Ukraine’s Prisoner’s Dilemma

WASHINGTON – The European Union’s most important decision this fall will be whether to sign an Association Agreement with Ukraine at the EU summit in Vilnius on November 28-29. The issue will turn on whether Ukraine’s President, Viktor Yanukovych, fulfills one vital condition: a full pardon for political prisoner and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The Association Agreement, which runs to some 1,200 pages, would remove almost all EU tariffs on Ukrainian goods, boosting the country’s long-term GDP by an estimated 12%. It would also establish a political, economic, and legal reform plan for the country, supported by roughly 60 state agencies in EU member countries.

Although the Association Agreement does not lead automatically to EU membership, it is an important step in that direction. Under the Treaty of Rome, Ukraine, as a European country, qualifies as a potential EU member. But it would have to fulfill the EU’s “Copenhagen criteria,” established in 1993, which sets out the basic entry standards.

The Copenhagen criteria are met when the candidate country has achieved “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for, and protection of, minorities”; can ensure the existence of “a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces”; and has sufficient “administrative and institutional capacity” to adopt and enforce EU law and “take on the obligations of membership.” Ukraine is a long way from achieving this, but signing an Association Agreement would pave the way toward entry talks, while also creating tremendous economic opportunities.