EU presidency holders Lithuania host the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius on Thursday and Friday, where Ukraine was expected to sign an association agreement with the the 28-nation bloc.
EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Štefan Füle had headed up preparations for the deal from Brussels, but EU President Jose Manuel Barroso is yet to meet with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who put a hold on the agreement last week. He said Ukraine was humiliated by the amount of money the EU was offering as assistance.
However, with the possibility of a cold and hungry winter if there is a gas supply dispute with Russia, many Ukrainians are looking towards the EU’s promises of longterm prosperity if Kiev cooperates.
In contrast to Barroso, Russian President Vladimir Putin is actively involved in negotiations. There has been a series of meetings with Yanukovych and widespread coverage in the Russian press, though Moscow denies offering any money.
EU Commissioner Štefan Füle gave euronews his take on the recent developments and the contrast in the EU’s and Russia’s approaches to Ukraine.
euronews: “Commissioner Füle, welcome to euronews. In Russia we see a huge media campaign and top level meetings, non-stop meetings between the presidents, in order to discourage Ukraine from turning to the west. Why there is no such sense of urgency here, in Brussels?”
EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Štefan Füle: “I think the sense we feel is the sense of responsibility and commitment. While the others might express the sense of urgency last couple of weeks, we have been the biggest donor to Ukraine since its independence. Over the years since 1991 we have provided Ukraine with grants of 3.3 billions of euros.”
euronews: “Can the EU finance a bit more?”
Füle: “It’s not a beauty contest. I mean who pays more and who puts on the table at the last minute more money. The first year the Association Agreement would save Ukrainian exporters up to half a billion of euros in import duties. The benefits to the GDP would see around 6.2 percent of extra GDP growth just because of the Association Agreement. Our friends in Kiev, they know better that we are not going to be engaged in some kind of ‘bazaar’ negotiations – who puts more – whether it will be Brussels or Moscow.”
euronews: “When will be the next chance for the major step in this direction?”
Füle: “We have worked hard to make it happen – that the Association Agreement is signed in Vilnius. And I guess it would require certain efforts to create such a possibility again. But as far as we are concerned, the commitment is definitely there, on our side.”
euronews: “What are you saying to countries who are committed to Europe, who want the future with it, but who are afraid of painful reforms, who are reluctant, not committed to modernisation as much as you want?”
Füle: “That there is no other way but through the reforms, that there is no shortcut to the prosperity than through the reforms. If you just compare Poland and Ukraine. In 1991, they were more or less on the same level in their GDP. And look where Poland is now and where the Ukraine is. So that would be my first message. My second message is that you could always count on our support.”
euronews: “Do you still believe in Eastern Partnership, with the only countries, Georgia and Moldova, commited to moving forward?”
Füle: “I do believe in Eastern Partnership, and I do believe in Eastern Partnership to be a fellowship of six partner-countries, each of them with its own aspirations, ambitions, its own historical experience – with us.
“On our side, we are trying to use some general policies for the benefit of all of them and strengthening the regional cooperation among them. At the same time we are putting on the table tailor-made programmes and supporting activities to help them. And the Vilnius summit is gonna be an extremely important event on that road.”