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Ex-Italian PM Prodi wants speedy resolution to Tymoshenko case


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Ex-Italian PM Prodi wants speedy resolution to Tymoshenko case

Romano Prodi, a two-time Italian prime minister and former president of the European Commission, spoke to Euronews correspondent Natalia Richardson-Vikulina about his vision of the EU’s relations with Ukraine, its other Eastern neighbours, the Balkans and Turkey.

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“At one recent conference on Ukraine you said that Ukraine is a great country with great problems. What is the greatest problem, what it the main obstacle on its road to Europe?”

Romano Prodi
Former EU Commission President

“Ukraine suffered more than any other country after the Soviet Union disruption. It was just in the middle. And the external fightings went inside the country and so the country was very divided and economical and social situation suffering a lot. Ukraine is a fantastic country full of scientists, other skilled people. You know it is unbelievable that personal income in Ukraine is half of Russia and one fourth of Europe. This is why I am so worried about Ukraine. Because natural resources, geographical position, level of population – they are all indicated to a possibility of waking up. Only political situation has made Ukraine departing from neighbour countries. And I think that the Association agreement is the instrument to bring back Ukraine. You know in economic terms we doubled the external trade with Ukraine in a few years but not only that. We gave confidence to the country that will be part of a general development of Europe. Clearly that does not mean that it is choice against Russia, it would be absolutely stupid you know because the historical links between Ukraine and Russia are so deep and so warm. The problem is that Ukraine with this association can diversify its economy, let’s say defend even better its own identity. This is why it is so important.”

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“But would you call Mrs Tymoshenko’s case a main obstacle?”

Romano Prodi

“Yes I know. It is the main obstacle even because of public opinion dimension. But when we analyse what will be the debate in Vilnius (at the Summit on Eastern Partnership in November) we have also to take into account the great progress that is done in terms of human rights, electoral law, judicial system. And all these changes are now examined by the Venice commission. Venice commission – people do not know that – it is the commission that analyses laws, rights and progress of people in this direction. And it is done by very serious people, independent people. So this is the progress. The Tymoshenko case is still there and I do hope that some solutions will be taken before Vilnius and in this case it is clear that it will be much-much easier the link between Ukraine and the European Union.”

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“But even if Ukraine fulfills all its home tasks but Tymoshenko remains in prison would it be possible for the European Union to sign the Association agreement with Ukraine in Vilnius?”

Romano Prodi

“If you analyse my opinion I say yes because I see the picture in a dynamic way. So these steps have been done, so if the agreement is done then the other steps are easier. I always look at politics as an evolution. But certainly as we have seen in the conference today there is a public opinion to which many European governments will be very attentive. They will be in some way drawn by this event, they will be taken by this and they will be very prudent vis-a-vis their public opinion to say yes if this case is not solved. And I do hope that the decision will be taken before.”

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“So the answer is ‘no’? If Tymoshenko is in prison EU does not sign the agreement with Ukraine?”

Romano Prodi

“No the answer is not ‘no’. I consider the picture. And in my opinion the answer is ‘yes’ but I understand as I understood this morning talking with all the European media that many European governments are very sensible on this specific issue. And they will underestimate the importance of the great progress done by the country because politically this problem is so visible in the media.”

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“The Ukrainian deputy from the Party of Regions Yurij Miroshnychenko just said that the EU should not look at Ukraine ‘through one court case’.”

Romano Prodi

“Yes that is what I said before. I considered all the progress done in the most delicate fields and the progress was sensible: the electoral law, the judicial reforms, the protection of rights. And in the picture the direction is the right one and Tymoshenko case is like a stone in this direction. But I can not forget of the progress of the country there. I insist on the fact that to put other problems in front of the Venice commission is so important.”

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“Do you think that if Ukraine does not sign this agreement in November will it have a big negative impact on its European integration?”

Romano Prodi

“Yes, in the sense that the Ukrainian public opinion is so in favour now and if there is a rejection it will be less in favour. And so the steps will be more difficult.”

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“The Lithuanian presidency will focus – among other things – on the Eastern partnership. What real progress can we expect in this area in the next 6 months?”

Romano Prodi

“Progress on Ukraine. But I also think that it will be in the future many problems also concerning energy because of the shale revolution the prices are completely changing and I do think that is also from this point of view Ukraine is becoming even more important. Because when energy becomes a priority that’s clearly the geographical position of Ukraine is still more evident.”

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“I mean countries other than Ukraine. Do you expect real progress in relations with Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan?”

Romano Prodi

“Imminent is difficult but especially Moldova has always been knocking on the door of Europe and Georgia also. But I do not see that the agenda must be solved in a short time. And not because of them, because Europe is in a particular moment. After the years of hope in which enlargement, in which everything was possible now we are entered in year of fear. Croatia joined the EU this July. But it was supposed to be in in 2007. And we are in 2013. So how can I tell you that it will be any immediate change? I am sad to tell you that I still feel fear. I still feel some sort of Europe just swimming slowly in the same water. And to do what you ask me you need optimism, you need… you know it is feeling and this is not the moment.”

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“What should the EU do with the political outsider of Europe – Belarus?”

Romano Prodi

“Clearly when I was president of the Commission looking at the complexity of the situation I made a very clear proposal that Europe must offer to all the neighbour countries – from Belarus to Morocco, including Israel, all the countries – to be part of Ring of Friends. Let’s say each country can deal with the EU. All the agreements are possible except being a member of the Union. And we called the project ‘everything but institutions’. Clearly it is bilateral, so you need time. But this is a fantastic possibility of signing agreements of friendship and a fantastic possibility of being around among friends. This is why I was calling it ‘everything but institutions’.”

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“Why not? The article 49 of the EU Treaty says that any European country can become a member of the EU…”

Romano Prodi

“This is clear. I am not thinking only of European countries. I told you about all neighbour countries for which it will be difficult to become members of the EU. But European countries can sign these agreements as a step if it will come being a member of the EU. With Europe that has so many problems you can not do it in one moment only. But you must give the idea that Europe is prudent, is serious but also open. And so even this chance means that we have in our mind the idea of being a community that deals openly with all the neighbours.”

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“But should we do with Belarus? So far the dialogue with this country is not very successful…”

Romano Prodi

“Well to talk you must be two. The problem in this case is not Europe, it is Belarus. With Ukraine the dialogue is open because Ukraine is open to dialogue. To have a conversation you must be two.”

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“You need two to tango…”

Romano Prodi

“Yes! You need two to tango. Or in this case to talk.”

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“The Lithuanian presidency also wants to focus on starting negotiation talks with Serbia during the next 6 months and accelerating the negotiation talks with Turkey. Do you think that we can expect real progress in these areas?”

Romano Prodi

“Serbia is a natural evolution. When there was a terrible disruption in Yugoslavia I was commuting between Slovenia and Croatia telling to Slovenia. You are ready now but please you must open the door to Croatia. And telling the Croatians that will enter, for you it is impossible but be happy after that there will be your entrance and then of course Serbia and other Yugoslavian countries. No doubt you can put the borders of Europe wherever you want but for me Yugoslavia is part of the European Union.”

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“So all the Balkan countries must join the EU…”

Romano Prodi

“Well they are a part of Europe naturally. They are Europe. You can delay, you must put conditions but clearly I can not even think that Serbia is not a part of the European Union, not a natural part of Europe. Serbia is a European country.”

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“What about Turkey?”

Romano Prodi

“Turkey is a complex problem. I was in favour when I was President of the Commission, I was wisely telling to the Turkish that it was a long process, they have to be patient. And I also talked to the Turkish television. When they asked me: you are afraid, you tell us to go slow. I tell them, “look, I am in an encounter with my gun, but I remember when there was something frightening I was telling “mamma li turchi!” (in Italian – “Mama, Turks are here!”) , and so we have to digest all these differences. And I think that negotiations till now were very useful for Turkey and for Europe. Now, in the last years clearly I have seen that Turkey is moving more and more to become an autonomous regional political power. And I have felt that the Turkish leadership is increasing ideas of autonomy, of independence, moving quickly, making deals and breaking deals with neighbour countries. Not easy. So I do not know that Turkey will accept limits and constraints of the European Union. So I am still of my primitive opinion to be a member useful but with long-long time and strong conditions. . And I repeat: at this moment I do not know if self-confidence of the Turkish policy will accept all the constraints of being a member of the European Union.”

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