Delivered in Plenary - 25th April 2007
I was privileged to observe the 2006 Ukrainian Parliamentary election, which was held in exemplary fashion. Regrettably, the outcome then produced neither a stable government nor a climate of financial probity amongst many of the Verkhovna Rada MPs, who had little interest in politics and really only a vested interest to protect their business interests or avoid prosecution by acquiring parliamentary immunity. I was therefore not surprised to hear the allegations that MPs were being bribed large sums to cross the floor in an attempt by the governing coalition to achieve the magical 300 seats, or constitutional majority, required to finally strip President Yushchenko of his remaining powers.
I personally have always championed Ukraine’s intrinsic right under Article 49 of the Treaty to apply for EU membership. That is still some way off, given enlargement fatigue and the fear by some Member States of offending Russia. Nevertheless, I believe the Council missed a trick in not granting Ukraine, in the heady days of the Orange Revolution, the same status as western Balkan countries like Albania of being called a potential candidate for eventual EU accession. This would have been a great carrot to Westernising democratic reformist forces. It is very regretful that this did not happen.
I believe Ukraine will come through this most recent constitutional crisis without violence and fully respect European norms of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. I strongly condemn the alleged attempts to intimidate the Constitutional Court judges in their legal deliberations over the legitimacy of President Yushchenko’s dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada. In the meantime, I welcome EU plans for a free-trade and visa-facilitated travel area after Ukraine joins the WTO. Ideally, in 2008 the expiring PCA should be replaced by an association agreement. Either way, Ukrainians must be brought closer to the European Union, where they rightfully belong. It is clear to me that the enduring legacy of the Orange Revolution, namely a free press and democratic elections, remains intact.