• Sikorski (c): 'It’s more than many were ready to accept even this morning' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU gives Ukraine enlargement hint

10.02.14 @ 20:57

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - EU countries have for the first time since the Orange Revolution indicated that Ukraine might one day join the European Union.

The bloc’s foreign ministers said in a joint statement in Brussels on Monday (10 February): “The Council expresses its conviction that this agreement does not constitute the final goal in EU-Ukraine co-operation."

The “agreement” is the EU’s current offer of a political association and free trade treaty.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton declined to go further than the carefully worded communique, which falls far short of the explicit EU promise given to the Western Balkan states. “The words mean what they say,” she told press in the EU capital.

Germany said nothing on the matter.

But Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski, who proposed the “final goal” statement, gave the words more force.

Referring to article 49 of the EU treaty, which says any “European state” can join if it meets criteria, he told media: “We have opened the door and given the hope to the Ukrainian nation that, if Ukraine embarks on the course of reform, then it has the chance to take full advantage of European integration and treaty provisions.”

He described the EU ministers’ debate as “emotional … lively,” adding: “It’s more than many were ready to accept even this morning, so I consider it an achievement.”

He noted the EU is making a special effort on Ukraine, because Poland itself did not have any “enlargement perspective” when it signed its EU association pact in 1993, 11 years before it joined.

The EU ministers also discussed the prospect of EU financial aid for Ukraine and the threat of sanctions.

Sikorski said “various estimates” of potential EU and International Monetary Fund assistance for Ukraine if it makes reforms add up to €20 billion.

But other ministers noted this is the same offer which was on the table before the protests broke out, despite recent remarks by Ashton the EU is working on a new “Ukrainian Plan.”

"We as the EU cannot enter in a competition of billions compared to what Russia can put at Ukraine's disposal. The EU could not come up with that kind of money on its own. So we have to dismiss any impressions there is such a competition,” Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

On sanctions, Sikorski said Ashton on her two last visits to Kiev conveyed a “very strong mesage” there would be “consequences” if Ukrainian authorities used force to break up protests.

Steinmeier noted that talks between opposition MPs and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have hit a “standstill.”

He added: “Today there was a clear consensus that as long as there are changes and improvements in the government-opposition talks, there is no need to decide on sanctions. But if the time comes that we say Yanukovych and his people are blocking talks, we'll have to decide on sanctions."

Luxembourg’s Jean Asselborn noted it is “unfortunate,” that Ukraine’s former PM, Mykola Azarov, who is widely blamed for the initial wave of police brutality, “left Kiev on a private plane to another country and there is speculation that this man is very, very rich.”

The country in question is Austria, according to reports in Ukrainian independent media.

Steinmeier and Asselborn also complained about the US approach to Ukraine.

Their comments come after a bugged phone call by the US’ top official on Europe, Victoria Nuland, was uploaded on YouTube in which she, now famously, said “fuck the EU.”

Asselborn remarked it is not the expletive itself which caused “annoynace” but “the belief that the EU is not capable of handling the situation and is letting Russia do what it wants.”

Steinmeier made the same point.

“Ultimately, it is not the line that bothers me … what bothers me is the attitude behind it,” he said.

“The belief that situations that are not easily changed from outside can be changed just by telling the Europeans they are too lenient with conflictual partners, and that a few sanctions would move things which are blocked. This does not correspond to my analysis of the conflicts that have taken place in our neighbourhood in the last few years.”