Ukraine deserves better

П'ятниця, 27 грудня 2013, 20:48

I am afraid 2013 has not been the best of years for Ukraine.

I hoped it would be different. I hoped Ukraine would enter 2014 strong and united, with a credible program of economic reforms supported by the IMF, and with a signed Association and Deep Free Trade Agreement with the European Union.

This is what I was told by the President and Prime Minister of Ukraine. This is what the Ukrainian population was told. And this is undoubtedly what would have been best for the country.

Instead, negotiations with IMF were frozen, signature of the EU agreement pushed into an uncertain future, and opaque deals with Russia concluded. Those who sought explanations were left confused and those who first voiced their protest at the Maidan were beaten up by the police.

Just like the people bracing the cold in Kyiv every day, I am convinced Ukraine deserves better.

It is a country of great promise - from Lviv in the West to Lugansk in the East - and there is no reason why it should constantly fall short of its potential.

The truth, however, is that there is no easy way out of the current crisis. The ill advised decisions over the last couple of weeks have made the situation worse, but years of mismanagement had already brought the country to the brink of economic collapse.

The need for change is perhaps best illustrated by Transparency International's latest corruption perception index, where Ukraine is listed as number 144 out of 177 countries.

Unless Ukraine is ready to sign up to a more or less permanent dependency on Moscow's good will - the only way forward is a program of comprehensive economic reforms, ideally supported by IMF.

Such a program will not be without short term pain. But once implemented, it would allow Ukraine to return to solid ground and build a much better future.

That is what the country deserves, what the President should pursue and what the political opposition should support.

If the people of Ukraine so wants, such a reform program could also include a renewed - and more genuine - European choice. The EU Heads of State and Government just met in Brussels and gave the green light: The European Union is ready to sign the Association and Deep Free Trade Agreement as soon as Ukraine is ready.

But let me stress it once again: It is a free choice. Contrary to what the Russian propaganda claims, EU is not forcing its policies upon its neighbors. The Agreement is an offer - and a rather attractive one - for those that are interested.

In the Ukrainian debate, there has hardly been a day without new bizarre figures to measure the alleged cost of European integration, including those quoted by the Prime Minister himself trying to explain why the Ukraine suddenly chose not to sign the EU agreement at the Vilnius Summit.

The real story is, of course, very different. Every serious analysis show that Ukraine would gain in terms of higher growth and higher salaries from signing and implementing the EU agreement, and for those who do not trust the economic forecasts it should be enough to see what EU integration has meant to Poland and the other neighbors of Ukraine who have wholeheartedly embraced European integration.

My hope is therefore that 2014 will be a better year for Ukraine, a year when the country is able restore trust and rediscover the way forward.

The opportunities are great and the determination showed by the protesters at Maidan is proof enough that the country is ready to go if someone is ready to lead.

A people that can pursue their protest week after week in sub zero temperatures can also bear the hardship of painful but necessary economic reforms, and a population that come together for the largest ever pro European demonstration deserve one day to see also their country fully engaged in European co-operation.

Ukraine is European country, and it belongs within the European family of nations.

By Carl Bildt, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden

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