On Thursday December 15, EU leaders adopted a decision according to which Ukraine will not be able to become a full EU member, neither now or in the future. It can not rely on the provision of guarantees for their security, or on receiving military aid from the EU. Moreover, citizens of Ukraine will not be entitled to move freely and work in the territory of the EU. Leaders of the EU adopted this decision under pressure from the Netherlands.
What does this decision mean?
The main dream of the Ukrainian authorities was virtually destroyed on December 15 in Brussels – the dream of Ukraine joining the EU. This was a blow toward the entire political system of the Ukrainian government. “The revolution of dignity” (as it was called in Ukraine), which broke out from December 2013 to February 2014, and ended with the coup and removal of President Viktor Yanukovych from power, happened under slogans of European integration. In March 2014, Ukraine signed the political part of the Association Agreement with the EU, in June – and the economic part. It was assumed that Ukraine will gradually bring its legislation in line with EU legislation and will fulfill a number of mandatory requirements, and then in the near future will become a full EU member. Ukrainian authorities viewed this contract as a first step on this path. The next step was a visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens in Member States of the EU.
Suddenly however, the process of accession to the EU came to a halt. It was approved by 27 countries from all 28 member states of the European Parliament and of the Parliament of Ukraine. Only the Dutch government postponed the decision. The majority citizens of the Netherlands opposed the accession of Ukraine through a referendum. On December 15, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte raised several demands toward the contract of Ukrainian Association. The other leaders agreed with these requirements. In their statement, the leaders of EU countries stressed that the Association of Ukraine does not confirm the status of Ukraine as a candidate member of the EU. This contract does not commit to confirm such a status in the future. It does not contain commitments for the EU to provide collective security guarantees to Ukraine as well as military aid. It does not give rights to Ukrainian citizens to live and work in the territories of EU countries. It does not oblige the EU to provide Ukraine wit financial aid.
The agreement does not restrict the right of Member States to regulate these issues with Kiev in a bilateral manner. The leaders statement particularly emphasizes that the fight against corruption must be central in strengthening the relations between the parties. On Friday, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, said that the government of his country will propose to parliament a ratification of the Ukraine Association Agreement to the EU. But even if the parliament of the Netherlands ratifies this treaty, this does not mean an immediate introduction of a visa-free regime. On December 15, the meeting of the leaders had approved the rules for visa-free regime for citizens of “third countries”. It was the penultimate step for Ukraine to get visa-free regime for its citizens. The last step will be made at a session of the European Parliament on April 3, 2017, when lawmakers vote specifically for Ukraine. And in case of a positive decision Europe will open its doors to Ukrainians. But just for tourism, it will not allow them to live or work there. Namely for the right to work and live there is what Ukrainians dreamed of in the last two years. That is what they spoke of at the Maidan. The dream did not materialize. The status of a candidate member of the EU is also indefinitely postponed for the Ukraine. This status in itself means nothing anyway because we remember the story of Turkey, which signed an association agreement in 1963, and did not become a candidate member until 2000, but the decision is postponed even now.
Ukraine’s reaction – official and unofficial
President of Ukraine is trying to gloss over the situation. “We insisted on a principled position to not allow new negotiations over an indefinite time horizon, and to prevent any change in the text of the contract and re-ratification by all member states” he wrote on his Facebook page. But about the statements of the leaders on December 15 are completely contrary to all joint plans between Ukraine and the EU, the President remains silent for obvious reasons. The conditions under which the country would receive a visa-free regime (if ever) can not be determined as other than humiliating. The majority of analysts close to the Ukrainian government, ensure that everything is going according to plan. “The Amendments the Netherlands makes to the contract of Association of Ukraine to the EU, do not bring in anything new. This is ust done for the internal Dutch consumer” says Sergei Gerasimchuk, expert from “Ukrainian prism “, the Analytical Center at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“This is actually a failure of the entire EU integration project, insofar as there are things written which directly contradict all joint plans of even the grim prospects before Ukraine” says political scientist Pavel Rudyakov. He recalled that on the eve of the meeting between member states, Witold Waszczykowski, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, said that to Poles the amendments which the Netherlands demand are unacceptable, because if any hint of a future accession to the EU is excluded from the contract of association, then the agreement loses its meaning. “It turns out that Poles are a greater defender of Ukrainian interests in this case, than their Ukrainian counterpart, or anyone from the Ukrainian leadership – derided Rudyakov – Of course, the Poles were forced to accept these amendments, but this reaction is typical. And we pretend that everything is going according to plan, that nothing has changed, but this is not so. Apart from denial of membership, the agreement even refused military aid on which we can rely if necessary, and there is denial of financial assistance. This is enough for the Association to become a mere scrap of paper.”
” Before, they were afraid to deprive Ukrainians of hope. Now they are not afraid. According to information from diplomatic circles, this is the position not only in the Netherlands, but also in France and Germany” says the former head of the press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Oleg Voloshin. Ukrainian social networks are already boiling with indignation. They are angry at the Europeans. “They lied to us again.” They ask: “What do we need a visa-free regime if there is no money. Its apparent that they will not allow us to work in Europe.” They are calling for revenge against the Netherlands.
The Old Dutch masters
Immediately after the results of the meeting, the Ukrainian media started writing that the reason the Netherlands resist, is due to the reluctance of the Dutch to help with money. But the history of relations between the two countries, we have recently encountered another interesting detail that could affect the relations of the Dutch with Ukraine. Over a year ago, during Poroshenko’s visit to the Netherlands, in the words of Foreign Minister Klimkin, the Dutch are raising the issue of the return of stolen paintings of medieval masters, stolen from the museum in Horn, and currently located on Ukrainian territory. Employees of the museum hired the Dutch detective Arthur Brand, who found that several senior Ukrainians might have something to do with attempts to sell the stolen paintings – Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, former head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Oleg Tyagnibok, chairman of the Ukrainian nationalist party “Svoboda” and Boris Gumenyuk, deputy commander of the volunteer battalion of OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists). According to the detective, Gumenyuk wanted 50 million euros from the Dutch in order to return the collection of paintings. From December 2015, one of the main topics in the Dutch media is the missing collection. By the spring of 2016, the paintings were still not returned. Only after the April referendum in the Netherlands, 4 of the 24 stolen paintings were returned to the Embassy of the Netherlands, by the current head of the Ukrainian Security Service, Vasily Gritsak. The fate of the other paintings is unknown. None of the participants in the Dutch affair are held responsible.