Strasbourg, 20 January 2016
President, Honourable Members,
I am grateful for this opportunity to take stock of where we are more than one year since this House approved the Association Agreements with Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, followed shortly after also by the provisional application of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with Ukraine.
For Ukraine the DCFTA can bring significant economic benefits. Ukrainian businesses will now receive stable and predictable preferential access to the largest market in the world with 500 million customers.
And, EU enterprises will be able to benefit from easier access to the Ukrainian market, though we must help Ukraine develop the right conditions to encourage new business and investment relationships.
Over 20 meetings were held in trilateral format to address alleged Russian concerns about the DCFTA implementation. Now Ukraine faces a number of measures imposed by Russia impeding trade and transit, and will need our support here too.
In 2016 will be stepping up our efforts to support Ukraine with more co-ordination with EU member states and greater visibility for our work, particularly on implementation of the DCFTA. We will build on current support programmes to improve the business climate, provide support to small and medium-sized enterprises, and help Ukraine find new markets. Ukraine needs to show it is open for business by aligning with EU standards in key sectors and taking decisive action on rule of law. The Support Group for Ukraine is playing a key role with the Commission in all these areas.
Despite very challenging circumstances – the Ukrainian government has made progress in implementing the Association Agreement. The National Anti-Corruption Bureau and new national police have started to work. The selection process for an Anti-Corruption Prosecutor has been completed. The government has also adopted a law on the natural gas market, which aims at bringing the gas sector of Ukraine in line with the EU Third Energy Package.
These developments were welcomed at the second Association Council in Brussels on 7 December, but we should not underestimate the challenges ahead.
The fight against corruption, reform of the judiciary and of the public administration, as well as amendments to the Constitution, particularly the second reading on decentralisation, will require courage and political will.
Shortly before Christmas, we published our final report on Ukraine's implementation of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan, which concluded that, since necessary progress had been made and a number of additional commitments undertaken by the Ukrainian leadership, a positive recommendation for visa-free travel could be made. We aim to present a legislative proposal to pave the way for visa liberalisation with Ukraine soon.