“As an independent country, Ukraine is the master of its own destiny. As a close partner, the EU has a great interest in the steps that Ukraine is taking, because the future of our relationship will depend first and foremost on Ukraine's own choices," EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said in a statement, congratulating the people of Ukraine on the 22nd anniversary of Independence.
Ashton praised the efforts of Ukraine's OSCE chairmanship to "build bridges" and noted Ukraine's "pivotal role for gas transit to Europe as yet another example of its crucial international role". At the same time, according to her, the country has a "huge untapped potential". "As in the EU, citizens in Ukraine have the legitimate expectation that the rule of law will be systematically applied, that fundamental freedoms will be respected, that the judiciary will provide for fair legal process, that law enforcement bodies will ensure protection, that elected representatives will be held politically accountable, and that an adequate job will secure a decent life. I believe that hard work and political will translate vision into reality," the statement reads. According to Ashton, the EU and Ukraine have an unprecedented opportunity to make a major leap forward in their relations by signing the Association Agreement, which will also provide for the establishment of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. "Four out of five parliamentary factions in Ukraine have made clear their European choice. This declaration of intent should be the catalyst for efforts from many Ukrainians to achieve the objective of building Europe in Ukraine. A litmus test for the seriousness of Ukraine's intentions will be whether Ukraine creates the right circumstances to allow for the signing of the Association Agreement. By so doing, Ukraine would demonstrate its commitment to a longer term process of modernization and reform. The implementation of the Association Agreement can provide a better business and investment climate in Ukraine. It can improve the quality and competitiveness of Ukrainian products. The free trade area can bring mutual economic gains and offer new opportunities for Ukrainian products and services on the European Union's huge internal market. It will lead to increased predictability, stability, transparency and risk-reduction, creating better conditions for Ukrainian and foreign businesses. This will ultimately increase employment opportunities for Ukrainians. The genuine motivation for the Agreement should thus be clear for all to see; it is not directed against the interests of any third party," the statement reads. In conclusion, Ashton expressed hope that in the coming months Ukraine would successfully implement the criteria established for signing the Association Agreement. "The European Union will continue to assist reform efforts. As Ukraine makes genuine progress in carrying out reforms and embracing European standards, relations between the EU and Ukraine will inevitably become deeper and stronger," Ashton wrote in her statement.