Elmar Brok: Return of control over border with Russia to Ukraine is decisive point in Minsk agreements
Former European Parliament deputy from Germany Elmar Brok, a heavyweight in European politics, has been recently appointed special advisor to the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, on relations with Ukraine. Brok gave an interview to Interfax-Ukraine in his office in the European Commission building, which is located on the same floor as the office of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.
- When you left European Parliament, I already didn't expect to hear you back in Brussels because I thought that Mr. Brok after such a hard work in the parliament would simply enjoy his retirement … How have you got this position? Whose idea was it, and what are you going to do in this position.
It was idea of Mr. Juncker at his meeting with President Zelensky, where he said that I could be helpful: to talk to people, share some experiences, exchange views.
- Whom would you like to talk with?
I've already talked with some people at the Yalta conference (the 16th annual forum of the Yalta European Strategy was held in Kyiv from September 12 to September 14) and met with some of his [Zelensky's] advisors, and met with the deputy prime minister and others in the team, and also with the opposition. I had a short discussion with the president too.
- Do you have some kind of agenda?
I am famous for that I have never had an agenda in my life. The point is, surely, to help in development with the new government where there are many people without experience, and some people with a lot of experience which might create conflict in the government and, I think, at some point to show from the political point of view how to avoid some problems in that legislation towards European Union in such spheres as public administration, judicial reforms, decentralization which might make it difficult for the government to strengthen the European links of Ukraine.
- We already saw how the new president, the new government and the new parliament are working. What is your assessment of the new leadership in Ukraine?
Overall, I see this president and his motivations very positive. I see him as a person willing to fulfill certain reforms which were too long on the waiting list in the last period: economic reforms, anticorruption and so on and so forth. But we also have to see that here he hasn't done certain mistakes which might create problems in further integration process towards the European Union.
For us it's very important that we have independence of judicial system from the government. And here should not happen mistakes by coincidence.
- What is your assessment of the work of the parliament? And how is it for the European standard when the parliament votes for tens of draft laws during one night?
We have to see that this parliament gives chances both for the opposition and for the government members of parliament. And if many young people with a good will want to change and reform Ukraine, but they are feeling that they are not really taking part in decision making, it might also create problems for the long term stability of the parliament.
- For the first time in the history of Ukraine this president has won a huge majority in the parliament, and he has his own government. Usually such consolidation of power in one person's hands could lead to dictatorship. Do you see such kind of threats in Ukraine?
If you make mistakes in the judicial system, then the danger is there. Check and balances must happen. We see that Mr. Trump [U.S. President] is trying to take over the whole state. But there's a parliament which is independent, there are judges in the United States, and the checks and balances system still exists in the United States despite Donald Trump. And we also like such a system in the European Union. There is also reason why we debate with Polish and Hungarian government, for example, on the division between government and justice, the division of power – that is the crucial point. Democracy doesn't mean power in one person's hands. Democracy and the rule of law mean the division of power. The majority in parliament gives you no right to run everything because there are also rights of minority, of opposition, of legal differentiations and so on and so forth.
- The so called Steinmeier formula elicited a patchy response in Ukraine. How realistic is it to implement in Ukraine? Will you agree with people who are opposite to its implementation saying that this is not actually Steinmeier formula, but Russians' formula?
I know Mr. Steinmeier very well. He is not Russian man. Steinmeier was the man who led negotiations in February 2014 with [ex-President of Ukraine Viktor] Yanukovych to get rid of him. It should not be forgotten. Therefore, I can't say that Steinmeier is pro-Russian man. That is unfair towards Mr. Steinmeier.
The second point is the old situation [with the fulfillment of the Minsk Agreements], when both sides say the other side has to do everything and this is the precondition for the other side to fulfill its obligations. And it was also wrong. No change has taken place over the last five years. What we need to find is a step by step strategy: one party is doing a step, and then the other side is doing a step and so on and so forth in order to get progress. If nobody wants to do a step, the whole thing does not develop. And here we have to see whether it's right step and the follow-up of this step in the right order.
There is a precondition for everything: if Ukraine gets control over the Ukrainian border, then it is decisive point. Because if that is the case, the Russians cannot bring troops and weapons [to separatists] in that way as they did until now. Then that will be achieved. I don't know enough of the details, but what I think is that the Ukrainian government should keep control in every stage of this development.
- In the light of the recent scandal over the phone conversation of Zelensky and Trump, where Mr. Zelensky accused EU, and particularly France and Germany, that Berlin and Paris are not doing enough to help Ukraine despite the fact that in reality EU pays twice more to Ukraine annually than the U.S.
Twice? Eighteen times more! The United States has given 1 billion on loan guarantees. This is not even money, but a promise to take on a debt obligation of Ukraine. Since 2015, the European Union has given 15 billion from its budget, including in loans and grants, another 3 billion has been given by EU countries, where Germany alone has given 1.4 billion [EUR]. So, let's say altogether the European Union member states have given at least EUR 18 billion!
These are real figures – EUR 18 billion, of which there are many grants. Trump is always talking that Ukrainians can buy weapons and buy gas. But it was never said that anything can be for free for Ukraine. We also signed an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area Agreement, according to which export to the EU from Ukraine has increased by 40% compared to 2014. We have also introduced a visa-free regime! The United States does not sign such agreements. Look, EU gives ten times more than Americans.
- Don't you think that such unfair criticism by Zelensky can somehow change Germany's position regarding sanctions for Russia?
Look … we know the style of telephoning by Mr. Trump … and the purpose of that telephone call. Therefore, it will have no impact on the European policy, no negative impact.
- There is a tendency that the position within the EU regarding sanctions for Russia is getting weaker and weaker …
We are always debating with our member states and they are always renewed. And you have to see that sanctions of the European Union are much more expensive than for the United States. The trade of the United States with Russia has increased in these five years, and for European countries it has dropped. The United States has paid nearly nothing for the sanctions. We do. For them, it's theoretical sanctions, for us it's practical sanctions.
- What is your plan until the end of this year regarding your activity in this position?
I report to the President of the European Commission every week what is going on in this transition period in Ukraine. In next two weeks I am going to visit Ukraine again.