European and Ukrainian Parliaments vote simultaneously for closer trade and political ties in Europe; EP also debates ways to deflect punitive Russian import bans on EU products
PTC opener John on Welcome to our round-up of the European Parliament's plenary session here in Strasbourg...the first since President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker named his future College of Commissioners.
Those 28 commissioners still need to be approved following parliamentary hearings later in September.
But THIS week was dominated by the historic, though controversial, ratification in Strasbourg and Kiev of a new political and economic deal with Ukraine, a so-called Association Agreement.
PTC Opener Parliament also considered the best response to Russia´s retaliatory import ban on EU agricultural products.
We start our coverage with the vote on the EU-Ukraine agreement.
Archive, plenary footage, Putin
Poroschenko video screen,
Weber in presser John off This Association Agreement, which still needs member state approval, was rejected last year by the then-pro-Moscow Ukrainian government.
A violent pro-EU change in government and subsequent civil war leaving thousands dead followed, with Russian military involvement, to this day, in rebel-held parts of eastern Ukraine.
But this week there was applause in both the European and Ukrainian parliaments.
With President Petro Poroschenko joining both votes by videoconference, the agreement should bring relief for Ukrainian trade headed into the EU-- while exceptional EU customs and tariffs ensure its goods remain competitive with many cheaper products from the EU for the time being.
John off EPP Group Chairman Manfred Weber said the vote sent a clear message to Ukraine--and Russia--adding it amounted to more than just a multi-billion Euro economic deal.
Interview EPP Group Chairman Manfred Weber
0:33-0:39 The Association Agreement with the Ukraine is a symbol, a symbol for the orientation of a state -- the Ukraine state. This means orientation in the direction of freedom of democracy, of a fair justice system.
For us in the EPP Group it´s totally clear that we´re standing on the side of the Ukraine people who want to go in this direction.
Pix from presser John off Meanwhile Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, Polish EPP member of the foreign affairs committee, said the road ahead was long for Ukraine and trust of Russia and its motives very short indeed.
Interview Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, EPP
01:30 - Experience shows that this trust equals zero because no commitments were so far kept. Not to mention all the possible violations of all international law and agreements.
John off While tariff liberalisation worth more than 1 billion a year could be in force by November 1, the free trade agreement aspect has been frozen until 2016-- after Commission and Ukrainian negotiators together with Russia worked out a backroom compromise.
This left the EPP's Vice chair extremely wary about a new round of Russian backtracking.
Interview Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, EPP This may encourage rather than stop President Putin and Moscow to further escalate its demands and its military action against Ukraine.
Parliament´s foreign affairs committee Chairman Elmar Brok summed up the current EU attitude towards Russia.
Soundbite Elmar Brok
14:50 - 15.04 We have all the reason to mistrust Russia. And therefore it´s another reason why there is no reason to give up sanctions; sanctions that were not given because of this Association Agreement from us but because of their military intervention.
Russia imposed a one year import ban on EU agricultural produce--retaliation for EU economic sanctions against Russia for its actions in eastern Ukraine.
The move by Russia, now the EUs second largest export market for fruits and vegetables, has wreaked havoc on farmers and set off intense efforts by Parliament to limit the damage.
The EU originally supported up to 155 million Euros in emergency market measures for perishable fruits and vegetables as well as meat, fish and dairy products such as butter and cheese.
But the programme was suspended recently after the financial ceiling was reached. And it´s a long way from covering the estimated 5 billion Euros worth of overall lost food exports.
Czeslaw Siekierski, Polish EPP Group member on the agricultural committee, said that the support system needed to be reinstated and redoubled.
Statement in plenary Czeslaw Siekierski, EPP Group
17:17.29 -- 17:17:42 One third of our exports have been hit very hard. Our producers are still exposed to big losses and have been unable to find another outlet for their products. Some of them are going to the wall, they are going bankrupt.
Siekierski added that many producers were back to square one with nowhere to turn to make up the Russian market shortfall.
Statement in plenary Czeslaw Siekierski, EPP Group
17:18:13 – 17:18:39 Given this crisis is of a political nature, that it didn't occur as a result of market collapse or adverse weather conditions-- solidarity from other sectors is necessary.
Parliament´s agricultural committee is convinced that the burden of financial assistance, needed to help the farmers, should not be drawn entirely from the budget line specific to agriculture.
Ciolos plenary footage John off After urging from Siekierski and other agricultural committee members, outgoing EU Agricultural Commissioner Dacian Ciolos has promised to renew efforts and funding to find new markets for these "displaced" EU food products.
Pix from EPP Group meeting with Juncker
That´s all from Strasbourg. See you next week from Brussels with updates later this month on Parliamentary hearings for the Juncker Commission nominees.
And find out more about the largest political force in Parliament by going to eppgroup.eu. Thanks for looking in and see you again soon.
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