European Parliament Plenary debate Strasbourg, 15 July 2014
President, Honourable Members,
The crisis in Eastern Ukraine has not abated - each day we continue to receive alarming reports about casualties. The activities of illegal armed separatist groups remain a source of great concern. Militants still occupy buildings and border posts, keep dozens of people hostage and threaten the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine and the security of its citizens. Innocent civilians, including women and children, are caught in crossfire. We must do all we can to protect and support them. Each killed civilian is one too many. The increase in the numbers of displaced people is also of concern. It underlines the importance of supporting the work of humanitarian organisations. It is essential to ensure protection and the provision of emergency assistance to all the Ukrainian civilian population in need, whoever and wherever they are.
There are worrying reports regarding the respect for human rights, not only in Eastern Ukraine, but also in Crimea, which remains illegally annexed by Russia and where the most dramatic changes in the situation of minorities and enjoyment of human rights have taken place. Earlier this month, the Leader of the elected Crimean Tatar assembly was refused entry to Crimea. This is a clear violation of international law and the European Convention of Human Rights. Allow me to stress – we have not forgotten about Crimea, it will always remain on the radar of our policy until international law is restored.
The Ukrainian military campaign in the Eastern Ukraine continues. It is every country's right and obligation to uphold law and order on its territory and to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity. In these extremely difficult circumstances we encourage the Ukrainian authorities to maintain a measured approach. This is not about fighting a popular movement in part of Eastern Ukraine at the time when the Ukrainian authorities offer discussions about decentralisation and other democratic changes. It is about fighting highly trained and equipped paramilitary forces that have hardly any regard for the needs of the local population. This is exactly the reason why we need to put the protection and well-being of local civilians at the heart of our policy.
Diplomatic efforts towards peace in Eastern Ukraine must continue. There is an urgent need to agree on a genuine and sustainable cease-fire by all parties to create the necessary conditions for the implementation of President Poroshenko's peace plan. President Putin supported the peace plan in principle; the Federation Council has revoked the authorisation to use military force on the Ukrainian soil. However, Russia has not stopped the flow of weapons, equipment and militants across the border; nor has it used its influence over illegally armed groups in the Eastern Ukraine to stop the violence and get them to lay down their arms. So it is now urgent that Russia takes concrete steps in this direction.
We welcome the diplomatic efforts launched in Normandy on 6 June by Ukraine, the Russian Federation, France and Germany and hope that this process, as well as the joint Berlin Declaration of 2 July, will contribute to de-escalation and a peaceful solution to the crisis. Diplomatic efforts will only be successful if all players show genuine commitment to the process. The European Union welcomes the trilateral efforts of Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE that would lead to de-escalation and a peaceful solution, including an agreement on cease-fire, release of all hostages, border security and effective monitoring of border crossings by the OSCE.
Unfortunately, we are not there yet, and tomorrow in Brussels, the Heads of State and Government will again assess the situation on the ground against the conditions put forward by the last European Council and, should it be required, adopt necessary decisions.
In parallel, the European Union supports Ukraine where it can. In March, the European Commission proposed a support package of over €11 billion for the next couple of years. The Commission has also decided to create a Support Group to ensure that the Ukrainian authorities have all the assistance they need to implement reforms.
Last week, a High Level Meeting with international donors was held in Brussels to discuss the key support priorities for Ukraine, focusing on reform agenda, but also including reconstruction and economic rehabilitation of the Eastern Ukraine. It is important that we all understand that for Ukraine, it is not “either or”. It faces two challenges and needs to address both at the same time: security challenges in the East and the reform process leading to so much needed modernisation of the country.
The European Union also actively supports the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission and stands ready to further assist the organisation in supporting a cease-fire and border monitoring. At the end of this month, we are also planning to launch a Common Security and Defence Policy-mission to assist Ukraine in the important areas of civilian security sector reform, police and the rule of law.
The 27th of June was a historic day for Ukraine and for the European Union. After years of negotiations and hard work, the remaining provisions of the Association Agreement with its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area were signed. This achievement is a powerful symbol of the Ukrainian people's aspiration to getting closer to the European Union and of the European Union's commitment towards Ukraine. The Agreement will help to drive reforms and boost growth by offering Ukraine access to the world's largest market. We now look forward to swift ratification and subsequent provisional application so that Ukrainian citizens and businesses can benefit as soon as possible from the new opportunities that the Agreement opens.
Needless to stress in this House – again -, the agreement is not meant to replace - or intrude in – Ukraine's relations with any neighbour: Ukraine can perfectly well have free trade agreements with Russia and the European Union at the same time.
The European Union has engaged with Russia in order to dispel any possible misunderstandings in this regard. Last Friday, trilateral talks were held by Commissioner De Gucht with Ukraine and Russia at ministerial level on the effects on Russia's economy of the implementation of the AA/DCFTA. An agreement was reached to launch a consultation mechanism with focus on regulations and standards procedures arising from the implementation of the Agreement. The purpose is to reduce unnecessary tensions by filtering out misunderstandings and by focusing discussions on possible solutions for any remaining concrete issues. Experts will produce a preliminary report no later than September 1 and a new ministerial meeting will take place in September. Russia's threats to take unilateral "preventive" safeguard measures are unacceptable and legally unfounded. We now hope that Russia will refrain from taking any such unprovoked restrictive measures.
Finally, let me reiterate that the Association Agreement does not constitute the final goal of European Union-Ukraine cooperation. On the contrary, it provides new opportunities and is an important step in the European Union's commitment to support Ukraine along the road of transforming its country into a stable and prosperous European democracy.
Thank you for your attention.