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Which future for the Partnership between Europe and Ukraine?

How the trial against Yulia Tymoshenko interferes with Ukraine’s association to Europe

Working paper, November 2011


After leaving the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the latter’s downfall and Ukraine gaining its independence in 1991, it is courted by Russia and Europe alike as a trade partner. The newly-born Republic consequently ponders its advantages from either cooperation, finally opting for the conclusion of a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with Europe. Despite leading to subliminal tensions with Russia, the cooperation had and still has beneficial impacts on Ukraine’s economy.

Today indeed, Ukraine is one of the most important trade partners of the European Union, its EU-exports accounting for 11.4 billion Euros in 2010. Thus, the cooperation with Europe was to be enforced steadily, its peak for now being a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area whose implementation was expected for the year end. But the prosperous and until now rather harmonious bilateral relations have been put to test recently. Indeed, the presumably political trial against former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko contests European values with democracy being the most important one. Since then, the tone has sharpened and Brussels tried to decipher whether President Yanukovych was actually looking for a stronger cooperation with Russia. Said to be pro-Russian, European leaders feared Yanukovych’s joining the "Eurasian Union" - a Union that the soon-to-be Russian President Putin had referred to only shortly before, meaning the geographical and political extension of the Custom Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

But would Ukraine really jeopardize the European-Ukrainian rapprochement? And could Europe really bear the loss of such an important trade partner, EU-exports to Ukraine accounting to as much as 17.3 billion Euros? Apparently, it cannot: while the relation couldn’t be more tense, the European Commissioner for Trade and the Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister finalize the negotiations to the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. Technically. A diplomatic back door is nevertheless left opened, stating that although technically the DCFTA could be implemented, Ukraine first needs to "create the political conditions wherein this deal can materialize". Isn’t this status quo? Is the EU maybe even negating its values for economic benefit? Or is it simply smart political calculus? In order to approach these questions, a look at the achievements made so far in the bilateral relations as well as on Ukraine’s political history is indispensable. Furthermore, the reasons for this trial’s impact on Ukraine’s foreign affairs needs to be illuminated. Only then the question of what future there is for a European-Ukrainian partnership can be answered - and whether the EU’s position really needs fierce determination to be clear.