The German parliament has approved the EU's association agreements with Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. MP's also took time to remember the victims of the Germanwings crash in southern France.
The crash of Germanwings flight 9525 is “a human tragedy that has united Germany, Spain, and France in shock and sorrow,” said Bundestag President Norbert Lammert at the start of the plenary session.
On behalf of all parliamentarians, he offered his condolences to the victims' family members. He also thanked all the rescue teams and investigators for their difficult work. Even once we know all we can about the cause of the crash, Lammert said, “the pain and the loss will remain.” The mood was somber; two days after the crash, many MPs were still visibly affected by the news.
European integration of eastern neighbors
Lammert then moved on to the day's debate, pausing first to welcome ambassadors from Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia – the three countries with which the EU concluded association agreements in June 2014. Also following the debate was a delegation of Ukrainian MPs headed by the president of the Ukrainian parliament, Volodymyr Groysman.
All three countries have embarked on programs to prepare for future membership of the European Union. An association agreement solidifies their cooperation with the EU, and increases their integration within the eurozone.
The agreement also includes political cooperation to support administrative and judicial reforms.
A large majority of the Bundestag backed closer ties with the three countries. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) spoke of a “new level of cooperation” demanded by the wide-reaching reforms in the countries, adding: “it will be hard work.”
Several speakers pointed out that Ukraine, especially, has a difficult path ahead. Kyiv needs to cap the power of oligarchs, stop corruption, and create a functioning administration. But none of that affects Ukrainians' freedom to determine their future. All people have the right to vote on their country's path, without outside influence, Steinmeier said by way of refuting criticism from Russia about Ukraine's pro-European course. He added that the EU's policies regarding its neighbors are not directed “against anyone.” “The hand is also extended to Russia,” said Steinmeier.
Free trade agreement postponed
Of all three association agreements, the one with Ukraine is seen as the most difficult to implement.
Due to objections from Moscow, EU officials in Brussels and Kyiv decided to postpone talks about the economic part of the agreement aimed at boosting free trade measures until the end of 2015.
However, Steinmeier advised the European Commission to “urgently resume” talks with both Russia and Ukraine.
Left Party opposed
The Bundestag approved the three agreements with a large majority. The only “no” votes came from the Left Party faction, which said the EU is partly to blame for the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and described the association agreements as “radically neo-liberal.” “These three agreements deepen the division in Europe,” said Left Party foreign policy MP Wolfgang Gehrcke. Arnold Vaatz of the CDU responded by calling the Left Party the “political arm of Russian expansionism.”