I was in the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee today when it voted 49-8 in favour of the EU’s trade agreement with Ukraine, preparing the way for a simultaneous ratification of the agreement by both Ukrainian and European parliaments next week.
This reaffirms, in a practical and non-military way, the support of 28 European democracies for Ukraine in these difficult times. It’s not an exclusive agreement; it in no way precludes Ukraine reaching agreement with its other neighbours to enhance trade and cooperation with them. Nor does it envisage EU membership for Ukraine. But it does respond to Ukraine’s request to deepen its relationship with the European Union.
Many members of the committee, including representatives from each political group in Parliament, outlined their positions before the vote. Of the eight MEPs who voted against the agreement, some opposed the timing of the deal, with new elections due soon in Ukraine. Some felt that, for now, we should refrain from doing anything that might annoy Russia. But UKIP’s position of total opposition went one step further.
Firstly, the UKIP MEP Lord Dartmouth ranted and heckled from the back, and then stormed out of the room when the committee made the simple decision at the start of the meeting to keep this item on its agenda. Now, I know that, as the hereditary 10th Earl of Dartmouth, he may not exactly be accustomed to making decisions through debate and vote, but this did seem to be taking it a bit far!
More worrying, though, is the UKIP line supporting Putin and claiming that a trade agreement with Ukraine is somehow an example of EU aggression. It takes breathtaking chutzpah to claim that non-exclusive trade constitutes aggression, while Russia is ‘only defending itself’ when it annexes part of the territory of its neighbour, supports violent separatists in another part and tries to prevent a sovereign country from choosing to trade with its neighbours.