The European Parliament has been handed a new report looking at Ukraine, which could ultimately pave the way to a landmark political association and free trade agreement with the European Union.
European Parliament envoys on Thursday (18.04.2013) said efforts to reach out to Ukraine in the buildup to Kiev's landmark association deal with Brussels were seeing some progress, but that challenges lie ahead.
Pat Cox, the European Parliament's envoy and former president, and former Polish president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, presented the report on Ukraine to the European Parliament. The report is crucial for the decision to move ahead with a planned association agreement with Ukraine, which includes provisions for a broad free trade deal. The agreements have been on hold for months due to the domestic political situation in Ukraine.
Observers rate the amnesty issued to former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, a close ally of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, as particularly favorable. It was in fact one of the main goals of the Cox-Kwasniewski mission, Valeriy Tschalyi of Kiev's Razumkov Center told Deutsche Welle.
In early April, President Viktor Yanukovych signed a decree pardoning six people, including Lutsenko and Ukraine's former environment minister Georgy Filipchuk. The EU had repeatedly criticized selective justice against opposition politicians, branding it one of the main hurdles to signing the accords with Ukraine.
Important step forward
Commissioned by the European Parliament, Cox and Kwasniewski visited Ukraine numerous times over the past months. Elmar Brok, chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, says the outcome is favorable, adding that he expects more from the government in Kyiv.
"I am disappointed in the Ukrainian government's attitude. It is conducting the process of harmonization with the EU much too slowly", he told DW, saying that selective justice must disappear and electoral laws and certain criminal law regulations must be rewritten. Provisions regulating the office of the attorney general in particular do not correspond with European standards, Brok said, underscoring that the Cox-Kwasniewski mission might be helpful concerning these issues. Their mandate is scheduled to be extended and linked to these tasks.
European politicians expect more from Ukraine, and Andreas Umland, a German political scientist, comes to the same conclusion. Lutsenko's pardon helped clear the air, however, he says. Over the past few months, the West saw nothing but negative signals from Kyiv, including irregularities in parliamentary elections, new criminal proceedings against Tymoshenko and, in March, a court order stripped her lawyer, Sergei Vlasenko, of his mandate in parliament. "If Tymoshenko is set free now, too, then there will probably be a positive decision by the European Commission in May," Umland says.
Time is short
May is the deadline, according to the EU plan, for Ukraine to fulfil its requirements. Then, the political association and free trade deal with the European Union could be signed by the end of the year.
Volodymyr Fesenko of the Penta Center for Political Studies in Kyiv is skeptical. He assumes Tymoshenko will not be pardoned, and expects electoral law reforms to fail. "The current relationship between the opposition and the majority in parliament does not allow for a compromise on such complex issues," Fesenko told DW.
It is not clear how the EU will react if Tymoshenko is not set free and the other conditions are not met. Possibly, Fesenko says, the planned free trade accord will be separated from the question of EU association. In that case, contested political issues could be ignored for the time being.
Fesenko can also imagine both accords being signed this year. The ratification process that the agreements must go through in EU member states would keep the pressure on the Ukrainian leadership, he said.
Angela Merkel has told Vladimir Putin that a referendum on Crimea would violate international law. The Crimean parliament's decision to vote on joining the Russian Federation has only worsened the diplomatic stalemate.
EU parliament chief Schulz has called for swift action to end the Crimean crisis before a March 16 referendum. His proposal: guarantee Russia's naval bases in Crimea and put more economic pressure on Moscow to negotiate.
Japanese media say the nation's fisheries agency has decided to boost protection for juvenile bluefin tuna by halving Japan's northern Pacific catch. Studies show a dramatic decline in tuna prized by eaters of sushi.
The 28th edition of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival is now underway, drawing tech, music and film innovators and fans from around the world to Texas. Edward Snowden and Neil Young are set to be event highlights.