EU-Ukraine Association Agreement now in Zeman’s hands

Czech lower house passed agreement shortly before midnight

Prague, Sept 18 (ČTK) — The lower house of Czech parliament passed the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine at its session shortly before midnight on Thursday, after months of protraction and despite strong criticism of the opposition Communist Party (KSČM).

The upper house passed the EU-Ukraine agreement last December. President Miloš Zeman is to ratify it now.

The Czech Republic is one of the four EU countries that have not ratified the agreement with Ukraine yet. The three other are Belgium, Cyprus and Greece. The European Parliament and Ukraine ratified it some time ago as well.

In the late night vote, 107 of 138 lower house deputies present voted in support of the ratification of the deal and 29 KSČM deputies voted against it.

The Communists said previously they would do their utmost to block to passage of the EU-Ukraine deal. In the past several months, they used all kinds of obstructions in parliament to postpone the discussion on it. The agreement was sent to the lower house more than one year ago.

The stormy debate lasted several hours on September 17 and it was accompanied with disputes about Nazism and communism and controversial Ukrainian politician Stepan Bandera.

The Communist MPs claimed that the regime in Ukraine is fascist-like, while the government parties and the right-wing opposition argued that the ratification of the deal would help stabilize Ukraine.

KSČM MP Zdeněk Ondráčeksaid Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek (Social Democrats, ČSSD) “only repeated what the United States or the European Union announced.”

Miroslav Kalousek, deputy head of the right-wing opposition TOP 09, said the opponents of the EU-Ukraine deal should openly admit that they do not want the deal simply because Russian President Vladimir Putin does not want it.

Defense Minister Martin Stropnický (ANO) said if the parliament rejected the association agreement, it would mean that it “joined the numbers of Putin’s dervishes.”

MP Martin Novotný (right-wing opposition Civic Democrats, ODS) said the reservations about the agreement were a remarkable display of the propaganda machine of otherwise very capable and sophisticated agencies from the East.

ČSSD MP Jaroslav Foldyna proposed that, along with the passage of the EU-Ukraine deal, the lower house should issue a resolution declaring that Ukraine can move towards the EU only after it implements broad economic and political reforms. The resolution also stated that “the influence of corrupted oligarchs and their private armies must be limited” as well as extreme nationalist activities.

Foldyna did not push his proposal through because it was only supported by his party and by ANO lower house group’s head Jaroslav Faltýnek.

The circumstances of the signing of the EU-Ukraine agreement were rather stormy as a crisis developed in Ukraine in 2014, which resulted in violent street protests in Kiev, the annexation of Crimea by Russia and fighting between pro-Russian rebels and the government army in the eastern part of the country.

The political part of the agreement was signed in March 2014, while the economic one only after the extraordinary presidential election in June. The key articles on the free trade zone will take effect as of 2016. The agreement is based on democratic principles, human rights and fundamental freedoms, the free market and anti-corruption fight.

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