Kyiv-style commission: what was agreed upon and what was heard by the government of Ukraine during the visit of 16 European commissioners.
On February 2, on the eve of the Ukraine-EU summit, an equally large-scale event took place in Kyiv - a joint meeting of the government of Ukraine and the European Commission. 16 members of the European Commission (that is, the majority of its members!), including President Ursula von der Leyen, came to the capital of the war-torn country.
There has never been such an example in the history of the EU. And in general, joint trips of the European Commission's collegium abroad are not just rare, but an absolutely exceptional event.
So why did the European commissioners come to Kyiv? what was the purpose of the visit?
In this text - about the most important signals addressed to the Ukrainian authorities, as well as about agreements that currently remain non-public.
Ukraine will be a member of the EU. But when?
Meetings at the highest level are often evaluated by the agreements reached, although this approach is not always correct. After all, it is very rare that any breakthrough agreement is reached by the leaders of states and governments - much more often everything is already agreed at the beginning of their meeting, and top politicians only "consecrate" the agreement reached without them.
With the European Commission's visit to Kyiv, everything was even more complicated: it took place right before the Ukraine-EU summit, so the main political agreements had to be announced there, at the presidential level.
But in addition to bilateral decisions, there are also unilateral ones, which the European Commission did not want to postpone even for a day.
The government meeting, in which EC President Ursula von der Leyen was single-handedly the main representative of the EU, not sharing the laurels with the President of the European Council Charles Michel, was the best way to publicize them (yes, there is "inter-ministerial competition" in Brussels too, and it is important!)
Even earlier this week, at a closed briefing in Brussels, journalists were warned: the events of this week are primarily intended to send a signal that Ukraine's accession to the EU is inevitable.
Indeed, in the speeches of Ursula von der Leyen in Kyiv, this thesis was given the main attention. We have translated one of them for you, which is the most emotional - see the publication "Ukraine will be a member of the EU. A year ago, no one imagined your speed."
"The future of Europe is being written in Ukraine. We want to write this future together with you," the head of the European Commission addressed the ministers.
However, despite truly ambitious statements, Brussels is not ready to talk about specifics, in particular, regarding the terms of the next stages in the process of moving to the EU. Currently, the European Commission does not promise to speed up even those steps that the EC could take on its own.
The main issue remains the situation with Kyiv's fulfillment of the seven "candidate criteria", which are a necessary condition for the start of negotiations for Ukraine's accession to the EU. Ursula von der Leyen answered the direct question of "European Truth" whether the European Commission is ready to provide Ukraine with a written document on what Kyiv should do to fulfill European requirements, stating that the report will only be "verbal" and only for the member states EU, and Ukraine will receive an assessment only in October.
It is interesting that the government, despite this, believes that they will still receive a spring evaluation from the European Union.
It is very likely that at the summit, with the participation of President Zelensky, Kyiv will raise this issue again, and only after that this decision (which can fundamentally affect the date of the start of negotiations between Ukraine and the EU!) will become final.
Trade that moves the country to the EU
But let's return to the intergovernmental agreements of Ukraine and the EU.
Publicly, in the statements of the officials at the joint meeting of the government and the European Commission, as well as at the press conference afterwards, the parties emphasized that the priority now is the movement towards the single market of Ukraine and the EU.
Under the conditions when Ukraine's accession to the EU cannot be predicted politically, and even Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal was forced to explain that his statement about Ukraine's readiness to quickly conclude negotiations on accession does not mean that he is confident in the European Union's equally swift actions, - economy and trade become an even greater priority.
In fact, trade has now become almost free after the European Union canceled all tariffs and zeroed out duty-free quotas in the summer of 2022 to support Ukrainian exporters. However, this unilateral EU decision remains temporary – it is currently confirmed until mid-2023.
But there is good news: Ursula von der Leyen announced in Kyiv that she will initiate the extension of this exceptional regime for at least another year. Several sources of EuroPravda in European circles assured that this decision will surely be adopted, despite the fact that calls are being heard in the EU from individual producers to limit imports from Ukraine. Also, free entry of Ukrainian cargo carriers to the EU will be extended for a year.
Moreover, the European Commission is now declaring that they are ready to move towards a single market with Ukraine.
This is a much deeper level of integration, for which the EU not only renounces tariff instruments, but also recognizes all inspections, certificates, etc., issued by Ukrainian authorities. And Ukraine, in return, should introduce European regulation, safety standards, etc. - both for goods and, probably, for services (access of Ukrainian companies to the services market in the EU is much smaller than access to the goods market).
And although after the joint government meeting, Brussels and Kyiv did not provide many details about what is planned to be achieved in the near future, "European Pravda" managed to find out the details. The editors have a document entitled "Priority action plan for the in-depth implementation of the free trade zone between Ukraine and the EU in 2023-2024".
Ukraine and the EU have drawn up similar plans before, but the current document has several fundamental innovations and shows that talks about a common market have a solid foundation.
In addition, this is the first bilateral document on the terms of trade (approved by both the government and the European Commission!), adopted under the new reality, when Ukraine and the EU actually already trade without tariffs, and Ukraine can prove that its presence does not destroy the EU market.
Based on this, Kyiv and Brussels agreed that some duties and quotas will not have to be returned even after the victory of Ukraine.
Kyiv and Brussels will decide on this jointly after analyzing the consequences of the current trade regime. And the fact that the duty-free regime will be extended for another year will make the permanent abolition of duties and quotas even more extensive - because during this time the EU market will "get used" to the presence of Ukrainian goods.
The second new direction of liberalization is the abolition of roaming charges between Ukraine and the EU.
Currently, the use of Ukrainian mobile numbers in the EU is also temporarily liberalized, but it is planned to make it permanent. It is interesting that the Ukrainian side is preparing to do this without changing the telecommunications legislation, only by changing the annex to the Association Agreement (international agreements have a higher priority over national legislation). It is planned to take steps for this in the coming months, until the end of March 2023
The third, truly breakthrough liberalization in bilateral trade concerns the export of Ukrainian meat products to the EU.
This is one of those areas that remains mostly closed even though the EU has removed tariffs for Ukraine. The fact is that in the trade of livestock products, the main limitation is the so-called "non-tariff barriers" related to certification, production requirements, etc. The government has set a goal of lifting these restrictions. However, in this point, the EU currently does not guarantee that the negotiations will be successful. However, the target categories of products that will be negotiated are pork and meat processing products from Ukrainian producers.
Another direction that will help the development of Ukrainian animal husbandry, for which the European market should open, is the issue of animal diseases. Ukraine proposes to agree on the mutual recognition of "regionalization" so that, let's say, an outbreak of swine disease in one region of Ukraine could not block exports at the level of the entire country, as has happened repeatedly so far.
And, finally, the European Union for the first time undertook to move towards certain dates for the adoption of the so-called "industrial visa-free" - a long-awaited regime that should cancel the need for additional certification for the safety of industrial goods.
For this, Ukraine must convince Brussels of the reliability of its national inspection system. And it looks like there is progress here. The government and the European Commission not only undertook to "start negotiations on the conclusion of the ACAA agreement as soon as possible", but also agreed on steps that would provide "an opportunity to negotiate and adopt an agreement on the ACAA in 2024, which both sides consider a priority task"
And if all these steps are implemented, the common market of Ukraine and the EU will really become much closer.
And the economy, in turn, should push political readiness for Ukraine's accession to the EU.