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What has to happen in order for Ukraine to start benefiting from the Association Agreement with the EU, and the associated Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), conclusion of negotiations on which were announced at the EU/Ukraine Summit on 19 December?

It is important to understand that the Association Agreement and the DCFTA will not take effect until several further steps have happened.  Until then, these agreements cannot give Ukraine the foundations for long-term reform and economic growth for which they are designed.  Some of the steps are technical; others are political.  To take them in turn:

(i) initialling the agreement.  This is a technical process which does not require a political decision.  Together with lawyers, translators and other experts going through the agreed texts to make sure that there is no scope for uncertainty or difference about what has been agreed, this process is likely to take a number of months.

(ii) The next stage is signing.  Before this can happen, a political decision of the European Council, representing the EU member states, is required.  Because the Council decision would be on signature of the whole package (ie the Association Agreement including the DCFTA), it would be what is known in EU jargon as a “mixed agreement”.  This means that the Council decision would need to be taken by unanimity: every single member state would have to agree.

(iii) Once the Association Agreement has been signed, it will need to be ratified by 30 Parliaments: those of the current 27 member states; Ukraine; the European Parliament; and soon-to-be-member state Croatia.

The technical detail of how signature and ratification work is important because the EU and member states have expressed concern that the recent trials of opposition leaders inUkraine appear to be politically motivated and selective.  They have said explicitly, including during the EU-Ukraine Summit on 19 December, that unless opposition leaders jailed as the result of flawed trials are freed and permitted to participate in politics, it is unlikely that the Association Agreement will be signed or ratified – ie stages (ii) and (iii) above.

The mechanisms for signature and ratification mean that all the governments of the member states need to be satisfied before the Association Agreement can be signed; and all the parliaments of the member states, plus Croatia and the European Parliament, need to be satisfied before it can be ratified.  It therefore seems unlikely that either of these stages will happen while opposition leaders remain in prison and unable to participate in politics on the basis of flawed trials.

Thus, these important agreements, potentially the most powerful tool to help bring about Ukraine’s European integration, will not begin to work.

PS: I have seen suggestions in some quarters that even if it is not possible to sign or ratify the Association Agreement and DCFTA, some elements of the Agreement could be put into force provisionally.  In practice, this, too, looks unlikely.  I will blog about this shortly.

Leigh Turner


Ukrayinska Dumka


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