On 20 February 2015, the Central European Policy Institute (CEPI) and the Slovak Atlantic Commission (SAC) hosted a meeting with Mr. Štefan Füle, former European Commissioner for Enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy, on the occasion of his joining the Central European Strategy Council’s International Advisory Board.
Introducing a new series entitled #GLOBSEC Chat, the discussion took place one year after the EuroMaidan protests swept Kiev, which unleashed a cascade of events leading to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its instigation of violent conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The main objective for the discussion was to assess the state of affairs in Ukraine and the future of the EU’s Eastern Partnership ahead of the upcoming Riga summit in May.
Mr. Füle, who was directly involved with Ukraine as the EU’s chief envoy, outlined the actions of the EU in relation to the EuroMaidan and exposed the corridor diplomacy of the negotiations with both Ukraine and Russia. He discussed the events preceding the 2013 summit in Vilnius and have his personal accounts of the last-minute hesitance of president Yanukovych to sign the Association Agreement on behalf of Ukraine. A unique insider’s view of the negotiations allowed the former Commissioner to lay bare the shift in the Russian government’s approach towards the European integration of Ukraine and that of Moldova and Georgia. He dispelled many myths about the relationship between the EU’s regulatory framework, contained in the Association Agreements, with the membership in the Eurasian Customs Union.
Mr. Füle now considers the chances for European aspiration of Ukraine to be fully acknowledged by the European Union as long as there remains strong political will on the Ukrainian side to implement the Association Agreement – blue print for reforms. The EU should provide maximum support to this goal; it is in the EU’s interest that a rules-based order does not end at its borders. Turning to the 12-point plan concluded in Minsk, Mr Füle underlined that everything should be done for the agreement to hold and be implemented. However, recent developments around Debaltseve clearly point to the need for a “larger framework for addressing the interests and needs on both sides which are not duly accounted for” in Minsk II.
As regards the upcoming summit of the Eastern Partnership in Riga, Mr Füle expects the EU Foreign Ministers to “at least reiterate” their commitment to the European perspective of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, expressed in their June 2014 statement that the Association Agreements “are not the final stage of these countries’ cooperation with the EU”. Moreover, the former EU Commissioner recommends that the Riga summit open the door to concrete steps in the direction of creating common European economic zone between the EU (together with partners) and the Eurasian Economic Union (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia), conditioned in particular on the stabilisation of Ukraine and the application of WTO rules. This, he argues, would allow the EU to start setting the rules of the game with Russia and might provide a framework for a long-lasting solution. This should be accompanied by parallel efforts to address the European security within the OSCE.
Last but not least, Mr. Füle exhorted the United States to maintain a united front with the EU; the shared foundations make the foreign and security policies of the transatlantic partners compatible by default.