Ukraine reforms could be once in a lifetime chance for Kyiv

Ukraine represents a security, energy and foreign policy priority for the EU, writes Andrej Plenković.

By Andrej Plenkovic

21 May 2015

The upcoming eastern partnership (EaP) summit must be seen as a serious opportunity to address the persistent challenges facing this area of the world. When the various assembled heads of state and government meet in Riga, their discussions will take place in a completely changed geopolitical environment from that of their previous gathering.

On a positive note, since the 2013 EaP summit in Vilnius, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have all signed association agreements (AA) - including on deep and comprehensive free trade areas (DCFTA) - which have been ratified by the European parliament, the national parliaments of the eastern partners and by most of the EU's member states. 

With the exception of the section on trade and trade-related matters in the Ukrainian agreement - which is delayed until 1 January 2016 - the AA and DCFTA's provisional application is already in force. Moldova has also become the first eastern partner country whose citizens can travel to the EU without visa requirements and Ukraine has achieved significant progress in the visa liberalisation process while under extremely difficult circumstances.


Here I hope for a constructive message from the Riga summit, as all this progress clearly testifies to the deepening ties and closer cooperation between the EU and its eastern partners.

However, less positively, the conflict in Ukraine has escalated, with war being waged, while part of the country remains illegally annexed or occupied.

This also takes place against a background of the unimproved situation for frozen conflicts across the region in Abkhazia, Tskhinvali/South Ossetia and Transnistria which cannot be neglected either.

It is self-evident that Ukraine holds crucial importance for the future of the entire European neighbourhood policy - a policy that is itself currently under review. This significance is further increased by the fact that since 2013 Ukraine has risen to simultaneously become Europe's most important challenge in its foreign, security and energy policies. 

Seen in this light it is understandable that Ukraine has become a primary focus for the European Union. 

As a result, an unprecedented level of economic and financial assistance from the EU, member states and international community has been mobilised. The provision of necessary technical assistance has also been concentrated in the European commission's Ukraine support group. 

Also taken into account should be the strong political support expressed for Kyiv by the EU and its member states.

This has manifested itself in the employment of restrictive measures against Russian entities and individuals related to the destabilisation of the situation in Ukraine, despite the short-term costs for certain economic sectors in some member states.

The ambitious reform process contained in Ukraine's association agenda serves as a framework for conducting reforms.

This might be a once in a lifetime opportunity to turn the country around.

This is why current priorities should be to strengthen the fight against corruption, especially by enhancing the country's judiciary and administration systems; increase competition in the energy sector; prevent monopolies and foster cooperation on foreign and security policy. 

It is clear, however, that it is difficult to focus on these reforms while the conflict in the east of the country rages on and Ukraine labours under repeated attempts of permanent destabilisation.

For my part, I am continuously advocating for a peaceful solution to the crisis. In this context I hope the experience of my own country Croatia regarding the peaceful reintegration of Eastern Slavonia in 1998 can be useful for Ukraine in the return of its currently occupied territories into its constitutional and legal order, with the full support of the international community.