FCO Global Conversations.  One of the many good things about being British Ambassador to Ukraine is that I get a lot of opportunities to spread the message that Britain welcomes the prospect of Ukraine joining the European Union, when it has met the required criteria.

But quite often in recent weeks I’ve been asked whether this actually means very much.  The reasoning behind such questions seems to rest on three propositions: 

i) Britain wants to leave the EU;

ii) Britain thinks the EU isn’t useful or effective; …and so … 

iii) Britain’s support for Ukraine joining the EU isn’t meaningful.

I’ve heard all three of these propositions more frequently since Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on January 23.

All three of them are wrong. And that same speech underlines why they are wrong.

As David Cameron reaffirmed when he spoke at Davos later in the same week – the speech was NOT about Britain turning its back on the EU.  It was about ensuring that the EU is even stronger and better in the future. 

In its 60 year history, the EU has been indispensable in turning what was a theatre of conflict into a region of peace and stability and prosperity.   Saluting the past achievements of the EU is important.   But it’s not enough.  The EU needs to be able to sustain that capacity – and more – in the future.  And as the PM said, it won’t successfully face the global challenges of the 21st century by doing more of the same. 

The EU’s structures need to be flexible, to reflect the diversity of the Union’s member states.  And we need to continue to develop the Single Market.  That means sustaining a framework of rules sufficient to enable fairness, transparency, and opportunity, but avoiding the excessive regulation that stifles enterprise.           

It’s this diverse, flexible, competitive EU that Britain wants to see in the future.  The kind of EU we’re convinced other European countries will actually want to join when the time comes.   

This week the British Foreign Secretary has been in Moldova, together with his Polish and Swedish colleagues.  As William Hague says in an article published following this visit the enlargement of the EU is one of its greatest achievements.  It has stimulated change in the countries that have acceded to the Union over the years, helping to deepen and consolidate the practices and institutions that underpin lasting security and prosperity: the foundations on which stable and successful countries rest.  

Like Ukraine, Moldova aspires to a closer relationship with the EU through an Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.  And when we in Britain talk about a closer relationship with the EU, we tend to mean a relationship that goes the whole distance.  As William Hague reminds us in his article, we believe “that any European nation that meets the eligibility criteria must be welcome to join the EU”. 

Moldova has made good progress, but as in Ukraine, more needs to be done to implement and entrench institutional change. The “What is to be done?” question will be central to discussion next week, when President Yanukovych travels to Brussels for the EU-Ukraine summit. 

Not all “What is to be done?” questions have clear answers.  Happily, in the case of the EU/Ukraine partnership, the answers are very clearly set out in the EU/Ukraine Association Agenda.  This is a comprehensive menu of action.  It includes reform in crucial areas such as the judicial system and action against corruption.  It’s an agenda whose purposeful implementation will enable Ukraine to make substantial steps along the path to becoming, in time, a successful and influential member of the EU. 

The recent Action Plan of Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers is a welcome signal of intent to deliver on this agenda.  But implementation is the key.   As the Foreign Ministers of the European Union made clear in the conclusions to their meeting on 10 December, the time for “determined action and tangible progress”– including on their concerns about the selective application of justice – is now.

Tags: Ukraine-EU summit

Simon Smith
UK Ambassador to Ukraine

Ukrayinska Dumka


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