EU Ambassador: Ukraine Already Fulfilled Main Political Requirements for EU Membership

Wednesday, 24 August 2022 — , European Pravda

The Russian army can be defeated in Ukraine's internationally recognized territory, including Crimea. Nuclear weapons will not be used because even Putin still has some rationality. Zelensky should decide what to consider a victory for Ukraine, but he will consider public opinion, which doesn't like compromises.

We discussed this with Matti Maasikas, the Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Ukraine.


"Your situation is better than Estonia's 25 years ago"

- I will start with a question about the most significant event in relations with the EU. Ukraine obtained candidate status. What does this mean for us?

- The European Commission, in its opinion on Ukraine's application, has made it clear it should meet big political conditions. Otherwise, no European perspective at all. Adoption and implementation of the EU law will be a huge challenge. Ukraine is now in a better situation than Estonia was 25 years ago. Because Ukraine covered many legal aspects under the Association agreement, it is not only the legislation. You should also adopt EU standards and regulations. They are very high. Some of these standards are very costly. It will be a big challenge for Ukraine. All the countries that joined the EU had GDPs lower than the EU members. They also faced EU environmental standards that were very costly.

- Can we be sure that Ukraine will join the European Union?

- Ukraine has candidate status now. Legally speaking, the next step will be opening the accession negotiations. Before that, the European Commission assesses Ukraine's progress on seven recommendations and Ukraine's leadership's determination to work on their progress. This work will be evaluated next year.

- What is the procedure on Ukraine's path toward EU membership?

- Currently, Ukraine is a candidate. Legally, the next step is the start of accession negotiations. We all know that nobody is able to say anything on possible timelines.

- You mentioned the "seven recommendations." In statements in June, it sounded like "seven requirements." So what is it?

- Normally, a country applies for membership, then the EU assesses it, and before granting candidate status, it puts requirements. With Ukraine, it is another way around. The decision from June 23 means the EU trusts Ukraine. We don't set the precise conditions before the next step. We say: we grant candidate status, and we expect Ukraine to work on these issues. These are not conditions. This is a gesture of trust. I am proud of it.

- You said that fulfillment of the seven requirements would be assessed next year. But we heard about December. So when will it happen?

- When you look at those requirements, it is not something that can be accomplished within a week. It will take more time. The EU then will look at the overall picture.

It is fair to expect the assessment in the second half of 2023.

It is very important, and I am very encouraged that Ukraine's leadership has said: We will accomplish it this year.

I looked at the Estonian government in the late 1990s. They asked me the exact same questions. In 1999, a very reform-minded government came into office and declared they would be ready in 2001. They didn't see Brussels set any deadlines. They did it themselves.

I feel that the situation in Ukraine is similar now.

- Among the EU recommendations, there are very vague ones. For example, one reads: "strengthen the fight against corruption." Both can be rated as "completed" and "not fulfilled," depending on an evaluator. Will this not be an excuse to slow down the accession process?

- These requirements are not measurable. You are right. Believe me, the EU and Ukraine have such a long and deep experience cooperating in fighting corruption. We are able to assess the progress, the direction, and the changes. We cannot frame it only legally.

"Ukraine did not violate the EU's requirements by appointing Sovhyria"

- Is it really possible to fight corruption in such a way so that the EU says: "Yes, we are satisfied"?

- To fight corruption and implement judicial reform, Ukrainian authorities have moved fastest, appointing the head of SAPO.

- Does the EU still question SAPO? Are you still following it?

- This recommendation has been implemented.

There is also progress on judicial reform.

The High Council on Justice. Mr. Maselko and Mr. Moroz were appointed. They are highly respected lawyers by Ukraine's very active and fierce anti-corruption civil society. This is a very positive development.

The process of selecting a new NABU head is ready to be launched. There is also encouraging development in the search for a new head of ARMA (Agency for search and asset management. - ed.)

You know that image-wise, corruption in Ukraine has been of the issues perceived as bad internationally. And I am very happy about the rapid progress in this area.

– The first recommendation on the EU list is about the Constitutional Court. Ukraine promised to develop and follow the procedure for the competitive selection of judges. But as soon as we received candidate status, Kyiv started moving in the opposite direction: the Rada appointed Olha Sovhyria as a judge of the Constitutional Court, bypassing the requirements and without selection. Does this ruin our chances of meeting the requirement?

- It does not. Working on this recommendation means adopting a new law, a new procedure - competitive and transparent. The draft law is ready and will be assessed by the Venice Commission.

"The situation with media during the war is different, more than different"

- Sometimes, it seems - as in the case with Sovhyria - that the European Union is ready to ignore some issues with democracy. There are also issues with the media. The authorities cut off three TV channels close to the opposition. The European Union is quiet about it.

- I admit it. It sometimes happens that opposition politicians or someone else come to me with a request: listen, the government is doing something bad. Could you react to it? I say, I can't. Why can't you?

No, it doesn't work this way.

Second. We observe everything very closely. Believe me. We have enough experts to have good assessments here.

The situation during the war is different, more than different.

If you ask me what are the threats to freedom of speech in Ukraine today, the first thing is the physical safety of journalists, and the second is the economic sustainability of outlets.

A balance needs to be found in wartime. We all know that the president and the Ukrainian state as a whole enjoy high public support.

We are observing the situation very closely with these three TV channels.

- One of the seven requirements is media freedom. Does it include the TV channels or not? Because it is not obvious from the wording.

- It gives us room for assessment. The main part is the media law. It must comply with the EU audiovisual directive. There is not much room for a different interpretation. We will compare the law with the EU directive in a table.

"The EU hands over weapons to Ukraine according to its list:

- Let's talk about EU aid to Ukraine. The allocation of macro-financial assistance has been delayed. Why is it coming so slowly? What is the problem?

- Several decisions, including the macro-financial assistance, went very quickly in the first half of the year.

But you are right. Out of the 9 billion euros of macro-financial aid proposed by the European Commission in May, we have allocated only 1 billion. Discussions about this are still ongoing.

There is also positive news.

There are discussions between member states about whether Ukraine should be given more grants instead of loans, even cheap ones like macro-financial assistance.

I hope the EU states understand the importance of this decision and will make their decision soon.

- We got an impression that the 8 billion euros have been delayed because the EU expects certain reforms or solving some issues from Ukraine. Is it so?

- No. These are the intro EU issues. In particular, what the EU loan portfolio should be, how the EU guarantees these loans, what the proportion should be, etc.

- Does the European Union understand that Ukraine will need funds to cover a huge budget gap until the war ends? Is the EU ready to spend money on Ukraine all this time?

- So. The heads of EU institutions and member states clearly say that our goal is to back Ukraine to win this war. It means you need weapons. And we need to finance these efforts of Ukraine.

-The EU provides weapons to Ukraine within the European Peace Facility mechanism. How does it work?

- The European Peace Facility is a fund to compensate the EU for the weapons they send to Ukraine. Ukraine gave the EU the weaponry list. We are working according to that list. The member states see what they have and donate it to Ukraine. They send the weapons to Ukraine and the bill to Brussels. There is a limit, and it is currently 2,5 billion euros. We can also buy new weapons within this budget. There is nothing Ukraine should deal with.

- Will Ukraine win the war?

- There is no other possibility.

- Are you sure about this?

- Absolutely.

- Why are you so sure about that?

- The way how the war has been conducted so far. I strongly believe that the assistance from your international partners is firm and sustainable and will continue until victory.

Ukrainians themselves will have to determine what victory is.

Over 90% of Ukrainians believe in victory. The biggest share of the Ukrainian population is also against any territorial concession to the aggressor.

Based on the incredible resilience and fight, with available capacities, the Ukrainian leadership should determine what the victory is. I think President Zelensky has made it pretty clear.

The Russian army has many weaknesses that the Ukrainian army exploits in a very creative and brilliant way. The Russian army is beatable on the internationally recognized Ukraine territory.

- Do you believe that Russia will use nuclear weapons?

- I have a firm belief in some sort of rationality and responsibility.

- Will the EU keep the sanctions?

- Yes. Why not?

I recall very well when I represented Estonia in the EU, and in 2014 the first package of economic sanctions against Russia was approved. These sanctions were always imposed only for six months, after which they had to be extended or changed. Every six months.

At first, it was a very nervous period for supporters of sanctions because there were always EU leaders who told us at home that we would not vote for the sanctions. But each time, the sanctions were extended again.

There are two reasons here. First, these sanctions should affect Russia much more than EU countries. And secondly, these decisions contain EU political prestige. After all, 27 leaders of member states made such a choice! Therefore, this extension became easier each time.

It was about disconnecting banks from SWIFT - in general, it happened. It was about reducing the ability of Russian banks to lend money - this has been done, including the Russian central bank.

A very few people assumed then, in the beginning, that the EU would be able to intervene in energy issues. And now you see that legally, coal is already sanctioned. This decision has been in effect since August. Oil, except pipeline oil, is sanctioned. It applies to 90% of EU oil imports until the end of the year. And gas, the EU is taking steps to reduce imports from Russia by two-thirds by the end of the year, even without formal adoption of sanctions.

EU member states decided to reduce gas consumption this winter by 15% in July.

All this impacts Russia. All this affects its ability to finance the war.

And perhaps the most effective sanctions in the medium and long term are about technology export to Russia.

- Is the European Union ready for a hard winter?

- There are at least two elements here. The first is the general increase in energy prices that began in 2020. This is a global phenomenon for which there is no quick cure. From the mid-stream perspective, a faster transition to green sources will help to cope with this. But there is no quick way to fix it.

And the second element is whether the EU has enough gas. And gas storage in Europe is filling up faster than in previous years. Therefore, we do not expect that problems await us here. But energy prices are a problem, that's for sure.

- Will there be enough gas to supply it to Ukraine? Because we will definitely not buy it from Russia.

- You are doing very well in the matter of gas production.

But if necessary, the EU and international financial institutions will be ready to back you with gas supplies. But for now, from what we can see, you should be fine with it.


Interviewed by Sergiy Sydorenko

"European Pravda" editor

Filmed by Volodymyr Oliinyk

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