BRUSSELS – The European Union’s 28 member states have formally endorsed the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, the final step in the ratification process after years of political twists and turns.
The deal, which strengthens ties between the EU and Kyiv, will enter into force on September 1.
The landmark agreement was initially slated for signing in November 2013. But the Ukrainian president at the time, Viktor Yanukovych, walked away from it under pressure from Moscow, prompting massive protests that pushed him from power in February 2014.
Russia responded by annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region and providing military and economic support to separatists in a war against Kyiv that has killed more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine.
Current Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed the EU agreement in June 2014, but it remained unratified after 61 percent of Dutch voters opposed it in a citizen-driven, nonbinding referendum in April 2016.
The Dutch government eased voters’ concerns in December the same year by negotiating a legally binding supplement to the Association Agreement with the other 27 EU member states to underscore that it will not give Kyiv the right to automatic EU membership or guarantee any EU military aid for Ukraine.
The Netherlands ratified the Association Agreement in June after both its lower house and Senate voted in favor of it earlier this year.
The handover of a letter announcing the completion of the ratification process will happen at an EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv on July 12-13.
Speaking ahead of the summit, Mr. Poroshenko noted that “a qualitatively new stage of our journey to the European Union will start on September 1, 2017.”
He added that Ukraine will coordinate with EU leaders on “how to ensure the most efficient and rapid achievement of the agreement’s objective.”
Many parts of the Association Agreement have been provisionally applied since 2014, but the adoption of the agreement will ensure closer cooperation between the EU and Ukraine in areas such as foreign policy, justice, education, science and technology.
The economic part of the agreement, called the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), is also intended to open up the EU market to Ukrainian goods and will align the Ukrainian economy with EU standards by harmonizing laws and regulations.
Russia has indicated that it objects to the EU-Ukraine trade pact. Minutes of a June 29 meeting of the World Trade Association’s Committee on Regional Trade Agreements that were published on July 11 record Russia’s representative as saying the EU-Ukraine DCFTA was “an exemplary case of a situation where a free trade area worsened trade conditions for other trading partners.”
WTO rules stipulate that free trade areas should boost trade between the signatories while at the same time preventing the erection of new trade barriers for other countries.
The Russian WTO representative said that Russia’s share of Ukrainian imports had fallen significantly since Ukraine began implementing its Association Agreement with the EU, while the EU’s share had grown.
Since becoming a WTO member in 2012, Russia has launched six trade disputes – all against the EU or Ukraine.
With reporting by RFE/RL Correspondent Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels and Reuters.
Copyright 2017, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036; www.rferl.org (see https://www.rferl.org/a/eu-ukraine-association-agreement-formally-approved/ 28610083.html).