The last round of negotiations on the EU/Ukraine Association Agreement

On 11 November in Brussels, the last round of negotiations of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union was held. Compromise was reached on two of three issues. Kyiv agreed to a term-free contract, which Brussels had called for, but won the option to revise it after five years with both parties’ consent. Ukraine also agreed to make changes in its law (including constitutional amendments) extending the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to citizens of Ukraine. The most important issue remained unresolved, however; the inclusion of a formal note on the prospect of EU membership, which Ukraine has been pushing for. It was only established that agreement on this issue would be reached during a meeting at the political level, but no date was specified for this.
Even if the negotiations are formally concluded, then the case of Yulia Tymoshenko will have crucial significance for the Association Agreement’s coming into force. EU representatives have informally indicated that if the main opposition leader remains in custody, the agreement will not be initialled. Meanwhile, on 15 November the Ukrainian parliament rejected an amendment decriminalising the article of the Criminal Code under which Tymoshenko was sentenced.
  • Despite significant progress in the negotiations, their formal completion before the EU/Ukraine summit scheduled for 19 December is in doubt. It seems that Kyiv’s demand for a prospect for membership is merely a pretext to delay completion of the talks, because Ukraine is aware that there is no hope of the EU making any concessions on this issue. It thus seems unrealistic to expect the agreement to be initialled at the December summit, as some member states and the largest faction in the European Parliament favour postponement due to the Tymoshenko case. In this situation, it is advantageous for Ukraine to pause the end of the talks, and blame the EU for blocking “Ukraine’s European aspirations”. According to reliable reports in the Ukrainian media, Kyiv is ready to give up the perspective of membership and limit itself to a unilateral declaration on the matter, but only if it receives guarantees that the EU will consent to initialling the Association Agreement (even after the summit), regardless of the Tymoshenko case.
  • The Ukrainian parliament’s rejection of the amendments to the Criminal Code proves that the Ukrainian government is counting on removing its political opponents, even at the cost of delaying the conclusion of the Association Agreement with the EU. Tymoshenko could still be released (no earlier than mid-December) under sentence of the Court of Appeal, but this seems increasingly unlikely.
  • An additional reason for blocking the completion of the talks with Ukraine is the EU's own deep political crisis. Compared to several years ago, the EU has lost much of its attraction for the Ukrainian elites, who realise that Ukraine’s accession to the EU has been ruled out for the foreseeable future. In this situation, the Ukrainian government is still interested in economic integration with the EU, but does not intend to put up with Brussels interfering in its internal affairs, as the pressure to release Tymoshenko is perceived by Kyiv.