. There are those countries who by their choice or because they don’t qualify for Accession to Euro are going to be removed from the core. There are those countries like Britain that sadly seem to actually distancing themselves deliberately and gradually from the EU as such. I genuinely worry whether Britain will be able to remain and willing, most importantly, to remain a member of the European Union. So, it’s a tale of two different bits of two different stories. The core, those who use Euro, are more integrated, but the periphery is being removed from the center and some countries may disappear from the Euro and possibly from the European Union as such.”