UWC President promotes Ukraine’s Euro-integration during Belgium visit
The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement is of great strategic importance to Europe, Ukraine and the Ukrainian diaspora, whose interests are represented by the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC). Its signing will undoubtedly provide a strong stimulus to democracy and social progress in Ukraine. Alternatively, Ukraine will drift further into the Russian sphere of influence, significantly undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty, cause further deterioration of its human rights record and pose the threat of a new Soviet Union.
This was the strong message delivered by UWC President Eugene Czolij to high-ranking European Union (EU) officials during a five-day working visit to Brussels, Belgium from 25 February – 1 March 2013. The visit, which coincided with the 16th EU-Ukraine Summit on 25 February, included meetings with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), including Vice Presidents of the European Parliament (EP) Rainer Wieland and Miguel Martinez, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Elmar Brok, former President of the EP Jerzy Buzek, President of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Hannes Swoboda, Co-Chair of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance Rebecca Harms and Vice-Chair of the EP Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee Vilija Blinkeviciute.
Members of the European Parliament reaffirm commitment to Ukraine
The 16th EU-Ukraine Summit concluded with a joint statement that clearly set out the critical path for the EU and Ukraine to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement later this year at the Third Summit of the Eastern Partnership in Vilnius, Lithuania. The EU demonstrated its commitment to signing the document with concrete actions. The onus is now on Ukraine’s governing authorities to similarly demonstrate their commitment by taking concrete steps in addressing the issues prioritized by the EU. This includes necessary reforms of the legal and judicial systems, adherence to the principles of democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the elimination of selective justice. Ukraine’s governing authorities must demonstrate movement on these issues no later than May 2013.
German MEP Elmar Brok, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, stated that “the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement would only be signed if Ukraine’s authorities comply with such questions as selective justice (including against leaders of the opposition), judicial reform and electoral law set out by the EU.”
Over the course of five days, the UWC President met with 18 MEPs from Austria, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia and Spain, who expressed support for Ukraine’s European aspirations, but emphasized the importance of Ukraine’s authorities showing their will to move ahead with reforms.
Eugene Czolij stressed that the decision to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement should be made, not on the basis of the actions of Ukraine’s current governing authorities, but rather, according to the long‑term best interests of Europe, Ukraine and regional security, stability and prosperity.
Estonian MEP Kristiina Ojuland, Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, concurred with the UWC position that the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement should be evaluated on the basis of its long-term strategic importance.
Eugene Czolij emphasized the need to engage civil society in the advancement of Euro-integration goals. This concept was supported by Austrian MEP Hannes Swoboda, President of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. He expressed the readiness to involve the views of the UWC in future debates on the European level.
Also very supportive of this issue was German MEP Rebecca Harms, Co-Chair of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance and Member of the EP Delegation to the EU‑Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee. She confirmed that, “engaging civil society is critical to furthering the process of Euro‑integration.”
Lithuanian MEPs Vilija Blinkeviciute, Vice-Chair of the EP Delegation to the EU‑Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, Algirdas Saudargas and Justas Paleckis assured the UWC President that, during Lithuania’s presidency of the EU, Lithuania will work toward the goal of signing the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement in Vilnius in November 2013.
They also agreed that civil society has an important role to play in furthering Ukraine’s European aspirations. As a result, on the request of UWC President Eugene Czolij, they indicated that they would look into ways of involving Ukrainian NGOs in the Third Summit of the Eastern Partnership scheduled for 28-29 November 2013.
Another priority issue was visa liberalisation. The UWC has repeatedly called for the EU to adopt a visa‑free regime for the citizens of Ukraine in order to foster travel by Ukrainians to Europe, enhance ties between Europe and the Ukrainian people, and promote Ukraine’s Euro-integration.
In meeting with the UWC President, German MEP Michael Gahler of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) expressed his support for easing visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens travelling to EU countries. He confirmed, “I believe that visa liberalisation for Ukrainian citizens will broaden the knowledge of what Europe is all about and what Ukraine’s future should preferably be.”
Belgian officials acknowledge Ukraine’s European aspirations
Eugene Czolij met with the President of the Senate of Belgium, Sabine de Bethune, the Chair of the Belgium‑Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group, Senator Rik Daems, and Member of Parliament and Member of the Belgium-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group Georges Dallemagne. The parties discussed the recent EU-Ukraine Summit and the will of both the EU and Ukraine to remain engaged on the basis of respect for common values. The Belgian officials recognized the importance of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and acknowledged their support of Ukraine’s Euro-integration process
Ukraine’s governing authorities must act immediately
Eugene Czolij also met with the Head of Ukraine’s Mission to the EU, Ambassador Kostiantyn Yelisieiev. The UWC President focused on the importance of Ukraine’s authorities demonstrating their commitment to European values with concrete actions and called upon them to end the selective application of justice. He also emphasized that failure to act immediately will compromise the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and that Ukraine’s governing authorities will have to answer for this to the Ukrainian people.
UWC President meets with local community
UWC President met the local Ukrainian community on 1 March 2013 at the centre of the Association of Ukrainians in Belgium. Eugene Czolij spoke about the activities of the UWC, with particular emphasis on the current campaign in support of Ukraine’s Euro-integration. He also highlighted the need for continued cooperation with the UWC and familiarized himself with Ukrainian community life. The meetings with Belgian officials and the community were organized by the President of the Association of Ukrainians in Belgium, Vitali Vengrynovych.