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PV 04/04/2006 - 4
PV 05/04/2006 - 12
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Verbatim report of proceedings
Wednesday, 5 April 2006 - Strasbourg OJ edition

12. Elections in Ukraine (debate)

  President. The next item is a statement by the Council and the Commission on the elections in Ukraine.


  Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, what a difference! Just a few minutes ago we were discussing the so-called 'elections' in a country where it is clear – as the international observers concluded – that they were neither free, fair nor democratic. In contrast, we are now talking about a country where democratisation has made huge progress, and where the European Union has made a major contribution to that fact.

The parliamentary elections in Ukraine on 26 March were at the opposite end of the democratic spectrum to those in Belarus. Apart from a few technical problems and shortcomings, they were free and fair, and gave the Ukrainian electorate the opportunity to cast their votes without hindrance, having been well informed by an active, open and fair election campaign observed by a free press. The international observers agreed with this.

That is a great success for all of us – a success for Europe, for the European Union, for the OSCE and for the Council of Europe. We take pleasure in noting that these elections were indeed conducted under the conditions we like to see.

The elections also showed that the people of Ukraine have assumed responsibility for democracy in their own country. That is a milestone in the process of consolidating a democracy that started with the 'Orange Revolution'. To me, the especially important thing is – and it is therefore convenient that the debates on Belarus and Ukraine have been held so close together – that the elections set a welcome new standard for elections throughout the region and are therefore an example for the region and for other countries in the Union.

There were technical problems and shortcomings, but not to an extent that should cause us concern. We expect that the authorities will be able to solve these problems themselves, so that they will not reoccur at the next elections.

Unlike in the case of Belarus, the European Union is now in a position to press on with its efforts to strengthen its partnership with Ukraine. This partnership is based on shared values that are expressed in the quality of the democracy and the reforms in Ukraine. In this respect, the elections represented an important step and opened the way to consultations on a new, broader agreement with Ukraine, superseding the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.

We are happy to support the new government in Ukraine in its efforts to push its reform agenda forward. We will make our own contribution to ensuring that the programme continues to live and work within the framework of the neighbourhood policy and the action plan, and that Ukraine continues to make progress democratically – in this respect the country has already come a long way – and also economically, socially and politically. We in the European Union want to help with that.


  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. (DE) Mr President, I will be even briefer, because the President-in-Office has already said it all. The elections were indeed free and fair, and we can really be delighted with that. President Yushchenko set himself that target, and he certainly achieved it.

It now remains to be seen what sort of coalition will be created. The coalition negotiations are in progress, and they are not easy, but it is important that we make it clear now that we will be happy to work with any coalition that wants to continue to work with the European Union and move in our direction. It is very important for us to indicate right now that we will give Ukraine the option of a closer agreement, in which the issue of the WTO will play a particularly important role. Once Ukraine is a member of the WTO, we can have a free trade area, which is absolutely vital for further progress in Ukraine.

That pretty much covers everything. It goes without saying, though, that we want to continue to work with Ukraine as it approaches the European Union, within the framework of the neighbourhood policy.


  Charles Tannock, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. Mr President, I was privileged to observe the 26 March Ukrainian parliamentary election on behalf of this House and the delegation from my political group, the PPE-DE Group. Those elections, in all our views, were held on the day in an exemplary fashion. I formed the view, personally, that in many ways the elections were superior in design to those in my own country, the United Kingdom.

First of all Ukrainian officials demanded rigorous identity checks from all voters, something we do not do in Britain. Secondly, the polling stations had transparent plastic, sealed ballot boxes, which were watched by official observers, as they filled up throughout the day, and were counted on the spot. In my country the boxes are of black wood, no observers are allowed into the polling stations and our boxes are transported by officials, but with no observers, to a centralised counting point. Furthermore, Ukraine has no postal votes, which have been implicated in my country, the United Kingdom, as subject to fraud. The only minor problem we encountered, which reflected the large turnout of enthusiasm to participate in the election, was slight overcrowding in some polling stations.

I also welcome the long-term observer and media monitoring reports, which stated clearly that the entire campaign was conducted in a spirit of transparency and fair access to the media, both by the government and by the opposition parties.

I have always championed Ukraine as a modern European country that is entitled, in due course, under Article 49 of the Treaty, to apply for EU membership. That is still some way off, given the enlargement fatigue that has now set in and the fear of some Member States of offending Russia. That does not represent the views of either my group or this Parliament.

Nevertheless, in the meantime, the European Union must collectively do more to recognise that Ukraine has demonstrated political maturity in fully respecting European norms of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We must now reward that irreversible process.

A new government is being formed in Kiev, but I am confident that whatever its composition, it will remain committed to European integration. That is why our resolution requests from the Council and the Commission that plans be made that go beyond the PCA formulation towards a free trade and visa-free travel area, particularly if Ukraine can shortly join the WTO. Ideally that should take the form of an association agreement, although the Commission – and I have to say as ENP rapporteur, I might agree with this – might logically argue for an ENP neighbourhood agreement instead in the first instance. Either way, Ukrainians must be brought closer to Europe, where they rightfully belong. It is now clear to all of us that the enduring legacy of the Orange Revolution, namely a lasting democracy and free media, is intact for all to see.


  Marek Maciej Siwiec, on behalf of the PSE Group. (PL) Mr President, ‘together we are many, we will not be defeated’ – this was the slogan under which the people of Ukraine gained their freedom 18 months ago on Independence Square. They won their battle for a better country. On 26 March, those same people, in that same country, 18 months older and wiser, posed themselves the question as to how to win the peace. Seventy per cent of Ukrainians went to the polls confident that none of the votes would be falsified and wasted. That was the start of their battle for peace.

I was privileged to lead the European Parliament’s representatives within the team of international observers. These observers concluded that the elections were free and fair. Ukrainian democracy passed its quality control test, thanks in part to the efforts of this House. I should like to thank the representatives of all the political groups who participated in the observation mission and spent time in Ukraine recently. We can rejoice in a job well done.

As to the political situation in Ukraine following the elections, only five groups are represented in the Parliament. There was a ruthless purge of small and weak parties owing allegiance exclusively to their leaders. Mr Yanukovych and the Party of the Regions won, but they are not trumpeting their victory from the rooftops. The Orange Coalition led by Mrs Tymoshenko, Mr Yekhanurov and Mr Moroz gained over half the seats on the Supreme Council and will bear a heavy responsibility for past and future events in Ukraine. The geographical and political divide in that country has deepened, although there tends to be little difference between the programmes of the various parties.

What of the future? Ukraine needs a strong coalition and stable government. It is to be hoped that any future coalition and new Ukrainian Government will not be based on historical reminiscences of events on Independence Square, but on a courageous reforming programme. President Yushchenko has a particular role to play and duty to perform. In addition to holding the Orange Coalition together, he needs to bring Ukrainians together to tackle the most urgent issues, namely a national reform programme. The latter cannot be achieved by imposing the will of the majority on that of the minority. The only way forward is by reaching an understanding with that minority. Ukraine’s leaders must learn how to compromise and what cohabitation involves. They must also understand that it is incumbent on them to reach agreement on certain issues, despite their differences.

The resolution before us reflects the consensus within the European Parliament on issues pertaining to Ukraine. It also places obligations on all those who committed to ensuring progress in Ukraine, including the Members of this House and the European institutions.


  Šarūnas Birutis, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (LT) Having witnessed the previous Presidential elections and these most recent elections, I see welcome changes in Ukraine's democratisation process. Openness of the election campaign, the transparent organisation of the election process itself, voter activity and goodwill – these were the overall conclusions of all international observers and Ukrainians themselves. It is very important that the democracy process does not stop now. There are certain things which cause concern: pandering to national sentiments, the high level of corruption, barriers to foreign investment, the abundance of oligarchs on the election lists and the domination of personalities, not election manifestos – these things are all a legacy of the Soviet period. It is important that they do not get in the way of progressive processes. Here above all our moral support is needed. We need to share positive experiences as much as possible. Countries like Lithuania, which have come from the same Soviet camp, are especially suited to this role. Europe must increase opportunities for people’s cooperation in culture, education as well as simply cooperation between citizens. We have to help Ukraine rejoin the European family. A European Association Agreement would be a realistic way of lending a hand to Ukraine.


  Rebecca Harms, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(DE) Mr President, what was the most important thing I noticed as an election observer in the Ukraine? It was the total dedication with which many citizens exercised their right to vote freely, for which they had fought a year previously. It was almost shocking to come back to Germany after these elections and to see how unimportant this right now is to Germans, and how few people really value it.

The conclusion I draw from this experience is that Europe can benefit enormously from this process in Ukraine. We cannot continue with the 'business as usual' attitude that has crept into the relationship between the European Union and Ukraine just one year after the Orange Revolution. I have the impression – and this is based partly on the writer Yuri Andrukhovych's stirring speech in Leipzig – that there is a risk that Kiev is losing hope in Europe. That must not be allowed to happen. Therefore, I would say to you, Mrs Ferrero-Waldner, and to the Council: you must be more precise and more ambitious in the offers you make to Ukraine. You must not allow the statement by the former Commissioner for Enlargement, Mr Verheugen, that there would still be no place for Ukraine in the European Union even in 20 years time, to stand. Nobody in a position of responsibility in the European Union should make such dogmatic statements in public.


  Michał Tomasz Kamiński, on behalf of the UEN Group. (PL) I fully support what the previous speaker just said. I also urge the Commissioner to come up with a much stronger and more specific text concerning Ukraine’s future membership of the European Union.

It is hard to find a more joyful, convincing and heartening example of democracy’s success in the brief history of Europe’s new era. In particular, the 70% of Ukrainians who exercised their right to vote, a right which was challenged and threatened all across that country only 18 months ago, demonstrated to us the importance of democracy. In the European Union we tend to treat democracy as something quite ordinary which does not need to be nurtured.

I should like to say that I believe it is entirely appropriate for the speakers taking the floor in this debate not to comment on the result of the elections in Ukraine and on the outcome of the vote by the Ukrainian nation. When Members of this House became involved in the elections 18 months ago, it was not to support particular candidates. We were supporting the people of Ukraine as they asserted their right to express their will freely. This right was respected in the latest elections and the people of Ukraine went to the polls. They now need our support as they set off on their journey towards the European Union.


  Jerzy Buzek (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, as stated by previous speakers, Ukraine is the European Union’s nearest neighbour and it has become a parliamentary democracy. Democracies take a long time to establish, however, and they need to be nurtured. A healthy free market economy is one of the key characteristics of a democracy, and it is here that the greatest challenge facing our eastern neighbours lies.

Ukraine needs support and it needs to be assured that the Union will be open and welcoming towards it. This means that we must support not only the values we hold dear but also the interests we have in common with Ukraine.

Firstly, Ukraine can support the Union’s energy policy. It has its own reserves of natural gas and the largest natural gas fields in Europe. Oil and gas from the Caspian Sea can be transported to Europe through Ukraine without involving any other countries. This requires joint investment in pipelines, assisted by the European Investment Bank, the Neighbourhood Policy and Trans-European networks. Secondly, as Europe gradually opens up its economy to Ukraine, its common market in goods will become considerably larger. Thirdly, Union investment in Ukraine could be particularly profitable because of Ukraine’s well-educated labour force and receptive market. Fourthly, unlike other European countries, Ukraine does not have demographic problems. Fifthly, an independent, democratic and full market Ukraine will stabilise the situation beyond Europe’s eastern border. It will also stimulate positive political and economic changes in neighbouring countries.

Allow me to reiterate that we must be concerned not only with the key values we defend but also with our interests. It is important to promote them, and to enter into an Association Agreement with Ukraine as soon as possible. The principle of free visas for Ukrainian citizens should also be adopted at the earliest opportunity.


  Thijs Berman (PSE). – (NL) Mr President, 15 months ago, Ukraine fought for democracy, while this time round, it fought a democratic battle, and there is a world of difference in that. It is a step forward, one that deserves our admiration and our greatest respect. The European Union plays a key role in this. That is exactly what the Commission’s delegation in Kiev is doing, and, I might add, doing it in an expert manner. This concrete aid from the Commission and the Member States must now be reinforced at bilateral level. Those ties must now be strengthened in an ambitious manner. There is some support for this, but not enough.

Where the European Union was too cowardly to actually condemn Putin’s attitude of unfeeling cynicism towards Belarus, we must now send out a positive sign to the Ukrainians to demonstrate to the Ukrainian people that their choice in favour of democracy also leads to concrete improvements in their day-to-day lives.


  Grażyna Staniszewska (ALDE). – (PL) Mr President, I am sure the European Union does not regret its part in resolving the conflict in Ukraine several months ago. It was thanks to the European Union’s involvement that no blood was spilt in that country. It was also thanks to the European Union that democracy began to develop in Ukraine, albeit slowly. It is still there, however, and the recent elections have been a great success.

The question now arising is: what next? What more can we do to help Ukraine? Mr Winkler has just assured us that there is a will to do so. I believe the Union must say quite clearly that Ukraine is entitled to join it. It is high time for it to make a statement to this effect, although obviously the Union will have to set challenging and demanding criteria, and we can expect it to be a long time before Ukraine is able to comply with them. Nonetheless, such a statement needs to be made, because only an offer of this nature will suffice to spur internal forces into action to develop democracy and the free market economy.


  Inese Vaidere (UEN). – (LV) Ladies and gentlemen, I had the opportunity to observe the parliamentary elections in Ukraine, where the atmosphere was very different from the passions provoked during the presidential elections. This time elections were free and democratic, and the atmosphere was very similar to what we see in our own countries.

The elections were not, however, free of technical shortcomings. Inaccuracies in the electoral rolls and the fact that the parliamentary elections were organised at the same time as various levels of local government elections made the voting process long and complicated. Ukraine also ought to introduce a limit on pre-election campaign expenditure by the political parties, to limit possible corruption and ensure fair competition.

The comparatively low level of support from the people of Ukraine for the Orange Revolution forces can be explained by the fact that the pace of reform over the course of the year was insufficient. It is interesting, however, that contrary to Russia’s expectations pressure from Russia in connection with gas supplies and the blocking of exports from Ukraine directly fuelled support for the forces of democracy. These forces are the only ones that can ensure that reforms continue. On election night Yulia Timoshenko confirmed to us her willingness to form an orange coalition with the ‘Our Ukraine’ bloc, including the social democrats.

The European Union, for its part, should state that Ukraine’s attempts to become integrated into Europe are being assessed. I would like to call on the Commission to provide Ukraine with all possible assistance to enable it to overcome its weak administrative capacity, fight corruption effectively and decrease the influence of the oligarchy in politics, to reform the legal system and thus reinforce democracy.


  Laima Liucija Andrikienė (PPE-DE). – (LT) It gives me great pleasure to congratulate Ukraine for the fact that the elections, which took place on 26 March, were democratic, free, fair and satisfied international democratic standards. This alone is a great victory for the people of Ukraine as they create a civil society, especially when one remembers the events of December 2004 which caused considerable concern and ended with democratic Presidential elections, and also the fact that over the past two years, Ukraine has achieved good results as it implements democratic reforms. Now we can only hope that the coalition, in which the majority of citizens placed their trust during the elections, will be able to come to an agreement and form a coalition government to continue the democratic and market reforms which have already begun, and will consolidate democracy.

Soon after the elections Javier Solana stated that the EU intends to activate cooperation with Ukraine, to support political and economic reforms, which will guarantee the rule of law, and to consolidate market economy principles in the country, and I might also add, to support a more effective war on corruption and the shadow economy. The EU, like the USA, supports and will continue to support Ukraine's aim to become a WTO Member and is striving to accelerate the country's admission to this organisation. Ukraine must also carry out its own mission in the region. By this I mean the solution of the Moldova-Transnistrian problem and in this task Ukraine deserves the support of the European Union. According to the results of a sociological survey conducted last month in Ukraine, 42.9 per cent of Ukrainians support the country's membership in the EU, while US President Bush has stated that, and I quote, ‘the USA is prepared to support Ukraine during the process of integration into the EU and NATO’. And how will the European Union itself respond to this? How will we respond to the expectations of the Ukrainian people and their elected representatives? Are we, the European Parliament, ready to have a constructive debate on Ukraine's European integration, or simply the European perspective? I believe that once again the future will depend on the Ukrainian people's political will and determination, on their efforts, as no matter how we look at it, Ukraine is in Europe. Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union states that all European countries have the right to become EU Members.


  Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Mr President, I would just like to respond to a few questions.

Mr Tannock, I am deeply impressed by your report on the elections. I would not go so far as to compare Ukraine’s election law with the law of our countries, as different countries have different election laws, but the important thing is that the elections in Ukraine were indeed fair and democratic and I think that is very important.

(DE) I was also very impressed by the election observers' report of the great enthusiasm. In order to keep up this enthusiasm, and the faith in the European Union, we – the European Union, that is – must now take specific steps. We are ready to do so. I absolutely agree that it is not sensible to talk about specific timetables, but to avoid stumbling we need to take one step at a time, and not try to run before we can walk.

The next step is to develop greater cooperation. There is a specific need for this, and the Council will do so in cooperation with the Commission. We are doing this in order to help Ukraine to develop further and to implement the necessary reforms.

When Mr Kaminski said that it was not up to us to assess the elections and the parties, he was quite right. However, we can note with satisfaction that those who advocate a closer relationship with the European Union won and have the majority. We should therefore hold out our hand to them.


  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. (DE) Mr President, I, too, will keep my comments brief. I should just like to assure you that we will certainly not let this become a matter of routine. I am sorry that Mrs Harms has already left, because I should have liked to have said that to her personally. It is precisely using this possibility of a deeper and stronger agreement that it will be achieved. When one looks at what it all involves – quite apart from increased political dialogue – it primarily comes down to cooperation in legal matters and in the particularly important fields of justice and internal affairs.

Firstly, one thing that is particularly important to us, and which was mentioned during the debate, is the issue of energy policy, which, for all of us, is becoming an increasingly vital aspect of foreign policy. Then there is the free trade agreement, to which I referred earlier. There can therefore be no question of 'business as usual' in this field.

Secondly, as the Commissioner responsible for this field, I always made my statements extremely precise, perhaps too precise for some. I should like to make this quite clear: as I have always said, the future cannot be prejudged.

At the moment, however, we are working through the neighbourhood policy, which does not provide for membership. I cannot be any more precise. That does not mean, though, that we will not continue to work with Ukraine with great verve and enthusiasm, as the President-in-Office said.

We are very pleased with these elections. They represent a huge step forwards, and I am delighted that so many of you observed them and share this opinion with us.


  President. Six motions for resolutions(1) to wind up the debate have been tabled under Rule 103(2) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 12 noon.


(1) See Minutes

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