Časopis pro politiku a mezinárodní vztahy

Global Politics

Časopis pro politiku a mezinárodní vztahy

EU – Ukraine relations since the Orange revolution

The Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 was one of the most significant „colour revolutions“ which has taken place in the Post-Soviet space so far. The end of undemocratic rule, represtented by the previous ten years rule of Leonid Kuchma, came with the new President, Victor Yuschenko. However, in terms of the EU- Ukraine relations, the progress has not been as quick as had been expected. The article presents an overview of the development of the mutual relations between Ukraine and EU since 2004 till these days.


Although Ukraine is included into Eastern Partnership, its potential future integration into European Union is still up in the air due to many factors which I will deal with in this paper more thoroughly. Orange revolution in 2004 used to be considered as a turning point for Ukraine, nevertheless, the very recent situation in Ukraine does not correspond with this statement very much. In spite of that I will focus on the development of EU-Ukraine relations after this revolutionary event, because the eventual accession of Ukraine in the EU had been out of question until then in my opinion.

First of all, I will try to depict the situation in Ukraine right after Orange revolution and what implications it had. Afterwards, I will put emphasis on the mutual relations and crucial points and events in this regard since 2004 till these days. Last but not least, I will make an attempt to evaluate the progress Ukraine has made since the revolutionary events in 2004. Besides, I will describe the current situation of Ukraine in terms of EU conditionality and point out the biggest setbacks for Ukraine as far as EU accession is concerned. All in all, in this paper I accentuate the analysis of the mutual relations between EU and Ukraine with detailed attention to most recent events and their impact in this context.

The influence of Orange revolution on EU-Ukraine relations

Leonid Kuchma, the leading figure of the initial years of Ukrainian independence as its president between years 1994 and 2004, often voiced his clear-cut foreign policy goal – to integrate Ukraine into the EU structures. Nevertheless, his domestic policy and way of governance were in stark contrast with his words and speeches. His undemocratic rule, full of corruption scandals and affairs, suppression of the basic human rights and dubious methods were not by far in accordance with the requirements for the EU accession. Obviously, these unfavourable internal Ukrainian circumstances did not escape the attention of the EU, which then picked quite cold and distant approach towards Ukraine.

The presidential election in October 2004 was seen as a very important event not only within Ukraine, but by the whole EU as well. Viktor Yanukovych represented a continuation of Kuchma undemocratic rule, but his opponent, Viktor Yuschenko, was regarded as pro-EU politician, who would radically deviate from the politics of his predecessor. Therefore, the EU put not negligible effort into legitimate course of this election and contributed significantly to repetition of the gerrymandered second round. The role of Polish and Lithuanian presidents Alexsander Kwasniewski and Valdas Adamkus in this aspect was quite important, because they supported Ukrainian accession and initiated negotiations with the leaders of Ukraine (Wolczuk 2005: 15).

These negotiations led to establishment of Yuschenko as a new president and Yulia Tymoschenko, who was very active during the revolution as well, became the Prime Minister of Ukraine. On one hand, the people of Ukraine were really excited about the EU accession, because they thought that Leonid Kuchma was the only obstacle in this path, but on the other hand, the opinion of the EU towards eventual accession of Ukraine was not united. More than ten EU countries were in favour of building wider cooperation and commitments with Ukraine, however, predominantly two strongest countries, France and Germany, were very skeptical in this aspect, because they were afraid of noticeable deterioration of relations with Russia, which would have disastrous impact mainly on Germany as a very close political and economical partner of Russia (Wolczuk 2005: 15). Consequently, EU-Ukraine Action plan was signed in February 2005. It contained a further strengthening of their mutual cooperation and the EU support of Ukraine in its effort to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), which was a necessary precondition for creation of free trade area between the EU and Ukraine. The so longed-for promise of the future membership was missing though, which was considered to be a great disappointment for Ukraine and its population (Duleba 2005: 11).

Granting the statute of market economy in the same year from the side of the EU could have served Ukraine as a partial solace after previous let-down. This step was very helpful in terms of the further rapprochement between the EU and Ukraine, because it facilitated the mutual trade to a great extent and increased the likelihood of meeting the Copenhagen economic criterion – a stable market economy.

This promising progress suffered a hard blow from the inside of Ukraine. There were internal disputes between Yuschenkoʼs party Our Ukraine and Yulia Tymoschenko from Yulia Tymoschenkoʼs bloc, because members of Our Ukraine were against the prime minister coming from other party than theirs, which resulted in the fall of the government and subsequent preliminary parliamentary elections in 2006. Party of Regions, the party of Yanukovych, won in this election with 32%, which was a consequence of dissatisfaction of population with the remaining vestiges of the Kuchma regime (corruption, nepotism). Yuschenko as a President and Yanukovych as a Prime Ministermeant two personalities with contrasting political views, which could not have been a long-standing situation and it was doomed to failure from the very beginning. Therefore, another preliminary parliamentary election in 2007 was the outcome (Wolczuk 2006).

This turbulent period, fraught with frequent changes, ceaseless disagreements and quarrels could not have been overlooked by the EU, which understandably expressed some doubts and concerns as far as the stability of the regime in Ukraine was concerned, which did not help to improve the image of Ukraine and its position in the following negotiations.

EU- Ukraine Association Agreement

The year 2008 was a crucial year for the ensuing unfolding of the EU-Ukraine relations owing to the fact that it was the year when the previous agreement between the EU and Ukraine PCA (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement) together with the above mentioned EU Ukraine Action plan expired (Wolczuk 2005: 73).

It meant drafting of a new treaty, which would deepen the mutual relations and frame them in some structured and comprehensible way. The both sides were well aware of the far-reaching importance and consequences of this treaty and the effort and energy they put into it have been adequate, which is proven by the fact that the negotiations about the new treaty started already in March 2007 (EEAS 2013).

A very positive signal came in February 2008 when Ukraine was accepted to WTO on the basis of improved economic situation and results of implementation of the necessary reforms, which – as I had mentioned above – was an indispensable assumption for establishing of the free trade area between Ukraine and the EU (Hatton 2010: 17). The foundations of this essential treaty, which should strengthen the political cooperation and economic integration between the EU and Ukraine through reciprocal commitments and duties, were laid in September 2008 on the summit of EU – Ukraine in Paris. Proposed building of the free trade area should contribute to gradual integration of Ukraine into the internal EU market.

In February 2008, following confirmation of Ukraine’s WTO membership, the EU and Ukraine launched negotiations on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) as a core element of the Association Agreement. The DCFTA linked to the broader process of legislative approximation will contribute to further economic integration with the European Union’s internal market. This includes the elimination of almost all tariffs and barriers in the area of trade in goods, the provision of services, and the flow of investments (especially in the energy sector). Once Ukraine has taken over the relevant EU acquis, the EU will grant market access for example in the area such as public procurement or industrial goods. The DCFTA will provide for a conducive new climate for economic relations between the EU and Ukraine (EEAS 2013).

Furthermore, the significance of Ukraine for the EU as a transit country from Russia mostly in terms of oil and natural gas is high. The high dependence of the EU countries on Russian natural resources was visible during the Russian-Ukraine gas disputes in 2006 and the beginning of 2009. As a consequence, the EU stressed the essentiality of integration of Ukraine into the unified framework of EU. Before the first gas dispute in 2005, the Memorandum of Understanding of Energy was signed which focused on the safety of energy deliveries. However, since 2008, the cooperation in the field of efficiency of energy and renewable resources is included into this treaty. The peak in this aspect came in October 2009 when Ukraine joined the Energy Community Treaty (EnCT), which created integrated market with electricity between the European Community and contractual parties. Signing of this treaty meant another substantial advance in the mutual relations of the EU and Ukraine (Ukrainian Energy 2013: 5).

However, in spite of extensive Ukrainian effort, the country became together with Belarus, Moldavia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia a mere member of the Eastern Partnership in 2009 (Korduban 2013), which should have been seen as some kind of substitution for the full-fledged membership. However, in reality it served only as a way to delay the accession and offer certain benefits in return for patience with accession process. This relatively unfruitful result of Ukrainian effort met with disillusionment and general discontent throughout the whole Ukraine.

Yanukovych back at the helm

The fact that Yanukovych regained the position of the Ukrainian President in the presidential election in 2010 was taken as a serious threat and setback for the promising outlook of Ukraine as well for the EU accession. Nevertheless, development of the EU-Ukraine relations right after this presidential elections refuted these concerns, and gave the reason to be optimistic.

The first foreign journey of the new president was to see van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton in Brussels. Yanukovych even stated that there is no urgency as far as the Ukrainian accession of NATO in the foreseeable future, but expressed his strong support for the EU accession and creation of the free trade zone with the EU instead. These declarations were welcomed by the EU which reacted by granting the comprehensive Visa Liberalization Action Plan (VLAP) to Ukraine in November 2010 containing exhaustive list of criteria and benchmarks to be achieved for ultimate abolition of the visa regime by the EU. On 22 April 2011 Yanukovych approved National Plan on Implementation of the EU-Ukraine Action Plan on visa liberalization. The National Plan is, in nutshell, a road map for complex reforms in migration, visa and some other policies of Ukraine with an aim of creating favorable conditions for visa waiver for short-term travels of the Ukrainian nationals to the EU member-states (WNU 2013). This encouraging progress was even underlined at the 15th Ukraine-EU summit in December 2011, because the common understanding of the Association Agreement was reached. The initialing of this Association Agreement took place in March 2012 (Sushko 2012: 9) and has drawn Ukraine nearer to the EU accession than ever before.

It is expected that this Association Agreement will be eventually signed till the end of this year. Following this, all 27 national parliaments of the member countries and the European parliament will have to ratify. And there could be a huge catch because of imprisonment of Yulia Tymoschenko and the recent parliamentary election. Tymoschenkoʼs sentencing, accusing her of abuse of power concerning the gas contracts with Russia and undignified treatment aroused protests not only within Ukraine, but on the international level as well. Moreover, some member states even boycotted sending their representatives for such an important social event like the European football championship in 2012 was. The latest parliamentary election which was probably once again gerrymandered in favour of Yanukovychʼs Party of Regions undermined the reputation of Ukraine as a democratic state and can have tremendous negative influence on the further development of EU-Ukraine relations. Therefore, I think that the repetition of this election is in Ukraine’s vital interest if the representatives of this country are serious about the EU accession.

Conditionality: an insurmountable obstacle for Ukraine?

It goes without saying that since 2004 Ukraine has made a progress towards the EU and the whole Western world, nevertheless, this advance is by far not as huge as it had been expected. The most important accomplishments of Ukraine within this eight-year period are the WTO accession and significant progress in visa liberalization process with the EU. However, the protracted four-year negotiations of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, which is still not signed, is everything but success. So what is the current situation of Ukraine in terms of the Copenhagen criteria?

To join the EU, a new Member State must meet three Copenhagen criteria and one Madrid criterion:

  • political: stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
  • economic: existence of a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union;
  • acceptance of the Community acquis: ability to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.
  • Sufficient administrative and judicial structures: for implementation of all the commitments resulting from the membership.

Let us start with the easiest or the least difficult part of the conditions for Ukraine’s accep­tance of the Community acquis. Ukrainian republic is divided into 24 provinces and has had a valid constitution since 1996. The most important organs in the judicial sphere are the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court which is in full accordance with the requirements of the EU. Although there has been often critical remarks on unsystematic functioning of the judiciary system, as also the EU recognized, Ukraine has done a lot in this regard lately. The EU is praising Ukraine for coming into force of the new Criminal Procedure Code, the establishment of the National Preventive Mechanism against torture. There are still some gaps like complete reform of the police, but the EU and Ukraine with cooperation of the Council of Europe are just about to start a dialogue on the judicial sphere (EU 2013: 2), which is a very positive signal. The economic requirements are undoubtedly more problematic. First and foremost, Ukrainian’s in­flation rate in 2011 was around 8%, which makes Ukraine ranked as 166th in the world and that is a horrible result. In 2009, 35% of Ukrainian population lived under the poverty line, which is highest in Europe (Index Mundi 2012). As far as the GDP on a power purchasing parity is concerned, Ukraine is not doing much better. Its 134th place means that only Moldova is worse within Europe in this indicator (CIA 2013). Ukraine̕ s total account balance in 2011 was approximately –10 250 000 000 dollars, which meant 178th place in the world. (CIA 2013).

In spite of the fact that these statistics are far from flattering and do not put a lot of trust in the economy of Ukraine and its functioning in the long run, there are some indications to be more optimistic. First of all, some data could be put down to the global financial crisis to a certain degree. Nowadays, every single country has to deal with problems like inflation, indebtedness and deficit. Moreover, some really important benchmarks are not so horrendous. For example, in unemployment, Ukraine had quite low results in the previous year (7,9%), which was less than countries like France or Italy.(CIA 2013) Furthermore, Ukrainian GDP growth rate in 2011 was 5,2%, which was actually one of the highest in Europe and this year it is expected to be another 1–2%.

Nevertheless, meeting the political requirements has been the biggest challenge for Ukraine from the very beginning and today it is of greatest importance since the Kuchma reign. During the long Kuchma regime, there were serious shortcomings in this field: undemocratic rule full of bribery, scandals and affairs, suppression of the basic human rights and dubious methods were innumerably reproached by the EU. The major step forward had been expected after the Orange revolution. However, certain degree of nepotism and other vestiges of the Kuchma regime remained and to lesser extent they are still visible in Ukraine. Moreover, as had been described above, there were quite strained relations within the Orange coalition, which resulted in the fact that Janukovych was the Prime Minister after 2006 parliamentary elections, which was seen as a step backward within the EU structures and eventual Ukrainian further rapprochement. Subsequent preliminary parliamentary elections in 2007 cast only more doubts on Ukraine as a country with stable government and institutions.

The very recent Tymoschenko case is an illustrative example of remaining traces of Kuchma regime and oppression of the fundamental human rights as well. In 2009 Yulia Tymoschenko as a Prime Minister saddled Ukraine with an unfairly high price for Russian gas and obliged Ukraine to import volumes that exceed its requirements. The price of gas to Ukraine exceeds the price that Gazprom provides to a number of European countries. Additionally, the contract contains a guaranteed amount of gas that Ukraine must accept no matter what the actual demand isa. The combined impact of the price and agreed amount of gas has had a declining impact on the economy of Ukraine. This meant a dramatic drain on the budget as the government had to subsidize significant losses in Naftogaz and pricing to the public to avoid burdensome market prices due to the Gazprom contract (The Tymoshenko Case 2013).

In October 2011 Tymoschenko was found guilty of abuse of power and was sentenced to jail for seven years. Since that time Tymoschenko has appealed many times and went on two hunger strikes, but so far without success. But the EU representatives are rather on Tymoschenko’s side and they do not understand the sentence. They also argue that treatment of Tymoschenko is inhuman and denies the basic fundamental rights. It seems that this case is putting Ukraine and its eventual EU prospects off the track for a very long time. The parliamentary election which took place in October 2012 only added insult to the injury in this regard. According to results known so far, Janukovych supporters of the Party of Regions would win with 30%. However, there are justified accusations that the election was gerrymandered, not legitimate and full of fraud. In addition to that, the election will be repeated in five single- mandateconsti­tuencies (Salon 2013), although there is no given date for that so far. Such an expecting event like this election obviously deserved a lot of public attention all around the world, the EU was no exception. In its Joint Statement released on 12th December on the situation in Ukraine the EU expressed that the compliance of the 2012 parliamentary elections with international standards and subsequent actions to fix any defects is one of the fields where the EU is expecting progress from Ukraine. In this document is stated: „As regards the recent parliamentary elections – the European Union notes with concern that they presented a mixed picture and a deterioration in several areas compared to standards previously achieved. Looking forward to the final report by the OSCE-ODIHR, it is essential that Ukraine takes early action to fully implement its recommendations and to address the shortcomings. The European Union has taken good note of the public commitments made by the Prime Minister of Ukraine in the aftermath of the elections. While these commitments were encouraging, we now look forward to seeing real and concrete steps to bring them to fruition. We have already indicated that for us the top priorities are a reliable electoral system based on an Electoral Code and clear rules on balanced media access for electoral competitors. We will also follow closely how the inconclusive results in the five single mandate electoral constituencies will be addressed (EU 2012: 2).“ If Ukraine is really serious about its EU accession it should take all the necessary measures. The Association Agreement which has been negotiated for four years is still only initialized and it is up in the air when and if the EU signs it, but the recent turn of events has not been speaking in favour of Ukraine.


It has been 21 years since Ukraine acquired independence and its position towards the European Union is probably the best so far. Until 2004 the question of potential EU accession was only a pious wish owing to undemocratic, corrupted and nontransparent rule of Leonid Kuchma.

The fundamental change in 2004, which occurred also thanks to the EU to certain degree, meant a significant change for the approach of the EU towards Ukraine. It is also proven by the fact that the negotiations of the new agreement, which frame the mutual relations, lasted four years, because both sides were well aware of importance of the precise text of this treaty.

The Association Agreement means a huge turning point and a necessary precondition for the further progress and Ukraine should not miss an opportunity like that, which could easily happen if the undemocratic election remainsvalid or there is no improvement of state of affairs in the Tymoschenko case.


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Author is a master level student of european studies on Faculty of Social Sciences at Masaryk University in Brno. He is currently based in Budapest, where he studies as an exchange student on Central European University and works as an intern in Cold War History Research Center.

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Tomas Kolar
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4. 5. 2013