In just a week the president of Ukraine will sign the Association Agreement with the EU and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area in full. On the one hand, this step remains to be a mere formality, but on the other, a question on the ratification of this document by the new composition of the European Parliament arises, which now consists of a lot of Euroskeptics. Will the EU legislative body, which will have greater powers according to the Lisbon Agreement, be as disposed towards Ukraine as its previous composition? This question opened The Day’s conversation with Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, head of Ukraine’s Mission to the European Union. Let us remind that he was appointed to lead Ukraine’s delegation at negotiations on the Association Agreement with the EU on November 30, 2007, and in 3 years he became Ukraine’s representative at the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community.
“The result of the vote for the European Parliament was expected, Euroskeptics and MPs who support development of their own countries without regard for common European interests gained a lot of votes. Even though the People’s Party and socialists lost a significant number of votes, they still remain the largest factions. And they will be the ones setting the tone at the European Parliament. As for the extreme right parties, it is complicated for them, because in order to form a faction, representatives of seven countries are required.
“Unfortunately, some MPs who supported the integration of Ukraine into the EU and visa-free regime with the EU were not elected. Instead, we are going to work on broadening the relations with our friends who were elected, in particular, with the Green Party, which is likely to be led by Rebecca Harms, who I have already contacted. Certainly, we will be building contacts with the newly elected members of the European Parliament, especially with our close or more distant neighbors. At the moment, the process of forming the new leadership of the European Parliament and European Commission bodies is under way, therefore it is very hard to predict their further plans, but I think the main challenges for us will be the development of relations and the promotion of two most important issues for us: the ratification of the Association Agreement and implementation of visa-free regime.”
Why do you think there is so much intense struggle around the appointment to the post of the European Commission president, which leader of the largest faction Juncker has claims for?
“First of all, this situation is explained by the fact that these are the first elections after the Lisbon Agreement came in force, which significantly increases the role of the European Parliament and introduces certain novelties in the distribution of posts and election of the European Commission president in particular. This time the president will be elected by the European Parliament. Indeed, there is much power struggle going on for this post, and it seems this issue will be resolved in a package option along with the appointment to other key posts, in particular, the president of the European Parliament, and after that the president of the European Council whose mandate expires on December 1, 2014. And of course, this applies to such influential post as the High Representative for Common Foreign Policy. Negotiations are still in process. I would not want to make quick judgments, but I think we can receive the first news on the new president of the European Commission after the session of the European Council, which will take place on June 26 and 27 in Belgium.”
How do you assess the role of Europe in resolving the gas argument between Ukraine and Russia on the price of gas?
“We are very grateful to the European Commission for deciding to play the role of an unbiased arbitrator, represented by Commissioner for Energy Oettinger, in settling the issue of revision of conditions and price parameters of gas supply to Ukraine from the Russian Federation. And in this relation, his role is to provide the transparency of this process and eliminate any attempts from Moscow’s side to accuse Ukraine of an unconstructive position. As of today, the parties have not reach consensus yet. Instead, the Ukrainian side even during the most recent hours was ready for a compromise position offered by Commissioner Oettinger.
“I think that the negotiating process will resume and the meeting of the gas coordination group, slated for June 20 here in Brussels, will be its first indicator. I want to inform that Ukraine’s delegation was invited to participate in this meeting. It will feature an extensive professional exchange of thoughts on the situation concerning the filling of underground gas storages, the further actions in conditions of Russia’s cessation of gas supply to Ukraine, avoiding the gas crisis in winter, and the steps necessary to save the negotiating process.”
How did the EU react to Ukraine’s latest proposal to join in along with the US to the modernization of Ukrainian gas transport system?
“This matter is a development of the declaration made in March, 2009, on cooperation in the modernization of the gas transport system of Ukraine. We have certain proposals, concepts, and developments, which have been made with the help and promotion of European experts. Now the main thing remains: to represent these developments properly to the stakeholders. Of course, there is willingness on the EU’s part to review them and even promote the development of the reform concept, in particular, that of Naftohaz. That is why I do not eliminate the possibility of further dialog with Oettinger and also on the level of various expert groups for energy, which have been created within the EU-Ukraine dialog, in the near future.”
We would like to hear your opinion on the real prospects of visa-free regime implementation with the EU. On the one hand, minister Deshchytsia said in an interview to The Day that from the beginning of 2015, Ukrainians would be able to enter the EU without visas, president Poroshenko repeated that, but now at the journalist seminar “Common Visa Policy” the European Commission representatives say that it is too early to talk about specific dates of implementing the visa-free regime.
“I have always been saying that we will have visa-free regime only if we fulfill all the benchmarks. That is why at the time we insisted on the visa liberalization action plan, in order to detail technical criteria, to secure this issue from being politicized, and for our achievements to be evaluated according to the level of completion of these criteria. As for the EU’s intentions to implement visa-free regime, I have no reasons to be disappointed. In particular, our neighbor Moldova is an example: it received the action plan later than we did and already has a visa-free regime. The second factor is that Ukraine has finally fulfilled the benchmarks of the first phase, and literally today we are moving on to the implementation phase of the visa-free regime. That is why I would not want to disappoint Ukrainian citizens, but on the contrary, I would like to encourage them and emphasize that Ukrainian diplomacy will do its best for the visa-free regime to become reality in the near future. But it is our common task, which includes the work of not only diplomatic services, but of all our structures. In particular, an important indicator for me is the start of issuing biometric passports. I will remind that Moldova started making and issuing these passports three years ago. That is why we need to resume this issue immediately and start issuing biometric passports. And according to the rules, only citizens who have biometric passports will have a right to visa-free travel.
“At the moment, holders of ordinary service passports enjoy the right to visa-free travel. But in the future diplomatic, service, and ordinary passports must be replaced with common biometric passports. This is a common EU practice, and in this way they protect themselves from passport forgery and illegal immigration.”
But we would like to hear about some specific deadlines. How much time is needed for the implementation of the visa-free regime? Some experts say it is two and a half years.
“We expect that we soon will start implementing legislation which has been adopted during the first phase. This applies to four aspects, in particular, security of passports, counteracting illegal immigration and Ukraine’s readmission policy, ensuring order and security in Ukraine, especially at the borders, and respecting fundamental rights and freedoms.”
On June 27, we finally have to sign the Association Agreement in full. What challenges for our country, especially its economy, will ensue after this document is signed?
“Indeed, we expect that the rest of the Agreement, which mostly relates to sectoral cooperation and Free Trade Area, will be signed by the president of Ukraine on June 27. And it is crucial for us to provide the shortest possible period between the date of the signing and the Agreement’s ratification by the Ukrainian parliament. Let me remind that after the ratification of the Agreement, it comes in force in a defined timeframe. We can partially apply it even without the ratification of the official text by all EU member states.”
I often see advertisements of various countries on CNN. Shouldn’t we do something similar?
“You literally repeated what I wrote to Kyiv yesterday. I think that in the current situation, especially when we are trying to stabilize the political and financial situation, and with aggression against us being carried out, we urgently need to extend work on our image and from this perspective, to pay attention to specific offers. In particular, why not try and post a corresponding promotion video in key European television mass media, which would explain the situation in Ukraine and around Ukraine and disclose the provocative aggressive actions that are carried out against Ukraine? I think that sometimes in such cases it can work better than a hundred messages of an information agency. Moreover, we already have experience in such work, in particular, with promoting Euro-2012. Besides, we have highly qualified experts in advertising, who would be able to create a rather powerful video of such kind.
“Also, I offered an unconventional idea: why not organize a large charity concert with the participation of world-class stars, especially considering the fact a lot of them have already spoken in support of Ukraine’s position? For example, you could remember Madonna here. So, in my opinion, it would be possible to organize such a concert now. It would be a significant event in the cultural and political life of not only Ukraine, but Europe as well, thanks to which the European community would have an additional chance to pay attention to Ukraine and its problems, needs, and the situation it ended up in.
“If we talk about the creation of a Ukrainian division of CNN, we need to work with European periodicals and journalists. Our weakness is that unfortunately, key journalists, the core of the EU journalist corps is still concentrated in Moscow. That is why we must break this practice step by step and do our best to make Kyiv the center of European media activities, involving the most independent European mass media. I think we need to work in that direction, in which we opened, say, the Euronews department, which now broadcasts in Ukrainian. We need to continue this practice. But again, this is a matter of state policy and it requires constant attention, rather than sporadic splashes of interest. Indeed, it is not normal when European colleagues sometimes try to assess the situation in Ukraine based on messages received, for example, from a certain source of a specific country. Of course, diplomatic service is actively working on the fastest information delivery possible, but today, in the era of powerful information, Internet, social networks, it is the one who has the most advantages in access to information that wins the most.”