Article by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier und French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault marking their joint visit to Ukraine. Published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (22 February 2016).
Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe. It is a country with enormous potential. It has large industrial centres like Dnipropetrovsk and Saporoshje, huge, fertile areas of rich black soil and a population of 45 million people, all full of hopes and with great expectations for a better future.
The leadership in Kyiv has a tremendous political and historical responsibility to work to realise the hopes on which it was elected, so that Ukraine can be a responsible, reliable member of the European family.
The struggle for the right political course is being followed closely not only by the people of Ukraine itself, but by the entire world. Anyone who gets up to speak in the Rada or on a public platform in Ukraine needs to be aware that they are also speaking on the European public stage.
Ukraine is facing unprecedented challenges. Its sovereignty has been undermined by one of its neighbours in a way many in the Europe of the 21st century believed impossible. The resulting conflict in eastern Ukraine is taking up too many of the political and financial resources that should be going into the reform process.
Unfortunately, we are still a long way from a peaceful political settlement. Twelve months on, implementing the agreements reached in Minsk remains difficult. Nevertheless, this is the only viable way for the country to regain sovereignty over its territory and to be able to live in peace at last.
The Ukrainian economy has undergone an unprecedented downturn. Reform is urgently needed in the public sector. Thanks to the lack of effective anti-monopoly rules, some individuals have accumulated huge commercial power which they shamelessly exploit for political gain. Social cohesion is at risk in light of serious accusations of widespread corruption. Tackling these problems means staying true to the spirit of the Maidan which emerged so impressively two years ago.
It is true that considerable progress has been made in the two years since the Revolution of Dignity. The reform of the energy sector has stemmed previous scandalous abuses. A complete overhaul of the police force is underway, and the banking system is being cleaned up. This progress can be felt by the people. A legal framework for fighting corruption is in place, and an electronic system for public procurement has been introduced. The legal and financial standing of the regions has improved.
Anyone who looks closely can see that despite all the challenges there are also signs of an upturn. Agriculture, a key sector in Ukraine alongside industry, has seen positive development over the past two years. The keen interest shown in the European-Ukrainian business and investment conference in Berlin last October surprised even the organisers. Another such conference is to take place in Paris in early April. That is encouraging.
But the comprehensive modernisation of the country which the people want and voted for is a long road. That is precisely why it is so important not to stop now, half way. The reforms for the future must be continued. That is the key to increased prosperity and lasting stability in Ukraine. Those who are strong and united within can better withstand threats from outside.
It is the duty of the political leaders in Kyiv ‑ the President and Prime Minister, the Government and the Rada, the governing coalition and the opposition, all parliamentary groups and constitutional organs ‑ to implement the necessary reforms. The right and necessary, but also difficult and sometimes painful course of modernisation of Ukraine is a matter of such political import that all political and societal forces in the country who are aware of their responsibility must work together.
The priority now must be to create the conditions for the continuation of IMF support so as to attain macroeconomic stability. The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, which has been applied provisionally since the start of 2016, can be a crucial engine for reform and modernisation if it is implemented courageously and consistently. The decentralisation of the state and administration can help to bring the process of government closer to the citizens and to make it more efficient and more transparent.
France, Germany, the EU and many other international partners are there to help Ukraine on its way to modernising its government, society and economy. In return for our solidarity and support, we expect a clear commitment from the key political forces in Ukraine that they will continue along the path of reform.
In this sense, Ukraine has made a pact for the future with the international community. The priority now must be to breathe life into these pledges. For they are pledges to those people who stood up for prosperity and freedom on the Maidan and in many parts of the country.
More than once has Ukraine’s history taken a tragic turn. We hope this time all will end well. It is up to the leadership in Kyiv.