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'We Are Doing Everything To Make Ukraine A Priority' — Member Of The European Parliament
25 December, 2016
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What You Need To Know:

On Ukraine’s visa-free regime with the European Union: “We don't know yet when it will happen, but I’m sure it will happen and I hope it will come soon —  we are fighting for that,” Ivan Stefanec, Member of the European Parliament;

 Stefanec explains that two years ago, Ukraine was the number one priority in the European Parliament. Now, however, Syria and Brexit have taken precedence when it comes to discussing foreign policy;

On the E.U. playing a global role: “We are going to set up the standards of world trade and we are going to play the global role because if you are not able to make these agreements, somebody else will do that;”

U.S. and E.U. relations: “Our objective is to make strong ties between Europe and the U.S. because it's the guarantee for the security and also some good cooperation in the whole world as well.”

So my first question that I think is the main topic today in Ukraine, we finally have the EUdecision on visa liberalization but the real question is what are the real terms? And maybe you know some information about obstacles that may occur.

I hope it will come soon but the honest answer is that nobody knows when it will happen, definitely. I’m one of the MEPs, members of the European parliament, who is pushing for that because I think it's a very important message for Ukrainian people to get a signal from the European Union that they are on the right way. And I think it's also important for the European Union to get this win-win situation, to get a visa-free regime for Ukraine. I think it's not only good for Ukraine but also for the European Union. So honest answer is that we don't know yet when it will happen, but I’m sure it will happen and I hope it will come soon — we are fighting for that.

Also, I have to say there are still some countries who are not sure that it is a good step to have this visa-free regime — particularly bigger countries, bigger Western European countries. This situation is being discussed in the European Parliament and it is pushed much more from Central and Eastern European members of the E.U. rather than from Western Europe. But I do believe that we will come to the successful…

But what countries are maybe against this decision, as you mentioned?

Basically, Germany and France are the countries that are quite resistant. I don't want to speculate but really they are quite resistant because they don't the know the result, they don't see consequences so they're quite careful. They are not saying that they are against, but they are just careful with this step. I think that’s the best explanation.

So you're talking about the canceling of this decision but about maybe making this decision a little bit later, right? From these countries, as you mentioned.

Yes. That’s the reality…I hope we will come to the conclusion.

Can we can we talk about the terms. Is it a matter of a few months or a few weeks?

It’s hard to say any commitment but I do hope it will come rather soon in coming months. I hope it would come in coming months. But you know we have to see it also from the position of other issues discussed in the European Parliament and among European institutions. The reality is that two years ago, Ukraine was priority number one, which is still a very very important issue. Ukraine is, from my point of view, the most important country in Europe right now. The most important neighboring country for the E.U. and that, therefore, the most important foreign policy issue for the E.U., as well. But taking into consideration situation in Syria and the situation with Brexit, and other issues, I would say it was more or less, I would say, going a little bit behind in comparison with other priorities. But we are doing everything in order to put this priority, to put Ukraine in front because I think it is a very important issue and once again, to give a positive signal to the Ukrainian people that they're on the right way.

As I know, you were in charge from Slovakia government on the issue for joining the Eurozone. So in your opinion, after the recent referendum in Italy, how will it affect the stability of Eurozone?

Well, it might affect but also it will depend on the next development in Italy. The Euro was in crisis a couple of years ago in 2009-2010. At that time, seven European governments fell down because of the Euro and because there was a very unpopular decision taken at that time — even in my country Slovakia. It was one country where the government fell because of sacrificing the Euro currency. But I have to say we succeed and the Euro is a stable and successful currency. We have to highlight this fact that we have a very stable and successful currency and in order to support that, we have to keep the rules. And there are still some countries that don't want to keep the rules, like Greece, now like Italy and others. So, therefore, there are some voices that probably they don't want to be in the Eurozone. They can decide if it is better for them or not but I do believe it's important to be united and it's important to keep the Eurozone together. The reality is that we still don't have a mechanism on how to leave the Eurozone. We have the rules how to come in but not how to come out. I think we have to apply those rules because it will motivate also other countries to keep the rules. That’s the most important point in order to keep successful Euro in the future. Italy will be a test case like it was Greece. Italy will be a test case and I hope that rational decisions and responsibilities will win and they will still be a part of the Eurozone. I'm quite positive.

If talking about leaving the Eurozone, I know that you're also a member of the E.U. committee on the issue of the internal market. What are the main signals towards Britain now? Will they be able to stay as a part of the internal market after Brexit? What are the possible scenarios?

There are more possible scenarios and it will depend now on a decision from the United Kingdom, whether they apply the same rules as they are applied right now or they are coming with some limitation and working permits and some limits for a single market. Our objective is to keep the single market, as it is right now also with Great Britain. Even people in this country decided in a referendum, as we know, to leave the European Union. We are the free union of free states so in the European Union we have very clear rules that we can come in but also countries can come out. This reality that it didn’t happen in the past that any country left the European Union but we will have the case of the U.K. so I'd like to stress out this fact that it's really up to the people, up to the decision. And they decided. We are ready to negotiate and as you asked about the internal market, it is really the most important issue: to keep the internal market together. I have to say in Britain, in the referendum, populism was born. Not a rational decision but populism because populists promise to people that they are going to save money. We know that they are not going to save any money because the U.K. is very much dependent on trade with E.U. — and vice versa. But the U.K. would be more effective than the E.U. because the E.U. is stronger than the U.K. in the number of people, in terms of the number of value created. So therefore definitely there will be some negative effects. But overall our goal is to minimize these negative effects and to keep the internal market as much as it is possible. So we are going to negotiate. We have set up a negotiation team. Mr. Verhofstadt of the European Parliament is responsible for that. I'm the member of the so-called U.K. advisory group in the European People's Party. And there is also a negotiator from the European Commissioner, who is former commissioner Barnier of France so there are people with clear positions and clear objectives what they should do. And our objective is to keep the internal market. I think it is possible but also it will depend on the position of Great Britain.

In your opinion, is the European Union ready to take on more responsibilities and to have a greater role on the global level? As we can see, certain powers in Europe —  certain parties are talking and raising their voices about leaving the European Union for the European countries.

That’s a very important question and I think the answer is yes. We are ready and we have to do that. Taking into consideration current situation, we have to do that — particularly after the presidential election in U.S. We have to take more responsibility for our defense and also economic development. The European Union currently is 25% of GDP so we are still a strong economic power but they are not still strong in terms of defense. Most European countries are members of NATO but only some European countries respect the rules and they contribute 2% of their GDP into a common budget. I think we have to increase our security and not only the cost for our security but also the ways in which we are going to improve our defense. And it's not only about our meetings. It’s now currently about cyber attacks, about hybrid war so about the new dangerous situations which are occurring currently in the world. So we have to do much more in defense taking into this role, also strengthening European defense if to do much more. Also in order to set up world standards in terms of trade, we have agreed to the trade agreement with Canada after long negotiations. I think it's important to agree on trade and investment also with the U.S. if we are going to be able to make an agreement between the E.U. and the U.S., it's almost half of our trade. So that's a very clear message that we are going to set up the standards of world trade and we are going to play the global role because if you are not able to make these agreements, somebody else will do that — particularly Asian countries which are developing very very fast. And we are in the situation that if we are not going to make this agreement with the U.S., maybe we will not set up standards but we are just going to follow them. That’s what we don't want. So therefore definitely we have to be more cooperative and I see the future in transatlantic cooperation in terms of defense but also in terms of economic cooperation.

What is the prognosis towards these E.U.-U.S. agreements, taking into account that the new president of the United States is Donald Trump?

Yes, again, good question. A lot of question marks because we know that in the election campaign, Donald Trump made a lot of different statements. So many people are not sure. And I think the situation will be clarified after the E.U.-U.S. Summit, which was called by European institutions particularly by Mr. Tusk who is the president of the European Council. So after this summit, we will know much more about not only the defense but also about economic cooperation, which has to be strengthened. Our objective is to make strong ties between Europe and the U.S. because it's the guarantee for the security and also some good cooperation in the whole world as well.

Hromadske’s Olga Datsiuk spoke to Ivan Stefanec, Member of the European Parliament in December 2016 in Kyiv.