European Statesmen Praise Ukraine's New Electoral Law and Urge Signing of Association Agreement with EU

Sep 21, 2012, 06:21 ET from Vienna Monitor

VIENNA, Austria, September 21, 2012 /PRNewswire/ --

Former Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and former European Commission President Romano Prodi have praised a new electoral law approved by both government and opposition parties in Ukraine, and have called for the expeditious signing of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine.

Speaking at an international conference here, Gusenbauer pointed out that the electoral law was prepared with the help of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission and approved by both government and opposition parties in the Ukrainian parliament, including the party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

"This is of the utmost importance, as was the fact that 80 percent of Ukraine's parliament supported the new law, because this means there is a consensus about the conditions for the elections and the new electoral law is accepted as a common basis," Gusenbauer said. "This is a good prerequisite for a general acceptance of the outcome for the elections," he added.

Gusenbauer was speaking at a conference hosted by the Renner Institute and the Austrian Institiute for International Affairs in  Vienna. The meeting, which featured both government and opposition lawmakers, election commission officials, academics, diplomats, economists and businessmen, was entitled "Ukraine on the Path to European Integration".

Prodi, who as President of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004 oversaw much of Europe's enlargement process, also noted the progress on electoral reform, and called for the European Union to engage with Ukraine and deepen commercial and political ties.  "If we have no engagement with Ukraine, then we shall not have any results," he said.

Both statesmen also pushed for the speedy final signature and adoption of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, which was initialled last Spring but which has been held up by some European critics of the trial and subsequent conviction and prison sentence of Mrs. Tymoshenko.  She was found guilty last year by a Ukraine court for abuse of office for illegally signing a controversial $10 billion gas deal with Russia in 2009 without Cabinet approval, and has lodged an appeal.

Mr. Prodi said the Tymoshenko case should not be an obstacle to creating deeper ties between Brussels and Kiev.  

"We have to work to do everything we can to make Ukraine a bridge between Russia and the EU," said Mr. Prodi, who said the electoral reform was a sign that Ukraine wanted to follow "the European path".

Mr. Prodi predicted that "relations between the EU and Ukraine will eventually get closer and issues such as the Tymoshenko case will be handled with less emotion and passion."  He said that Ukraine's history, geography, potential shale gas reserves, agriculture and strategic energy transport position meant that "it is our duty to work for closer ties between the EU and Ukraine."

Mr. Gusenbauer said "I think the present situation where many in the EU see the Ukraine solely through the lens of the Tymoshenko case is not correct and is not serving EU interests."

Earlier this week, Gusenbauer and Prodi published an opinion editorial entitled "Engagement, not Containment", which stressed the importance of Ukraine's European integration and future EU membership, and argued against trying to isolate Ukraine.

During a panel discussion at the Vienna conference on Thursday, Konstantyn Gryshchenko, Ukraine's Foreign Minister, agreed with the article, saying: "The thrust of this article is exactly what has to be understood by many European politicians."

He also reiterated that the Association Agreement would be a "tool to promote reforms and democracy in Ukraine according to best European practices."

In an effort to spur progress over the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, Gusenbauer urged the EU and Ukraine to avoid political means and to rely on the workings of the legal system in Europe, meaning to accept whatever the eventual verdict of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will be on an appeal over  the Tymoshenko case.

Gryshchenko noted that "Ukraine respects the European Court of Human Rights."

At the Vienna meeting, both Mr. Prodi and Mr. Gusenbauer  said they were struck by the fact that there was unanimous support for signing the Association Agreement with the European Union on the part of both pro-government and opposition politicians attending the signing.  

This was underscored by support for deeper European integration and the signing of the AA that was expressed at the conference by both pro-government MP Inna Bohoslovska (Party of the Regions) and opposition MP Andriy Shevchenko (United Opposition), a member of Mrs. Tymoshenko's party.

SOURCE Vienna Monitor