Brussels UkraineLab 2018 – 27 February 2018: What future for EU-Ukraine relations

On the 27th of February 2018, the Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels organised its third Brussels UkraineLab in the European Parliament, within the framework of the European Parliament’s Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee. The UkraineLab gathered an audience of more than 180 participants comprised of EU and national officials, MEPs, business associations, consultancies, think tanks, universities, NGO representatives and media. The debate was based on the discussion paper “Ukraine – EU relations: looking beyond the horizon. How do we see the future of European integration?” prepared by Ukrainian experts following the request of the Delegation.

Dariusz Rosati, Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee of the European Parliament and host of the event welcomed the participants and presented the aim of conference. With the implementation of the visa-free regime and the full entry into force of the Association Agreement, it is now time to focus on the future of EU-Ukraine relations and find the projects that will contribute to the European integration of the country. Olena Prystayko, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels, highlighted the importance of the topic as Ukraine is entering its pre-election period and as the EU is facing its internal challenges. In this context, the deepening of the relationship between the EU and Ukraine requires to tackle existing obstacles and identify new plans.

Igor Burakovskyi, Head of the Board of the Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting presented the experts’ Discussion paper. While recognising that the mission to advance reforms belongs to Ukraine, he stressed the importance of a cohesive European strategy to support this process and nurture this relationship.

Burakovskyi: “The main idea behind this paper was not to have a specific plan to step up the European integration of Ukraine. But it addresses questions about where and how to maintain steady progresses”.

Through her keynote speech, H.E. Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration confirmed that her country is moving to the European direction spurred by the Revolution of Dignity, with the adoption of reforms aiming at paving the way for governance transparency, privatisation, decentralisation and fight against corruption. In terms of economic and social development, Ukraine is recovering from the backdrop caused by Russia’s aggression. The government has presented this year a package of 35 law drafts to the parliament, focused on financial and business environment issues and regulations.

Klympush-Tsintsadze: “After a 3.2% rate for 2017, Ukraine’s GDP is expected to grow from 5 to 7% for 2018 and 2019. It is of national interest of Ukraine to modernise the country”.

Opening the High-Level Discussion panel, Dirk Schuebel, Head of Division, Eastern Partnership Bilateral, European External Action Service, underlined the positive changes the EU-Ukraine cooperation has brought about for the security of the continent. In terms of cultural exchanges, he was pleased to see many more people from eastern Ukraine using the opportunities to travel to the EU since the instauration of the visa free regime. However, he stressed that to convince hesitant member states to keep open the doors of enlargement, Ukraine should demonstrate more willingness to align its governance system to European norms and principles.

Schuebel: “We have to deliver the implementation of the Association Agreement on both sides. There is no excuse not to implement it”.

Acknowledging that Ukraine still has to adopt important reforms, Mariya Ionova, Deputy Chairwoman of the Committee of European Integration of Ukraine in the Verkhovna Rada reminded that the Ukrainian reform process is a very difficult task to achieve. Working on different tracks is a genuine challenge: externally, we face the Russian pressure. Internally as well, not everyone is on board: bearing the cost of change can be harsh for the citizens and some media channels owned by oligarchs seem also to have forgotten why we fought for 4 years ago.

Ionova: “The European integration of Ukraine is a really sensitive issue, but we must remember that in 5 years, there will be big results”.

Balázs Jarábik, Non-Resident Scholar at Carnegie Europe highlighted that Ukraine doesn’t rely anymore on foreign policy alternatives. There is no more balancing act: Ukraine knows its future is in Europe. The EU responded with an important investment strategy for the country.

Jarábik: “Before the demonstrations of Euro-Maidan in 2013, citizens in Ukraine were skeptical about the benefits of the Association Agreement. Today, the level of EU assistance devoted for the progress of the industrialisation matches the demands”.

Subsequently, Katarína Mathernová, Deputy Director-General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, DG NEAR of the European Commission agreed that the development of Ukraine requires a significant inflow of foreign investment. The drop of public expenditures by 13% in the recent years represented a terrible burden on the society. Therefore, the EU came up with a massive support to enhance public services, encourage decentralisation and increase energy efficiency. Ensuring the access of Ukrainian citizens to energy is a matter of fundamental security as it will provide them a better living environment.

Mathernová: It is now time to support reforms and investments that will directly impact the lives of citizens. Ukrainians dream of a prosperous nation but also desire to live in a country where the authorities are able to provide public goods”.

Bringing transatlantic perspectives on EU-Ukraine relations, H.E. Roman Waschuk, Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine noted that there is a big potential of transatlantic relations and its economic value for Ukraine. For example, Ukraine exports more IT services than any other good at all. Therefore, from a transatlantic perspective, trade of high value IT programmes is Ukraine’s biggest competitive advantage.

Roman Waschuk: In diplomatic terms, we are building a “love triangle”, a Canadian – EU – Ukraine partnership, where people can explore new options for economic linkage”.

Jorgan Andrews, Director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs of the U.S. State Department emphasised the importance of coordination between Brussels and Washington in their strategy to support Ukraine. Ukraine will have to adopt reforms with the ultimate goal to show its attractiveness and reliability as a partner.

Andrews: “The communication can be a challenge. The burden is on us and the EU to unify our messages and present a united front to support Ukraine”.

Concluding the discussion, Mark Demesmaeker, member of the Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee, highlighted the outcomes of the conference. First of all, the reform process will require to sustain a strong dialogue between the parliament and the government of Ukraine. Then, the Europeans, Canadians and Americans will best bring benefits to the Ukrainian society by coordinating their action, what this meeting already attempted to achieve by gathering their representatives. Finally, it is time to consider new areas of cooperation with Ukraine for the sake of its development.

The Brussels UkraineLab 2018 was organised with the kind support of the US Mission to the EU, International Renaissance Foundation, European Endowment for Democracy and the Mission of Canada to the EU.

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