Europe Makes the Wise Choice to Continue Engaging Ukraine

While it is too early to be certain, it appears that Europe has rediscovered the secret to bringing Ukraine into the fold: engagement instead of isolation. If true, this is an encouraging sign that Brussels reciprocates Kyiv’s commitment to greater integration and European norms.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz recently announced that former European Parliament President Pat Cox and former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski will continue their monitoring mission on behalf of the European Parliament through at least September. In the scheme of multiple European bodies and their various delegations, this might seem minor; to the contrary, it is a ringing endorsement of engagement and Kyiv’s response.

Only last week, Yuriy Lutsenko, the Ukrainian former Interior Minister who was convicted of abuse of office and embezzlement in February 2012, was pardoned after extensive efforts by Messrs. Cox and Kwasniewski to use diplomacy and engagement to that end. The two men received international acclaim for their patient work – patience that included swimming against the recently prevailing European sentiment calling for punishing and isolating Ukraine. That tide is now turning.

Speaking to the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament Thursday, Schulz again praised the mission’s success in Lutsenko’s pardon. “We have decided to extend the mission so far through September. We will not end it in September, but we will get a report, including on the case of [former Prime Minister Yulia] Tymoshenko and others,” he added.

Speaking to the assembled leaders, Cox was cautiously optimistic. “What happened in Ukraine last week was a clear signal of the willingness to sign the Association Agreement.

“Much needs to be done, but at present the most important thing is to put an end to the situation in the Ukrainian parliament, which has been blocked and cannot do its important work of taking the necessary decisions for the European integration,” he stressed. The Conference of Presidents in turn has called for a framework for greater integration with Ukraine.

Pawel Kowal, the Head of the Parliamentary Delegation on Cooperation with Ukraine, was no less optimistic, praising the mission’s success to date and encouraging its future. “[The mission] should communicate to representatives of the government and the opposition, that they should promote the European vector in Ukraine, and all this should be carried out in the context of the signing of the [Association] Agreement. The EU is expecting from Ukraine the fulfillment of its obligations related not only to specific people,” he said.

All of this occurred on the same day that the European Parliament resisted pressure by left-wing groups and liberalized the visa regime with Ukraine, a long-sought objective by both the EU and Kyiv.

The trend to European integration has gathered strength since the autumn, and the two parties are now discussing a joint future in far more realistic – and sincere – terms. This does not mean everything will be easy from here: There are several obstacles remaining before Kyiv and Brussels can move forward on the long-anticipated Association Agreement. Tymoshenko’s case remains a sore spot for Europe, probably because they stopped watching Ukrainian politics immediately after the Orange Revolution.

But the larger problem is more immediate: As Cox noted, Opposition politicians have only recently allowed Ukraine’s parliament to function again. While this will allow the consideration and passage of bipartisan legislation to which Ukraine committed itself as a condition of the Association Agreement, it raises the very real question of whether the Opposition is willing to gamble Ukraine’s long-term future for political spectacle.

Those concerns are, for now, more distant. Today, this week, Europe and Ukraine finally appear to be on a path to eventual union, a welcome development for those who have long believed in the country’s European path.

Image Copyright Press Office of the European Parliament