The EU sees Yulia Tymoshenko as a victim of political justice in Ukraine. But EU parliamentarians fail to agree on how to react. Should they boycott the European football championship?
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle painted a grim picture of the situation in Ukraine. "Politically motivated justice is a systemic problem in Ukraine," he said. The most prominent, but by far not the only victim of this problem is former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Tymoshenko is in prison for alleged abuse of power while in office. She went on hunger strike for some time in order to protest against poor conditions in prison. At the EU parliament in Strasbourg, her daughter Yevhenia was present on Tuesday when some MEPs rolled out a banner with a picture of Tymoshenko and the slogan "Freedom for Julia."
At a press conference later, Yevhenia Tymoshenko said that "without the great support of the international democratic community, political prisoners would be either dead or isolated and there would be no hope for their release. We therefore ask you to please uphold this pressure."
Association agreement on hold
As a result of the controversial imprisonment and treatment of opposition figures like Tymoshenko, the EU has put an association agreement with Ukraine on hold. The deal would bring the country significant benefits in trading with the European Union. But: Without the rule of law and respect for basic values, said Füle, "the political links between the EU and Ukraine will not improve," pointing out that Brussels expected an end to "selective justice." The country needed "to hold free and fair elections as well as to pick up the delayed reform process."
Dutch liberal MEP Johannes van Baalen sees Ukraine at a crossroads. "Either the country will go the way of Belarus - which would mean we'd have not just one but two dictatorships in Europe. Or the country will develop towards becoming a modern democracy."
Pressure on Kyiv
Even though the majority of the EU parliament agrees that the political situation in Ukraine is unacceptable, there is little agreement on how to deal with it. Boycotting the European football championships to be held this summer in Ukraine and Poland, is not an option for most of the MEPs.
Rebecca Harms of the German Greens for instance suggests boycotting only the Ukrainian government. EU commissioners will indeed not travel to the games in Ukraine, a move echoed by many national politicians across Europe. But Harms says that any such boycott should not hit the people of Ukraine; on the contrary: "This European championship has to lead to an intensifying of contact, exchange and the debate of democracy." Fellow Green politician Werner Schulz though is calling for a more aggressive stance: "It is not enough to just be a referee and hand out yellow cards; we should at last show the regime the red card."
Ukraine is also important for the EU
Others are advising caution. Austrian MEP Andreas Mölzer warns that the EU stance against Ukraine is short-sighted and he urges Brussels "not to jeopardize relations with Kyiv." Otherwise the EU shouldn't be surprised if Ukraine turns even further from the West in upcoming elections, towards the Russian alternative. Other parliamentarians echoed his concern over not putting the strategic importance Ukraine has for the EU at risk.
Yet Commissioner Füle insists that geopolitical interests must not take priority over European values. He says that the EU has already helped other countries on the path of democracy by offering a European perspective to the regimes. And Füle hopes that sooner or later, this will also happen with Ukraine.
Author: Christoph Hasselbach / ai
Editor: Michael Lawton