16th May 2022

Ukraine takes EU to task for weak words on new treaty

  • Kiev - Ukraine believes the EU's blueprint for future relations does not reflect changes since 1998 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Kiev plans to push Brussels to insert a strong reference to accession prospects in a new bilateral treaty and to get the word "association" into the title of the new document, after the EU on Monday (22 January) used wishy-washy language on future relations.

"They say the Balkans have a European perspective and this is a huge stimulus for democratic and economic reform. Why don't they do this with Ukraine? Let's be fair. Let's be consistent," a Ukraine diplomat told EUobserver.

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"After the period of communist ideology, the only ideology that can unite Ukrainian society today is that of EU-integration," he added. "We need such a political message from the other side for our internal reasons."

The remarks come after the EU rejected Kiev's request to refer to Article 49 of the EU Treaty - which says any "European state" that respects EU principles like democracy can apply to join - in a political declaration launching talks on a new "enhanced agreement" between the two states.

"The European Union has acknowledged Ukraine's European aspirations," Monday's EU declaration stated, adding that "a new enhanced agreement shall not prejudice any possible future developments in EU-Ukraine relations."

The wording contrasts with the message Brussels is giving to Western Balkan states, with EU foreign ministers on the same day saying the bloc "remains ready to support Serbia in its European perspective."

"This language on aspiration is the same one they used in 1998. Seven years have passed by and a lot has changed, but the EU is acting as if time stopped in 1998," the Ukrainian contact said. "The battle on this is just beginning."

The new agreement - which should be ready by mid-2008 - will see Brussels create a free trade zone with Kiev and formalise Ukraine's post-Orange Revolution habit of backing up EU security and energy projects.

The Poland model

But Kiev will also push to get the Article 49 reference into the treaty text and for the new pact to be called an "association" agreement on the model of treaties which the EU signed with countries such as Poland and Slovakia in the 1990s.

The new EU states broadly want to see Ukraine join the EU with the UK also in favour of sending a more positive message to Kiev. But France and Germany are more cautious, while many EU officials privately say Ukraine is far too big for the EU to swallow in the next decade at least.

The impasse leaves Kiev as just another country in the EU's "neighbourhood policy" which aims to create a ring of friendly countries around the bloc, but does not differentiate between Ukraine or Morocco and Israel in terms of accession prospects.

"Some people may read this statement [on aspirations] as linking neighbourhood policy to accession. But this is not the case. We believe Ukraine has a European future, but it is very hard to make any promises now," a British diplomat said.

New agreement may be 'vague'

Neighbourhood policy remains "an alternative" to accession despite the declaration on Ukraine's "European aspirations" a French diplomat told EUobserver. "We want to make a clear separation between the two."

"The new enhanced agreement will not be a roadmap for preparation for accession and may slip into something vague as the current [bilateral treaty, adopted in 1998]" a leading Kiev-based think-tank, the International Centre for Policy Studies, said.

"If the EU is not ready for further enlargement, a deep free trade formula that approximates Ukraine's economic norms to the EU...could make Ukraine a more credible candidate for membership if or when the debate about further EU enlargement is back on track," the analysts added.

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