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Ukrainian woman pass in front of the voting boxes at a polling station in Kyiv in February 2010
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

EU-Ukrainian relations

Alexander Sawizki, Olga Kapustina / als
August 2, 2012

Neither Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's party nor the opposition has made EU integration part of their parliamentary election platforms. Many Ukrainians view entry into the European Union as utopian.


Unlike in the campaigns for the 2010 presidential election, in which all the candidates promised a quick convergence with the European Union, the once popular subject of EU accession barely even appears in the party and candidates' slogans of the current parliamentary election campaign, which officially kicked off in Ukraine on July 30 and will run until election day on October 28.

Meanwhile, a section of the Orange party has converged with other parties to form a so-called United Opposition to run in the election, with the alliance hinging its campaign on criticism of the current government leadership. They attack what they call political repression and violations of the rights and liberties of Ukrainian citizens. The United Opposition is demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych and his government, which is led by the Party of Regions.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk (center) at a Opposition rally
Yatsenyuk (center) has joined an opposition allianceImage: Rzeutska / DW

The opposition alliance consists of the All-Ukrainian Union Fatherland party of the imprisoned former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the Front of Changes of former foreign minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, as well as several smaller parties.

Opposition says European topics are unnecessary

European integration remains an important issue for the United Opposition, said Sergey Sobolev, deputy chairman of the Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko, a parliamentary group which includes the Fatherland party. But he told DW that pro-European slogans aren't needed in the campaign since the opposition platform already reflects European values such as democracy, freedom of opinion and free entrepreneurship.

However, Ukrainian political analyst Svetlana Kononchuk believes the Opposition is holding back with pro-European slogans for strategic reasons. It's not worth it for them to campaign on a pro-European ticket, she said. The current government has an advantage on this topic at the moment, exploiting the success of the European Soccer Championship held in Ukraine and Poland earlier this year, as well as its progress in negotiations with the EU on liberalizing visa regulations. Indeed, the Party of Regions is cleverly utilizing the European Cup, selling it on its election posters as a government success.

Yanukovich speaking with Ukrainian coach and players
Yanukovich (left) exploits the football for his campaignImage: Reuters

Kyiv-Brussels relationship is sticky

But Susan Stewart, of the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said there were very concrete reasons why Europe is not a very suitable campaign topic. Ukrainian accession is not something that can be conveyed as "something that will happen in the foreseeable future," she said. Relations between Kyiv and Brussels are complicated, particularly due the imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko and other oppositional leaders. "People in the EU have seen that since Viktor Yanukovych took power, there have been major steps backward in terms of democracy and constitutionality, as evidenced - among other things - in the imprisonment of opposition politicians," Stewart told DW.

Supporters of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko take part in a rally in Kyiv, Ukraine in March, 2012
Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year prison sentenceImage: dapd

She says that the developments have disappointed the EU - and the people in Urkaine have noticed that. At the same time, the EU itself doesn't seem very attractive at the moment. "The euro zone crisis has made the EU less appealing," she said. "The EU has major economic problems and it's unclear when and how it will solve them."

Ukrainians increasingly opposed to EU entry

Ukrainian voters also appear to have noticed that accession any time soon is utopian. According to a DW poll in June of this year, only 15 percent of those surveyed described the relationship between their own country and the EU as "friendly" or "partnership-based." Nonetheless, 54 percent of Ukrainians are in favor of accession, although the number opposed has risen to 29 percent from last year's 18.

Kononchuk believes that it is Kyiv's inconsistent foreign policy that has led to this trend. "On the one hand, the government signs agreements with the EU, and on the other, it supports anti-European and pro-Eurasian information campaigns," she pointed out. Kyril Savin, director of the Ukraine branch of the German Heinrich Böll Foundation, agreed. He said many Ukrainians see the current government as allied with Russia, and far removed from European values.

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