Karel De Gucht, the European commissioner for trade, visited Kiev yesterday (2 October) as a sign of support for Ukraine, which has been embroiled in a trade dispute with Russia. In a similar vein, Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso, the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, met Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine, on the sidelines of the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York last week.
De Gucht’s visit also addressed remaining problems in the EU’s trade relationship with Ukraine.
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Among the irritants are restrictions on coke and coal exports to the EU and a recycling levy on imported cars that the EU says breaches world trade rules.
EU officials believe that Ukraine will resolve these issues before the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November, but the likelihood that De Gucht’s visit – which was continuing as European Voice went to print – would not produce a breakthrough is another demonstration of how Ukraine is struggling to meet its commitments to the EU.
With eight weeks to go before the Vilnius summit, Ukraine is pushing many draft amendments through parliament but has yet to meet in full the three conditions set by the EU in February for trade and political agreements. In addition to action on economic and trade reform, the EU wants Ukraine to reform its electoral law.
As demanded by the EU, Ukraine will resolve – through new by-elections – disputes over the results in five constituencies in last October’s parliamentary elections, but only in mid- December.
Potentially most problematically, some questions about the use of ‘selective justice’ have yet to be settled – in particular related to the jailing of a former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko.
Ukraine is also struggling to complete the first steps necessary before the EU will lift its requirement that Ukrainians visiting the EU have visas. Štefan Füle, the European commissioner for the neighbourhood policy, is insisting that Ukraine must change its anti-discrimination laws.
However, Füle has hinted at flexibility in the interpretation of the EU’s requirements for political and trade agreements. In an interview with Kommersant on 19 September, Füle said that the EU was not expecting full implementation of all 11 criteria that make up the three conditions. What the EU had demanded, he said, was “decisive action” and “tangible results”.