Tuesday

22nd Jun 2021

Ukraine to push for enlargement promise in treaty

  • Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (l) is a frequent visitor in Brussels (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Polish diplomats are happy with a mild pro-enlargement statement in a recent EU communique. But Ukraine says the text is not ambitious enough.

EU foreign ministers on Monday (20 June) said in their review of the European Neighbourhood Policy that "The Council acknowledges the European aspirations and the European choice of some partners."

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They also singled out Moldova and Ukraine for praise in progress on Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTA), sometimes described as "accession-lite" treaties because they go a long way to aligning commercial laws with EU single market legislation.

The official recognition of post-Soviet countries' EU ambitions at a time when the union is neck-deep in a financial crisis and coping with the Arab Spring is a minor victory for pro-enlargement member states such as Poland and Sweden.

The European Commission had earlier proposed weaker wording on the importance of conformity with EU values in Article 49 of the union's treaty, which says any "European" country can apply to join.

Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski on Monday reportedly joked with fellow ministers that Ukraine should not be left in the lurch, saying "You can't invite a girl to the cinema and then not turn up." Swedish minister Carl Bildt quipped that Poland is seeking more intimate EU relations with Ukraine than it lets on, adding "In Sweden, when you take a girl to the cinema, sometimes it isn't to watch the film."

Despite the good humour, Ukraine's EU ambassador, Kostyantyn Yeliseyev, said Kiev will be seeking a stronger "accession perspective" in the preamble to its EU Association Agreement (AA).

"We are working hard to have more ambitious language in the bilateral document," he told EUobserver. "This [EU accession] is the one idea that unites Ukrainian society and this is why it's so important to have it in the preamble."

Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso is to go to Ukraine in October to help finalise the DCFTA and AA talks. The incoming Polish EU presidency then aims to initial the two treaties at an EU-Ukraine summit in Kiev in early December. One Polish diplomat mentioned 2025 as a potential date for EU entry.

Yeliseyev noted that the DCFTA and AA represent a profound geopolitical choice to leave behind Russia's sphere of influence and go West.

"The finalisation and future signature of the agreement will be a clear cut message about the irreversibility of Ukraine's course toward European integration. This agreement not only has economic and trade dimensions, it's a geopolitical choice for Ukraine," the ambassador said.

For its part, Russia is trying to tempt Ukraine into a rival Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan by dangling promises of cheap gas.

EU diplomats are also concerned that Russia or pro-Russian elements in the Ukrainian establishment could stage a provocation in the run-up to December, such as organising Russian nationalist marches designed to turn violent, in order to spoil EU-Ukraine relations. They are also worried that Ukrainian authorities could shoot themselves in the foot, by, for example, jailing political enemies, such as former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

"The main thing is to keep the momentum going toward the DCFTA and the AA. This is our one window of opportunity. Next year we have elections in Russia and in Ukraine and everything will be put on the shelf," one EU diplomatic contact said.

Commenting on Moldova and Ukraine's EU prospects, Nicu Popescu, an analyst at the European Council for Foreign Relations and a former advisor to the Moldovan prime minister, said the ball is in Chisinau and Kiev's court.

"Moldova knows at this stage it's not about this or that word or comma in an EU text. The real issue is to deliver on internal reforms - on visas, human rights, trade, transport," he said.

"Look at Albania. Albania has had an EU accession promise for ages. But if you look at the way its recent elections were held, not to mention the clashes between rival parties and deaths, there are lots of question marks ... EU wording is important, but it didn't make Albania into a European country."

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