Ex-President of European Parliament MEP Buzek: To hold difficult but crucial reforms in Ukraine, politicians should not fear losing next elections
An exclusive interview of former president of the European Parliament, ex-premier of Poland and current member of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek (the European People's Party) with Interfax-Ukraine
Q.: What is your assessment of the Ukrainian leadership's actions in fulfilling the conditions necessary for signing the Association Agreement?
A.: I salute the decision of President Yanukovych to pardon former Ukrainian Ministers Yuriy Lutsenko and Heorhiy Filipchuk as well as four other persons.
After many months of tension in EU-Ukraine relations, it is a very encouraging signal from the Ukrainian side and a step towards democratization in your country. I hope there is more such positive news to come in the next weeks.
I hope that the Ukrainian authorities will continue addressing other cases of selective justice such as the case of Yulia Tymoshenko. I hope they can prove their strong commitment to implementing the reforms necessary for signing the Association Agreements at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius.
Q.: What is the mood in the EPP party towards signing the Association Agreement, what is your personal opinion?
A.:It's no secret that the mood in the EPP group is divided; I personally believe that signing the Association Agreement should be desirable; but for the EU it is very difficult - I think even impossible - to sign the Agreement when there are no visible changes and concrete steps forward in Ukraine. There are three main conditions articulated by the EU politicians and officials on numerous occasions: more transparent and fair judicial system, important changes to the electoral law and ending the practice of selective justice. We need to see progress in all of those fields and we need to further scrutinize the situation. Therefore, the EP monitoring mission to Ukraine has just been extended.
Q.: Don't you think it is better to close your eyes and sign the Association Agreement?
A.: The EU strongly believes in Ukraine's European future and undertakes concrete actions to support Ukrainians. We support people-to-people contacts. Just in April at its plenary session in Strasbourg the European Parliament passed a law simplifying visa requirements for your country. Signing the Association Agreement would be the logical next step. However, we certainly cannot close our eyes and compromise our values. Especially since the EU's expectations towards Ukraine are not excessive. All three issues I mentioned earlier have been on the table as necessary conditions for signing the Agreement since 2011. But there must be some good will in Kyiv to fulfill them. By implementing those reforms, the authorities would send a clear signal that they are ready for cooperation, ready for signing the Agreement on the basis of mutual respect.
Q.: What is your assessment for the reform process in Ukraine?
A.: If political leaders in Ukraine want to go through difficult but crucial reforms, they have to place responsibility above their short-term interests. Implementing deep reforms is always risky, since it is accompanied by a possibility of losing the next election. People are naturally change-resistant, and that is why reforms inspire objection or even anger, which may reflect in the electoral polls. It is the responsibility of every politician to think not only about the current situation but also on the future perspective and to take, if necessary, difficult decisions.
Q.: Do you have any positive example of that?
A.: In the 1990s we knew that without reforms we couldn't transform Poland into a modern country with efficient and sustainable economy. It was necessary from the point of view of the future membership to the EU but first of all from the point of view of better future for the Polish citizens. My government and the coalition decided to go through very politically dangerous reforms and indeed, the next elections turned out to be a failure for us. But only three years later, in the elections to the European Parliament, I and many of my colleagues from my previous cabinet gained strong support from people who realized how the reforms had improved everyday life in Poland.
Q.: In Ukraine we see a situation when a party comes to power and wants to win next elections and we don't see reforms. How can we change it?
A.: One solution would be to strengthen the civil society in Ukraine as well as its democratic maturity. People's political awareness may influence the authorities and generate a climate of accountability and reliability.
Having once been a prime minister, I may also say that a ruling coalition should never shy away from a continuous dialogue with an opposition. It is always probable that today's opposition will be responsible for governing the country in the future. Therefore, we should always treat our political opponents with great respect, think about country's best and not jeopardize success of the reforms in name of political battles.
Q.: Will you again participate in the election to the EP? And will you again deal with Ukraine?
A.: As there is still some time left I cannot exclude any option; however the third term as MEP would be a natural and logical continuation of my two previous mandates in the European Parliament.
Poland and Ukraine have common history, and I have a long history of personal engagement in Ukraine. As the Polish prime minister I visited Ukraine many times, invited by Prime Minister Viktor Yuschenko; he also visited Poland many times at my invitation. As the president of the European Parliament I treated Ukraine as one of my overriding priorities. As a European I feel responsible for bilateral relations between EU and Ukraine and as a Pole - between Poland and Ukraine, and this will never change.