Портал в режимі тестування та наповнення
Україна: європейська інтеграція та головування в ОБСЄ
Опубліковано 20 грудня 2012 року о 12:32

Інтерв'ю Посла України у Франції О.Купчишина журналу "La Lettre Diplomatique"

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr Ambassador, over two years after electing President Viktor Ianoukovitch, Ukrainians voted again on 28 October 2012 to elect MPs. What, in your view, was at stake at that election? What milestone measures – besides reinstating the 1996 Constitution – has the Ukrainian Head of State taken?

H.E. Oleksandr Kupchyshyn: This parliamentary election was a crucial milestone for Ukrainians, our country’s future development and our relations with the European Union (EU). The big paradox there was that the election process – not the election’s outcome – was the decisive factor. And we are needless to say receptive to the international community’s message to us about the need to ensure our election process is transparent and democratic.

We had come a long way by the time the election came around. We had adopted new election legislation, which experts welcomed. Every polling station had cameras to prevent fraud during vote counting. Every political party that wanted to present a candidate to run for office was able to do so without a problem – to the point that we were ready to welcome as many observers as European countries, the United States and international organizations decided to send to Ukraine. It is extremely difficult – not to say impossible – to massively scam an election when the West focuses its undivided attention on it and scrutinizes it with a fine-tooth comb. There were obviously some irregularities, as there can be for any election, but they were not massive and did not influence the outcome of the elections. Five districts were problematic because of problems due to imperfect legislation, and where the Central Election Commission has canceled the election results and recommended to organize new elections. However, this had no impact on the work of the new parliament, which is fully legitimate.

We had a very clear picture of what was at stake at the 28 October 2012 election. We are aware that Europe considered it democratic test for our country. And, at the end of the day, it was a fundamental and decisive milestone on our path to European integration.

Aiming for EU membership, from where we are standing, is tantamount to modernizing our country and improving living conditions for Ukrainians. In a nutshell, it means achieving what we call “European standards”. That triggered a full set of reforms in Ukraine. The social reforms cover our healthcare and education systems, and aim to provide more modern and efficient services for our citizens. And they include President Viktor Ianoukovitch’s social initiatives to improve people’s standards of living in the wake of the crisis.

This deep-reaching transformation in our country, however, stretches beyond measures to support the population. The entire system needed a radical metamorphosis and the government currently in office set it in motion. First of all, fighting corruption is at the center of the programme that the government is currently rolling out. We have also overhauled or are currently overhauling the way the State works. I can inter alia mention fiscal, administrative and legal reform (which entailed adopting a new code of criminal procedures). It also encompasses constitutional reform in order to establish a more transparent, more responsible, more democratic political system that fully honours Human Rights in our society. We indeed established a constitutional assembly to think about relevant amendments we could introduce in our Constitution.

The other essential aspect of our country’s development is its economy. Our main task, here, is to attract investors. We have introduced a full set of reforms to deregulate entrepreneurship and create an investment-friendly environment. The farming and land reforms were two of the main measures to that end.

As you can see, the measures we have taken are converging on modernising Ukraine across-the-board and in-depth. These efforts will no doubt take several years but they are essential in every aspect of my country’s life.

T.L.D.: The European football championship you co-organised with Poland in June 2012 attracted over a million visitors and was an unqualified success for your country. Looking back, how do you feel about how it all panned out? How did it impact Ukraine in general and its economy in particular?

H.E.O.K.: The essential point is that the Euro 2012 changed the way the world sees Ukraine. That was our biggest success. Looking back, I am needless to say proud for my country. But I also feel we mustn’t grow complacent. Now, we need to use everything we built so smartly for Ukraine and the Ukrainians. Being brilliant at organising a championship is one thing: harnessing the positive impact for years or decades to come is quite another.

As Ambassador to France, I would obviously have liked to see more French fans there discovering Ukraine during the championship. The ones who did go were delighted with their stay in Donetsk and thrilled with Ukrainian hospitality. So was the French team, which was staying near Donetsk, on the Chakhtar Football Club’s training grounds in exceptional conditions.

Opening up Ukraine to Europe and the world means that we are on track and that foreigners see our country in a more positive light. I have a few figures here: after visiting Ukraine, 57% of Europeans say that the Euro 2012 improved their opinion of our country, and 55% feel sympathy towards Ukraine. Furthermore, 42% of Europeans believe that Ukraine warrants EU membership in the near future and 30% believe it should join over the medium term. That is the best reward we can get for the progress we have made so far, and the best way of recognising our European identity.

Also importantly, hosting the Euro 2012 entailed comprehensively modernising our country’s infrastructure. We did not only do that in the host cities: it also entailed modernising road and rail networks throughout the country, building airports, enhancing hotel capacity and upgrading sports facilities. Some may say that we have been independent for 21 years and should have done all that ages ago. And they are right. But, regardless, the government in office today did it and this championship was the main driver.

It is still very difficult to provide specifics and figures on the economic spin-offs. From a short-term perspective, revenue still falls short of the investment we made to prepare the championship. But sports events in this league are first and foremost long-term investments and the ripple effects will only kick in a few years down the road.

As regards the instant benefits, we mustn’t forget the thousands of jobs that the Euro 2012 created, that Ukrainians now have a better public transport service to take them to work and back home every day, and that host cities generated substantial revenues during the championship.

We are also hoping to break into the tourism scene. Lviv, for instance, welcomed 25% more tourists after the Euro 2012. Several hotels are coming out of the ground in Kyiv. And tourist agents and offices are attuning their services to European’s requirements.

From our perspective, the Euro 2012 is a long-term economic investment as well as a symbolic, “inter-human” investment that has brought our society closer to Europe, and helped Europe to discover Ukraine and vice-versa.

T.L.D.: The international financial crisis hit Ukraine’s economy, but it recovered in 2011 when its GDP bounced back 5.3%. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently made encouraging comments but how are you planning to keep this momentum going for the long run and push ahead with your modernisation drive? What can you say about efforts to cement your banking sector? To what extent do you think resuming financial cooperation with the IMF is a realistic option?

H.E.O.K.: The Ukrainian Government is hoping to continue cooperating with the IMF. The IMF Executive Board’s positive feedback on reforms underway in Ukraine provides reasons for an optimistic outlook on our cooperation. A recent round of talks between Ukrainian officials and IMF executives confirmed the essential point: we see eye-to-eye on the next a steps in our relations.

When they last visited Kyiv, in September 2012, the IMF experts saw that Ukraine is honouring most of the cooperation programme’s terms. Ukraine has kept its budget deficit in the bracket prescribed in our agreement with the IMF, along with all the other financial indexes. In other words, our country has confirmed that it is creditworthy and that its economy is growing at a healthy pace.

The IMF Executive Board also appraised Ukraine’s current economic situation fairly and impartially. The economy has started growing again after the 2008-2009 downturn, and inflation and the public deficit have concurrently shrunk. The IMF has also said that it is very satisfied with the Ukrainian Government’s efforts to reform the banking sector and with what it has achieved so far.

Everything we have achieved over the past few years provide reasons for optimism over our chances of further cooperation with the IMF.

The main goal during the September 2012 talks with IMF experts was to secure a new credit line under the current cooperation programme. We managed to negotiate macroeconomic targets for 2013, housing and municipal service pricing and tariffs, and greater exchangerate flexibility. That is very important because it means we understand each other, and I would say the quality of our 2013 budget will hinge on the prospects of further financial cooperation.

It is important to understand that the vital issue for us is not to secure funds: it is to confirm that IMF credit resources are an option. Why is that so vital? Because the economic situation out there is not favourable enough today, so Ukraine needs this credit reserve. I believe resuming financial cooperation with the IMF is definitely a possibility.

T.L.D.: Ukraine has vast farming, mining and energy resources but steel still accounts for about 40% of its exports. What stimulus mechanisms is your government looking at to diversify Ukraine’s industrial capacity and exports? Can your country build a high-tech sector around the aerospace expertise it already has?

H.E.O.K.: First of all, remember that Ukraine’s economy is recovering and that its GDP grew 5.3% in 2011. We are also seeing Ukrainian exports recovering at a handsome pace. That is an encouraging sign, especially with the international financial crisis in the background.

In 2011, Ukraine exported US$ 68.4 billion worth of goods. That was 33% more than in 2010. I have to say that the structure of our exports is relatively stable again, after shrinking sharply in 2009 (especially in the case of steel and chemicals), even though it is not particularly diversified today.

The steel industry indeed accounts for the largest portion of Ukraine’s exports, even though the US$ 22. 1 billion it generates today is substantially below the US$ 27.5 billion it generated pre-crisis in 2008.

Minerals are the second-largest category and account for 12.4% of our exports. Then come electric equipment and machinery (8.2% of the total), then petroleum products (which have grown 55% on 2010). Then come plant-based products (6.7% of the total) and chemicals (6.5% of the total), which have become competitive again since 2010. Transport equipment exports rank 7th with a 5.9% market share and grew 49% in 2011.

Incidentally, 2011 was an extraordinary year for farming: we harvested 55 mega-tonnes of cereal, which was more than we had ever seen since our independence.

From January to May 2012 Ukrainians product export volumes were 5.8% higher than in the same period in 2011. That, needless to say, is important for an export-geared economy such as Ukraine’s. But it is nevertheless important to say that imports are still growing faster than exports. Statistics show that Ukraine’s imports from January to May 2012 grew 7.4% in relation to the same period in 2011. The negative balance of trade is still at a substantial US$ 5.7 billion.

Unfortunately, the fact that Ukrainian exports are picking up pace in 2012 has had a negative impact on the national economy’s growth momentum. On the other hand, an upward trend in domestic consumption is to some extent offsetting the unfavourable conditions in export markets. And, on the bottom line, our GDP was 3% higher in Q2 2012 than in Q2 2011.

As regards diversifying Ukraine’s industrial base and exports, our government has already drafted a bill to establish an agency to support foreign trade, which our Parliament will be reviewing shortly. This agency will vouch for Ukrainian exporters to allow them to secure the investment they need to promote their products on international markets.

Since you asked about high technology, I would like to say that our country is also setting up an innovation platform, which our government ranks among its top priorities, this year.

We have seen several international breakthroughs on scientific, technical and innovation fronts in 2012. And the bulk of those breakthroughs came from our high-tech industries including biotechnology, nanotechnology, nanomaterials, information technology and nuclear medicine.

In 2011, for example, Ukrainian scientists managed to develop new nanomaterials that have no real equivalents anywhere in the world, and which may be used to control nuclear fuel storage. The US and Japan have expressed interest.

Ukrainian nanotechnology has a strong chance of success on markets worldwide. Ukrainian scientists have teamed up with colleagues in the US to start working on several projects in the field of nuclear medicine. We are also working with China, setting up a Ukrainian- Chinese welding institute.

T.L.D.: Your country joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2008 and has since seen its trade with emerging countries soar. China has become your third-largest business partner but what other outlets can the Ukrainian economy tap? What projects best reflect your drive to open up to those countries? Besides curbing corruption, what do you think your country still needs to do to boost the Ukrainian market’s appeal among foreign investors?

H.E.O.K.: Markets on the American continent and in Asia Pacific are becoming more and more attractive for Ukraine today. Developing and unleashing opportunities to cooperate with countries across the Americas is the main goal today. This of course means the US and Canada, and markets in Brazil, Peru and Argentina – as well, of course, as Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, Venezuela, Uruguay and Colombia.

There are real opportunities to increase our exports to Latin American countries, spanning equipment for steel mills, mining, oil and electricity companies, and on to chemicals, inorganic fertilisers and farming supplies. There is also interest in products from Ukraine’s military-industrial complex, and our aircraft and railway supplies. There is also a lot of potential to export services for the aviation, civil-engineering, infrastructure-construction, road-construction and medical sectors, and manager training.

Asia-Pacific is also a top priority for Ukraine, inasmuch as it is now fair to say that this region is a powerhouse driving the world’s economy.

Geographically speaking, our country is on the Great Silk Road that connected Asia and Europe for centuries. That is why it can and will tender its integration model to global economic systems such as the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and EU, where Ukraine could become an important and natural link in business and investment flows. At this point in their globalization and global integration processes, Asian countries’ trade policies are becoming increasingly dynamic, and indeed on occasion aggressive. Ukraine could find inspiration to channel to its own economy in several aspects of China’s, India’s and South Korea’s experiences.

I would like to add that African countries have traditionally been and remain very important for Ukrainian exports. Construction is our main cooperation sector there and encompasses gas pipes, oil pipes, railways, ports, aerodromes, large industrial sites, social infrastructure and transport.

The Ukrainian Government has moreover enhanced its legal framework to improve our market’s appeal and attract foreign investment. It has created a national agency for investment and national project management to facilitate exchanges between foreign investors and central and local Ukrainian authorities.

Ukraine’s law on the “single gateway” for investment projects came into effect on 1 January 2012 and a law on public-private partnerships was adopted in 2010. And the list of reforms to open up our market includes the new customs code in force since 1 June 2012, privatisation reform, property and business law reform, new tax and labour codes, land reform and lifting the moratorium on farming land sale, a luxury-product tax in the pipeline, and the first steps to reorganize Naftogaz.

T.L.D.: Ukraine is Europe’s second-largest country and ranks deeper ties with the EU among its top foreign policy priorities. What can you say about the scope of the Stabilisation and Association agreement you initialled with the EU on 30 March 2012, five years after starting talks? How is your government planning to address European requirements on the rule of law and justice reform when that agreement comes into force? What is your view on European reaction to legal proceedings targeting former ministers including former Ukrainian Prime Minister Ioulia Timoshenko?

H.E.O.K.: Ukraine has repeatedly insisted that deepening ties with the EU and joining the EU in due course are at the top of its foreign-policy agenda. My country has shown that clearly and considerately by making substantial progress during talks on the association agreement with the EU. As you said, we initialled this agreement on 30 March 2012. This means that both parties have agreed to every clause in it and that there are no issues pending.

Actually signing that agreement is a very important milestone and reflects all the hard work that Ukraine has done at home to follow the association roadmap. This includes several of the reforms I have already mentioned. Ukraine has endorsed 4 international conventions, passed 11 new laws and practically finished drafting the required bill to liberalise visas with the EU, which includes introducing biometric passports.

After initialling, this agreement needs to be signed and ratified in order to come into effect. We have heard talk about the remote possibility of freezing negotiations and an alleged refusal to sign on the European side. But let me reassure you: the process has not stopped. The parties are currently reviewing the text from a legal standpoint and translating it into the EU’s 23 official languages and Ukrainian. This will take several months and is a mandatory step before signing the document.

From our angle, this agreement is the legal, political and even symbolic basis of our closer ties with the EU. It provides the conditions to drive reforms and to allow the EU to monitor Ukraine’s efforts on those fronts. In other words, it makes our country much more accountable: under this agreement, we will be required to honour the commitments that we are currently being admonished for not honouring.

This association agreement also includes a chapter on creating a free-trade zone between Ukraine and the EU. This move will kick-start unprecedented economic and business ties but will also entitle the EU to substantial advantages to harness the huge potential on our market.

Clearly, this agreement is not a ‘gift’ bestowed upon our country. It is uncompromising and applying it will take a lot of hard work. But it is also what Ukrainians want: an absolute majority of them back their country’s European agenda. And yet EU integration is not an end in itself – at least for the short term: it is first and foremost a powerful lever to modernise and develop our country.

We are aware that Europe has doubts and concerns about the rule of law in Ukraine, and that these doubts and concerns are likely to influence the outcome of talks between our country and the EU, and of the association agreement. But is it really fair to peg an entire country’s aspirations to a few lawsuits, even if there may be questions about whether the criminal legislation surrounding those processes is pertinent? The fact is that every one of these lawsuits is strictly compliant with its legal framework, under legislation currently in force. Yes, we need to reform this legislation, which in certain cases is utterly obsolete. But we are already doing that, inter alia by adopting the new code of criminal procedures.

T.L.D.: EU, Ukraine has a pivotal role to play in the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy and energy sourcing. How might your plans to step up your own energy production capacity reshape that role? And, more generally, how might the close ties between your country and Poland nurture further regional cooperation?

H.E.O.K.: Energy supply and transit is one of the areas where the EU sees Ukraine’s role very clearly. We are aware of that and doing everything we can to emerge as a partner country that Europe can count on, while aiming to consolidate cooperation in the energy field with the EU, which is one of the crucial aspect of our State’s security.

Joining the European Energy Area has allowed us to promote our status as a transit country. As part of this process, Ukraine joined the Energy Community on 1 February 2011. This of course entails a substantial workload to adapt Ukrainian legislation to European standards and then implement them. At the same time, this process gives us considerable latitude to modernize and secure our energy system. The main problem on this front is modernising the gas pipeline network, and Ukraine would like the EU to contribute to solving that problem. In fact, the EU has everything to gain from helping Ukraine in this area. This project is much less expensive and much more cost-efficient than, for example, the South Stream project – and will contribute to cementing our country’s economic and energy independence.

Our role as the principle transit platform should remain intact despite competition on the gas transit market. Once certain European countries walk away from nuclear energy, gas volumes flowing into Europe will not stop swelling. This will allow Ukraine to use its full gas pipeline capacity even if competing projects appear.

The other top priority as regards Ukraine’s energy security involves diversifying energy sources. Eastern Europe’s largest wind farm was inaugurated in the south of our country only a few weeks ago. We are also working on rolling out the project to supply liquefied gas to Ukraine and build a regasification terminal in the Black Sea.

Our cooperation with the EU also involves diversifying energy sourcing options. On that front, I can mention the vast Eurasian oil transport corridor, which is expected to use Ukraine’s Odessa-Brody pipeline and integrate it into Poland’s oil transport system by extending the pipeline from Brody in Ukraine to Gdansk in Poland.

This is an enlightening example of our synergies with Poland. It does not just serve Ukraine’s and Poland’s interests: it serves the entire EU’s interests. And it shows that Ukraine has effectively joined the European Energy Area. Needless to say, the Euro 2012 was also compelling proof that we can coordinate efforts and work together, and I need not mention the transport and infrastructure cooperation projects with Poland, which are as important on a regional level as they are to efforts to gradually bring Ukraine and the EU closer together.

T.L.D.: Ukrainian diplomacy is actively involved in Black Sea Synergy, which the EU kicked off in 2007, and urging countries skirting the Black Sea to strengthen ties. The Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) was established 20 years ago and Istanbul hosted its latest summit in June 2012. How do you think this area’s potential could be harnessed more effectively? How is Kyiv planning to use its mediation during the Transnistrian conflict to contribute to lastingly stabilising the region in general and Caucasus in particular?

H.E.O.K.: It is true that Ukraine is playing an important role in the Black Sea region, which we consider one of our strategic priorities. Today, we are basically interested in cooperation to protect the environment, promote tourism and transport, and nurture economic development and trade in this region.

From an economic standpoint, our country is playing a key role serving freight headed to Central and Eastern Europe, and controlling the transport corridors connecting the Baltic States to the Black Sea basin. We are furthermore deepening cooperation on this front, especially with Turkey.

Ukraine is also playing a pivotal role in the region’s farming sector. We have considerable potential to consolidate and develop our positions, especially in light of the deepening worldwide food crisis.

We are aiming to step up cooperation between BSEC on the one hand and the UN, EU, OECD and other international and regional organisations, institutions and initiatives on the other, in order to enhance the Black Sea region’s potential. Those relations are where the organisation’s real value lies.

At the 20th BSEC Summit on 26 June 2012 in Istanbul, Ukraine tendered several regional initiatives such as a multilateral agreement on intermodal transport and direct ferry-rail freight connections, which includes using the Viking combined transport train.

So, as I see it, there are exciting prospects for our country, especially as regards developing tourism, transport, trade, farming and energy, and for our political weight in the region.

This drive naturally entails actively contributing to defusing “frozen” conflicts in the region. Presiding over the OSCE in 2013 will be an opportunity for Ukraine to contribute tangibly and effectively to efforts on that front. This will be one of our top priorities for our term chairing that Organisation and will be the yardstick to measure our success in that role.

T.L.D.: Ties between Ukraine and Russia stem from the history and cultural heritage you share, and are currently hovering around strategic energy and defence issues. How do you see bilateral consultation, especially on Russian gas supplies to Ukraine, two years after signing the Kharkiv Accord in April 2010? Where would you like to see industrial interaction between your two countries head next? Could Ukraine join the customs union between Russia, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan, and on what terms?

H.E.O.K.: Ukraine is committed to establishing a stable partnership with Russia, its neighbouring country and strategic partner country. Our position is very sim-ple: in bilateral relations, there are no ‘big brothers’ or ‘small brother’. We are all equal partners, and our relations need to be based on a pragmatic approach, mutual respect and protecting national interests. The cultural, historical, economic and human ties that have united us for centuries add a strategic dimension to our partnership, and we are intent on developing that dimension, deepening it and making it more relevant. This partnership needs to build constructive trust through relations, and bring both parties to the table to discuss existing problems.

We have come a long way and considerably improved relations with Russia since President Viktor Ianoukovytch’s election. Now we need to consolidate that success while defending our national interests in a constructive and friendly atmosphere.

It is true that cooperation on energy, where national pragmatism also prevails, is a particular component in bilateral relations between our two countries. We are hoping to find solutions for the gas-related issues by stepping up our energy-efficiency and energy-saving policy, and by diversifying our energy sources. Ukraine buys its gas at the highest price in Europe. That price is completely unfounded for Ukrainian consumers. We have been talking with Russia about this for two years but achieved nothing yet. We will continue to look for a compromise with Russia on this issue but the main point is that we need to depend less on Russian gas.

Our country has been looking for new and effective ways to spur economic cooperation with Russia since it joined the WTO. The most promising areas here span high-tech industrial products, heavy machinery, aeronautics, shipbuilding and mechanical engineering for the energy sector.

We are willing to consider joining the customs union within the economic area that Russia, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan formed on 1 January 2012, in a “3+1” configuration. For the time being, we are carefully analyzing their experience creating and running a customs union and economic area together, in order to home in on acceptable cooperation approaches and options.

Our relations with Russia need to be mutually beneficial from economic and business standpoints to start with. Our approach is first and foremost matter-of-fact and devoid of political or ideological speculation.

T.L.D.: Ukraine has decided to remain “non-aligned” but is nevertheless actively cooperating with NATO on joint military exercises. Where can you see those relations heading next? To what extent might your country start official negotiations on the Atlantic Alliance’s ballistic missile defense project? How are Kyiv and Washington broaching this issue during talks, and what do you expect from deepening exchanges with the US?

H.E.O.K.: Cooperation with NATO is one of the main aspects of Ukraine’s security policy. The point of this partnership is to enhance development standards and defense capabilities, and to interact with the Atlantic Alliance in order to efficiently and effectively fight traditional and new threats and challenges.

Ukraine and NATO can look back on fairly rich relations. Our country joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council in March 1992, before co-founding and joining the organisation that replaced it, i.e. the Euro Atlantic Partnership Council – which counts 26 NATO Member States and 20 partner countries today – in 1997.

Our country started taking an active part in the “Partnership for Peace” programme in 1994. Under that programmes, Ukrainian military have taken part in dozens of peacekeeping operations with other NATO and partner countries, in Ukraine and abroad.

The key areas we are cooperating with the Alliance on are defense planning, operational capacity development and crisis management operations.

Ukraine is also the only partner country that has taken part in most NATO-run operations: 22 Ukrainian military are on the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and 134 are on the Kosovo Force (KFOR). In 2010, the Ukrainian corvette Ternopil took part in Active Endeavor operations in the Mediterranean. In 2013, Ukraine is planning to take part in NATO’s anti-piracy Ocean Shield operation off the Somali coast.

As you can see, our relations are based on solid ground and promising outlooks. And NATO’s directors agree. At NATO’s 7th international conference in Riga in September 2012, NATO Deputy Secretary General Mr Alexander Vershbow pointed out that the Alliance considered our country a key partner.

Our “non-aligned” status is not a stumbling block for all this active cooperation. To the contrary: our policy on military and political blocks does not influence our relations with Russia, and Washington has welcomed this decision by Ukraine.

Talking about our relations with NATO, the prospect of Ukraine contributing to efforts to build an antimissile shield in Europe is not on the table at this point. This project’s outlook for our country, and for its place in it, have not been clearly defined yet. During his recent visit to Kyiv, NATO Secretary General Mr Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that it was still premature to talk about Ukraine’s involvement in the European antimissile shield. But that has not affected our relations with the US, which is one of our principle strategic partners.

T.L.D.: Ukraine and France celebrated the 20th anniversary of their diplomatic relations on 24 January 2012. What, in your view, have these two countries achieved through their cooperation? What aspects would you like to extend in the wake of President François Hollande’s election? As economic exchanges between France and Ukraine are still modest, what initiatives would you take to build them and what business sectors would you focus on?

H.E.O.K.: We indeed celebrated the 20th anniversary of the intergovernmental protocol we signed establishing diplomatic relations between France and Ukraine, in early 2012. That was a great opportunity to take stock of what our two countries had achieved together and what we could achieve through our bilateral cooperation in the near future.

We have come a long way: our two countries practically had to start from scratch and start to look for and identify common ground before building the pragmatic multiform cooperation and preferential partnership we have today. During the initial stage, France had a circumspect ‘wait-and-see’ attitude towards a new State that had often been perceived through clichés and stereotypes as a region of Russia – but that is no longer the case today.

Twenty years later, France is aware of Ukraine’s bilateral, multilateral and regional potential, and of its place and role in the political and economic system on the European continent.

We consider the Ukrainian President’s official visit to Paris in October 2010 as one of the most important highlights in our recent bilateral relations. During that visit, his French counterpart pointed out that the conditions were right to take our relations to the next level, i.e. a strategic partnership. The French Prime Minister visited Ukraine in April 2011, where he co-chaired the international conference to raise funds for projects in Chernobyl, and the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Paris in September 2011.

The elections in France and Ukraine in 2012 indeed did little to help regular, intensive political exchanges. But now that the the new President of the French Republic – Mr François Hollande – has been elected, the new government has been appointed and general elections in our two countries are over, I believe it is time to resume active bilateral exchanges.

We have a tried-and-tested mechanism we can use to keep dialogue between our two countries alive: the French-Ukrainian relations roadmap, which we renew every two years and use to guide our efforts. The third roadmap will expire at the end of 2012, so I think we should start drafting the new version of this important document – which will outline the main guidelines shaping our cooperation over the short term – very soon.

However, the intensity of political dialogue has traditionally been determined for France – and first and foremost by economic issues. We are nowhere near the potential trade we could build between our two countries but it is fair to talk about spectacular growth: over the past 10 years, French investment has grown to US$ 2.223 billion, from US$ 24 million a decade ago. And bilateral exchanges have grown from US$ 446 m to US$ 2.4 billion over that period. Today, there are more than 300 French companies working in Ukraine, and France has become the 6th-largest foreign investor in Ukraine’s economy.

Ukraine naturally has everything it takes to become an attractive industrial production hub in Eastern Europe. Cooperation with western economies, including France, will play a key role and is one of the main steps towards rolling out this strategy. As France and Ukraine need new markets to improve their balance of trade, they both have everything to gain from developing more joint infrastructure-construction, agricultural-production, innovative and high-tech projects together.

I will round up by saying that these past 20 years of diplomatic and cooperation ties with France have contributed a lot to bringing Ukraine and its people closer to European countries – politically and economically speaking, but also through cultural, humanitarian and human exchanges. Enhancing multiform cooperation with Ukraine at every level would build a solid basis for stability and growth for Europe in general and France in particular.

La Lettre Diplomatique,

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