Why upcoming EU elections are important to Ukraine

By On November 04, 2018

Why upcoming EU elections are important to Ukraine

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BRUSSELS â€" While the importance of Ukraine’s presidential election in March and parliamentary election in October is clear for the fate of the nation, another big election for Ukraine’s future takes place from May 23-26. That’s when citizens of European Union countries elect a new European Parliament.

The parliament then, in turn, chooses a new government, the European Commision, which must select a president. The current president is Jean-Claude Juncker, appointed through a Spitzenkandidat process, a German concept that awards the presidency to the party winning the most seats in parliament.

For Ukraine, the president of the European Commission is one of the key figures in the relationship with the 28-nation bloc.

All decisions, such as the EU-Ukraine political and trade association agreement, visa-free regime and financial assistance, are taken first by the commission and then approved by the European Council and the European Parliament. The commission president defines the attitude of the European institution towards Ukraine â€" whether to do more, less or nothing at all for the country. Juncker belongs to the European People’s Party, the group of central-right pro-European parties known for its support to Ukraine. As a former prime minister of Luxembourg, Jun cker has good knowledge of Ukraine and a pro-Ukrainian attitude.

Dangers to Ukraine, however, lurk everywhere in the EU.

One of them is Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini. He is seeking the European Commission presidency but is given little chance of winning. His election would usher in a dark period in Ukraine-EU relations. He and his government have already accepted Russia’s illegal annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula in 2014. The government said it would “not be afraid” to use its veto powers in the EU as a “last resort” to lift the 28-nation bloc’s sanctions against Russia for its war on Ukraine and other misbehavior.

Salvini’s alliance of far-right parties, including Marine Le Pen’s French National Rally as part of the Europe of Nations and Freedom, lacks popular support to take control of the parliament and commission. Only 35 out of 751 members of the European Parliament belong to the right-wing grouping.

Potenti ally, the European People’s Party will remain the largest political force. It has now 219 of the 751 seats. There are predictions its size could drop to 180 seats after the election, but it would remain the biggest and most influential group at that size. The party will choose its candidate for European Commision president on Nov. 7-8 at a conference in Helsinki, Finland.

Around 3,000 people are expected, including delegates, guests, 400 journalists and eight heads of states and governments from EU countries. Although not part of the EU, Ukrainians also will be there in Helsinki. Currently, ex-prime minister and current presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko’ Batkivshchyna Party, with 20 seats in the Ukrainian parliament, and Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR Party, with no seats in parliament, are members of the European People’s Party.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s bloc, which controls the largest number of seats in the Ukrainian parliament â€" 1 35 out of 422 seats â€" is still waiting for party decision on membership.

Roland Freudenstein, policy director of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, the official think tank of the European People’s Party, told that the Kyiv Post that participation in the party congress “is important to center-right politicians from Ukraine.”

“First of all, they show that Ukraine is a European democracy and takes part in European strategic debates. Second, they demonstrate that Ukraine is willing to listen to its friends in the EU â€" which means gathering support against Russian aggression, but also includes listening to critical remarks about slow reforms in Ukraine regarding rule of law and fighting corruption,” Freudenstein said. “Third, it’s a great opportunity to explain Ukrainian strategies how to better cope with the reform challenges in the future.”

At the same time, as Ukraine will have its own elections, making the trip to Helsinki is al so a good opportunity to test the waters and get to know the next European Commission president.

If the European People’s Party remains dominant, Ukraine will at least not have to worry much about a big shift in the policy of support for Ukraine, especially in defending itself against Russia’s war.

Technically, the European People’s Party will consider two candidates, Manfred Weber, chairman of the group in the European Parliament, and Alex Stuff, ex-prime minister of Finland. However, it won’t be much of a contest, however, since heads of state and the European People’s Party government are backing Weber.

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, leader of the Fidesz Party, will be there. Orban is at odds with the European Parliament, which declared that Hungary is at risk of breaching the EU’s core values.

The parliament initiates so-called Article 7 procedure against Budapest, citing rollbacks in Hungary’s judicial independence, fight agains t corruption, freedom of expression, academic freedom, the rights of minorities and migrants, and other issues.

Under Article 7, a member nation could have some of its EU rights suspended, but there is no mechanism to expel a member. Orban is dangerous from Ukraine’s point of view because he is politically allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Orban has taken steps to block Ukraine’s closer integration with the EU and NATO, alleging that a new education law promoting the use of the Ukrainian language comes at the expense of Hungary’s ethnic minority, which numbers more than 100,000 people living mainly in western Ukraine near the Hungarian border. Ukraine denies the discrimination charges.

The European People’s Party is, consequently, facing pressure to expel or suspend Fidesz.

A closed-door meeting took place on Oct. 17 among party members in Brussels about what to do with Orban. The signs are that Orban will stay, based on public comment s of party leaders. Weber, the leading candidate for European Commission president, does not want to isolate Orban. “I want to keep Europe united,” he said.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz lent support for Orban’s anti-immigration policies by joining the Hungarian leader in opposition to EU migrant quotas, which nationalist forces consider to be overly generous. The Austrian chancellor’s conservatives formed coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party and his government has taken a hard-line stance on immigration and asylum seekers.

Other political groups, including the Party of European Socialists, European Green Party, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats will hold their meetings later in the year, so the full list of Spitzenkandidats â€" or contenders for European Commission president â€" will be known by the end of the year.

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Source: Google News Ukraine | Netizen 24 Ukraine

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