Integration to single market would bring Ukraine majority of real benefits of full membership in the EU – Kubilius

November 1, 2021

Integration to single market would bring Ukraine majority of real benefits of full membership in the EU - Kubilius

An exclusive interview with a Member of European Parliament, Chair of the European Parliament Delegation to the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, Member of the European Parliament Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee and Former Prime Minister of Lithuania Andrius Kubilius for the Interfax-Ukraine News Agency:

Text: Nataliia Pushkaruk

– Ukrainian authorities ask about the EU membership perspective more and more persistently. To your mind, whether the EU should explicitly give Ukraine such assurances that one day we will be a member of the EU? Why is it important for relations of Ukraine and the EU?

– First, of course clear perspective is very important because that is what keeps motivation for reforms on a high level. Second, Ukraine is a European country and I am absolutely sure that some time Ukraine will become a member of the EU, but the question is when. Third, EU has its own challenges and issues. First of all challenges to make reforms inside the EU which would allow to have much more effective decision-making process. That is not done and it will take some time. Now we have Future of Europe conference which is just a beginning of those discussions.

What we are discussing here is that it is better to concentrate efforts on economic integration what is a part of attempts to reach full membership but it is more rational, more effective to reach now economic integration into single market, into so called four freedoms. That is what we are talking about. That is not abandoning a full scale membership in the EU. Now it is better to look for just economic integration not looking into integration to institutions.

– You recently proposed to apply the formula of Romano Prodi, the former head of the European Commission, that the EU can offer its neighbors an intermediate status on the way to EU. What can this status provide and what will be its advantages for Ukraine?

– That is exactly what I was telling before. This intermediate status would be integration to single market which would bring majority of real benefits of full membership in the EU. According to some experts and evaluations it will take around 70% of acquis communautaire to be implemented. This is what Nordic countries did back in the very beginning of 1990ies – Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland – also Austria. At that time really they joined what is called European economic area implementing exactly 70% of acquis communautaire. That was the first step to a full membership. Some of them like Norway decided not to go for full membership.

With that intermediate status of integrating to single market Ukraine can expect a range of benefits. First of all such kind of status would bring all the economical benefits. For example for Lithuania integration into single market was very beneficial. Back in 1999 our GDP per capita level in so called purchasing power parity was reaching only 36% of the EU average. Now we are around 85%. Integration to that single market really brings very permanent and very stable growth of your economy. Second what is important for whole integration process, such kind of integration to single market could become much more clear and effective process of negotiations with the EU establishing some kind of clear system of evaluation of the process of Ukraine. That is what we see as important step forward. Because what we are worried about is that if things will stay as they are now when Ukraine is asking for member and the EU is saying “Yeah, but make reforms first and then we shall see” nothing is moving ahead. Such kind of impasse  is becoming really quite dangerous because obviously psychology of people everywhere is very similar: if you do not have clear goal, target then your motivation for reforms can go very easily down.

– Did you already discuss this idea in Brussels and in Ukraine and what was the reaction from both sides?

– We are discussing those ideas both in Brussels and here in Kyiv. We see a good understanding that some things need to be done. We are permanently looking for some kind of ideas which would allow integration to go in a more smooth way. One of our ideas back from 2019 was exactly creation of so called Associated Trio. We are happy that the governments of three countries decided to do it. This is one step forward in exactly pushing forward for more ambitious EU agenda. On the EU side we have really very similar language what we are talking now which was put to for example last year European Parliament report on Eastern Partnership future policy with very clear stress on economic integration into single market. Now Eastern partnership summit is coming. We still do not know what will be in the declaration. What we see from Commission’s staff documents they are more of technical nature, about investment, some kind of financial support for investment. But we are pushing that there should be also much more of some kind of geopolitical language – how to speed up integration process, how to make it more achievable. That is why once again we are coming to this economic integration to single market.

– Earlier you presented the initiative Ukraine 2027. Do these ides correspond or contradict?

– We are trying to push from different angles. Ukraine2027 idea is very much connected with what we are trying to do with Lithuanian government because in 2027 Lithuania will be in the presidency of the EU like it is Slovenia now. From beginning of next year France will be in the presidency, then Czech Republic from the second half of next year, Sweden in 2023, Poland in 2025, we shall be in the presidency in 2027 and that will be our second time, Latvia will be in 2028. That is where me and my team are saying to Lithuanian government that it would be very important now to decide for ourselves that in 2027 priority of our presidency will be exactly trio of Eastern Partnership countries, associated countries integration towards the EU. Of course among them Ukraine is the most important, but we need to start preparation now. And we need to create what we call coalition of likeminded countries inside of the EU.

We are looking that there will be several EU member states which we expect can be sympathetic to Trio integration in the EU. France is sometimes skeptical about integration is in presidency from the beginning of next year and I think that we can also talk with them about grand narratives what Maсron likes. And Ukraine is a grand narrative, success of Ukraine is really very important not only for Ukraine itself but for much larger processes even for the future of democracy in Russia. That is what we put into special report on Russia preparation of which I was leading in European parliament. So that what is connected. And even if to start integration into single market now, 2027 can be somewhere close to the finalization of that process of integration into single market.

– Are there any negotiations between Ukraine and Lithuania in this regard?

– I do not know the details but I would say that very important things were done starting from last year when so called Lublin Triangle was created. So this is a beginning of coalition of like-minded countries inside the EU together with Ukraine which can push that agenda through the EU institutions, the EU corridors much more effectively.

– Do you share the point of view that the EU doesn’t have enough political will to give a membership perspective to Ukraine? And what should Ukraine do to persuade more countries in the EU support it when there will be a real chance to join organization?

– Of course we can speak about EU leadership, EU political willingness quite critically. That is what we put into the title of our paper saying that we need to talk about what they are talking in Munich security conference, about westlessness. It describes the essence, that this lack of political willingness inside the West is really quite a visible feature. I hope that it can be overcome with much stronger geopolitical political leadership and especially towards neighborhood of the EU. I am always saying, that when somebody speaks about  strategic autonomy it should start to speak from strategic responsibility of the EU about the situation in the neighborhood. There are two regions – Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership – where developments are not going in such a way as we would like to see and where lack of geopolitical leadership of the EU is one of the factors that creates problems.

– Now there is a change of government in Germany. What are your expectations from position of this country, its leadership in regard of association of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova to the EU?

– We can expect that some things can be different. At least when we are talking with German Greens in European Parliament we see a lot of similar attitude towards Eastern Partnership, democracy, situation not only in Ukraine but also in Belarus and Russia. So that can be beneficial to have Germany more focused on this region with more clear understanding what is really needed. Yes, we need to work with big capitals – both Berlin and Paris in much more intensive way. We are looking how it can be done together with Ukrainians, other partners, together with what I call like-minded coalition inside of the EU. That is very much needed.

– To what extent is Russia a reason why the EU is not enough ready to welcome Ukraine as a member state? 

– Of course Russia is a factor and we need to discuss that factor when we are talking about Ukraine, integration towards the EU, NATO. Here are two different points of view.

Some people in big capitals are saying: “We cannot offer Ukraine more ambitious integration agenda even towards the EU because that can provoke Putin”. We are saying opposite – that if we in Europe want to have clear strategy towards Russia with very clear goal – how to assist not Putin, but how to assist Russian society with transformation of that country back to democracy then we need to understand that the example of success of Ukraine is one of the instruments which the EU has in its  hands in order to assist also Russia. And success of Ukraine can be created only through integration of Ukraine closer and closer towards Europe. That is what we put in European Parliament report on the EU policy towards Russia which we recently adopted. We very clearly said that one of elements of that strategy towards Russia should be integration of Eastern partnership countries and specially of Ukraine towards the EU. That is what we believe is very important.

Also there are worries that integration towards the EU can make Putin more angry. I agree that it can make Putin more angry and I see that from recent articles of Mr. Medvedev. But that means that they are becoming afraid in Kremlin of success of Ukraine. That is really important for all of us to understand.

– To your mind is this request of Ukraine about membership reasonable at this moment? Is it really ready for a membership in terms of reforms, fulfilling of the Copenhagen criteria?

– As I said we need to rationalize the whole process since full membership in the EU also means membership in institutions like Council, Commission and so on. First of all it demands reforms in those institutions. There are member states like France who are very clearly saying that without reforms of the institutions they would not agree for inclusion any kind of new members into the EU. So then we need to be rational. That is why we put this Romano Prodi formula on the table that let’s agree to go for this everything but institutions model for time being which is on the way to final goal of full membership.

Yesterday I was comparing it with what alpinists are doing when they have a plan to climb to Everest. First of all they need to reach some kind of intermediate camp. Only after that they are climbing to the peak of Everest. The same is with membership in the EU. First of all you need to climb up to some kind of intermediate camp and that could be exactly a single market. After that you can look for next possibilities. I would say that it would be more rational and more effective now to ask effective integration into single market to agree with the EU on some kind of this goal and agenda on the process, how it will be done and really go for that intermediate camp on the way to the peak of Everest.

– And as about reforms in Ukraine. Which of them are crucial at this moment?

– Always there are reforms which are needed to be done and especially with a basic criteria, so called Copenhagen criteria like democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Judicial reform as we understand now with a good progress can be good example that if really politicians in Ukraine want they can do and exactly in good agreement with Western community, with G7.

From another side I would say that keep going on even after that, be ambitious and move forward.

– How do you assess the situation with gas supplies? What can make Russia stop using gas as a weapon? 

– We are concerned about that situation in particular on Ukraine and “Nord Stream 2”. Also we see that Moldova is struggling. In European market situation is not very easy. And we see also that Kremlin is really using that situation for blackmail. We think that they are manipulating that situation on their own. At least if you will read a statement by Putin, Peskov you can see that they are openly using that situation in gas market as an instrument to blackmail on Nord Stream 2 demanding that Nord Stream 2 should be allowed to become operational without implementation of the EU directives which is really not very prudent language from Kremlin because this winter can be difficult and we shall see what can be done from the EU side, we shall discuss some of those issues. I initiated a special letter to Commission somewhere like month ago asking to start investigation of Gazprom efforts to manipulate the situation in the market.

But the outcome I see in such a way that Gazprom and Kremlin will lose credibility because of what kind of situation they created in all European continent with supplies of gas. The outcome will be opposite to what Kremlin is expecting. Outcome will be that politicians in Europe will be much more convinced to implement Green Deal more rapidly than it was before. Because gas is not anymore a guarantee of stability in energy markets.

– What should Ukraine do if Russia stops its gas transit through Ukraine? What guarantees Ukraine should demand from the US and Germany?

– Ukraine has legitimate right to ask for some kind of compensations or guarantees from the partners in the West who guaranteed that transit will stay and things are really not going into that direction. As I understand Ukrainian government is offering Western community some kind of possibilities to use the transit pipelines in a beneficial way. I hope that in the EU there will be good attempts to look into those proposals in a serious way. We are organizing some kind of special online discussions in the middle of November about all those issues. Again this is a possibility for Ukraine to raise a question not only about energy security but about security in general. Guarantees of security are coming with much more rapid integration towards the EU and NATO. Ukraine has a legitimate right to ask the Western community in such a situation when unfortunately with Nord Stream 2 pipeline security of Ukraine is affected in very negative way.

– The conflict in Donbas continues and there is no progress in its settlement. What do you think about position of Russia about the talks in Normandy four format? And what can give an impulse to the acceleration of negotiations?

– Unfortunately I do not see that with those formats which are established now the real progress can be achieved. To keep some kind of cold peace maybe it can help but to resolve the whole issue I do not see that it can happen because it depends solely on Kremlin. What kind of instruments we have in the West to convince Kremlin to change its behavior I do not see very clearly for time being.

Sometimes I am saying in a very simple way – what can change Kremlin attitude to the war in Donbas – is democracy in Russia. Some people are saying that democracy in Russia is far away and maybe it is too romantic to see. But I see from my own experience that sometimes democratic developments in this part of Europe are starting to happen in a very unexpected way. And Ukraine is really a good example of how democracy can be established in our region. After Maidan Ukraine is a good example of maturity of democracy. Now we see that Belorussian people are starting to follow Ukrainian example with revolution of last year. Lukashenko is still keeping power but I think that this will not continue for long period of time. And then the question is how this democratic development, democratic wave will go into Russia. That is what we are speaking a lot – about democratic developments in our report on Russia where Ukrainian example plays very important role.

Democracy in Russia can  also be a solution and answer to the war in Donbas. That is what we need to have in mind and that is why Ukraine can be really even more proactive in a positive way in playing some kind of geopolitical role in taking care about spread of democracy around Ukraine, in the neighborhood.

– To your mind how should be changed the format of negotiation, what countries should join it?

– I am not so heavily involved into those negotiations. But I was always saying that first of all it is important for the EU to be present in those formats and for the US. It is good that Germany and France took initiative to create the Normandy format but we see that it does not bring real outcome. So if to talk about how to change that format I would say that let’s look for a possibility for the EU to be present and of the US.

– What is you assessment of current situation in Belarus?

– Of course the situation is bad. Lukashenko is really behaving as international criminal. He started hybrid war against Lithuania, Poland and Latvia with smuggling of migrants which shows that really he is becoming totally unpredictable and that demands solutions as quick as possible.

We in European Parliament recently passed special resolution where we put emphasis on creation of special international tribunal which would investigate crimes of Lukashenko. And also we spoke about pressure including new sanctions on Kremlin because why Lukashenko is able to stay in power is simply because Putin is supporting him for time being. I seem that Putin’s support can end quite soon because first of all Putin is starting to loose support of ordinary Belorussian people of Russia-Belarus relationship simply because while he is supporting toxic Lukashenko he is becoming toxic himself. That is what from geopolitical point of view I see as not beneficial even for Kremlin and Moscow. How things will go we shall see. As we understand Kremlin is planning that things can be changed through new referendum on constitution, after that Lukashenko agreed to leave power. But  it is difficult to predict how things will develop.

– What is your general message to Ukrainian authorities now?

– My message would be to continue with reforms and also to continue with clear strategy of integration, using new possibilities which Ukraine took with creation of Associated Trio. And then to look to real possibilities of integration, not theoretical like to continue demanding full membership but then get in call with the same skeptical answer but to look into economic integration, into single market which is really beneficial and which is really possible to be achieved

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