By Dean Carroll
The European Union remained willing to sign the association agreement with Ukraine whenever the country was ready, Herman Van Rompuy has claimed. Speaking in the aftermath of a two-day summit in Brussels, the European Council president insisted that the EU had not closed the door on closer links with Ukraine despite the country’s political leadership turning towards Russia.
“The most significant development for Europeans currently is the peaceful popular protest in Ukraine,” he said. “Today all of us reconfirmed our message of strong support. The citizens of Ukraine have shown again these last days how fully aware they are of the historic nature of Europe’s offer. And on behalf of the entire European Council, I can say that our offer – of political association and closer trade ties – is still on the table. We are willing to sign, as soon as the country is ready.
“To my mind, the future of Ukraine lies with Europe. One can try to slow it down, to block it but in the end no one can prevent it. Geography and history will always mean a special relationship with Russia – of course we acknowledge that. We have made it abundantly clear that the European Union’s agreements with partner countries in the region are not at Russia’s expense. On the contrary, it is also set to benefit from it.”
Attempting to appease Russian President Vladimir Putin and under-fire Ukraine leader Viktor Yanukovych while signalling his support for the pro-European protestors, Van Rompuy added: “At the end of the day, this is not about relations with either Brussels or Moscow. It is about the Ukrainians finding agreement among themselves, charting together a course for their own country. This must take place in peace and democratic dialogue, respecting fundamental rights.
“What we see is a yearning for a better future. This thirst for freedom will not disappear. And – perhaps most strikingly for us – this aspiration is expressed by men and women, young and old, waving flags; waving the European flag and its stars of hope without a hint of cynicism. I cannot resist to say: that should make us reflect in our countries.”
Meanwhile, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso claimed that the debate at the summit on Ukraine was “one of the most important” on the agenda. “The offer of an association agreement including a deep and comprehensive free trade area has always been precisely that; an offer, a proposition,” he said. “It was never an imposition. The EU remains committed to the signing of the agreement.
“Agreements entail commitments on both sides. Our partners need to be committed to reforms. And commitment to our common values should remain an essential condition for any agreement. The continuing protests and demonstrations in the country show clearly where the Ukrainian people stand. They want freedom, they want prosperity and they want stability. The current tensions in the country need to be resolved politically in dialogue with the opposition and the civil society, and civil liberties need to be fully respected.”
Dean Carroll is editor of Policy Review. Follow him on Twitter @poljourno