Sunday

17th Feb 2019

EU countries split on Ukraine treaty

  • The jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is an irritant in EU-Ukraine relations (Photo: byut.com.ua)

A handful of EU countries are keen to sign an EU pact with Ukraine in autumn despite its erosion of democratic standards.

Sources told EUobserver the Czech republic, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia want to sign the trade and political association treaty at a summit of Eastern Partnership countries to be held in Vilnius in autumn under Lithuania's EU presidency.

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"We don't see it [the treaty] as a present for the Ukrainian government, but more as a kind of opening up of perspectives for Ukrainian citizens and imposing a European agenda on the Ukrainian leadership," a senior diplomat from one of the four countries said.

A contact in the European External Action Service noted: "One optimistic scenario would be to sign association agreements in Vilnius not just with Ukraine, but also with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia at the same time."

The Eastern Partnership is an EU policy designed to build better relations with the Union's post-Soviet neighbours.

It was masterminded by Poland and Sweden back in 2008.

But the two countries have since moved in opposite directions on what to do about President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine.

Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands believe the association pact should be put on ice after he jailed his political opponents and bullied his way through recent parliamentary elections.

The Nordic-Dutch group is planning to put forward strict criteria for the treaty - such as freedom for former PM Yulia Tymoshenko and reform of the judiciary - when EU foreign ministers discuss Ukraine in December.

Some of them are also keen to cancel Yanukovych's visit to Brussels for an EU-Ukraine summit in February or March.

"We are disappointed with Ukraine's leadership ... they haven't fulfilled the benchmarks that have been put forward up till now. I don't think a summit would be appropriate at this time," a Nordic diplomat said.

For their part, France and the UK are keeping a low profile in the debate, while reports indicate that Germany is undecided.

One diplomatic contact said that when Chancellor Angela Merkel met Polish leader Donald Tusk in Berlin on 14 November she voiced support for the Vilnius timetable.

Another source said that Merkel - who has given personal assurances to Tymoshenko's family to get her out of jail - is far less happy to take the step than her foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle.

Meanwhile, a meeting of Ukrainian businessmen in London last week discussed concerns the EU might impose travel bans on some members of Yanukovych's clan, in line with the Tymoshenko camp's demands.

But EU diplomats said sanctions are out of the question.

"I was recently in Washington where I heard some NGOs and some congressmen suggest this step. But this is not the position of the state department. In Europe, we understand this would lead to a Belarus-type scenario, which we want to avoid at all costs," the above-quoted senior EU diplomat said.

"There is no discussion of sanctions among the EU 27 ... the Ukrainian side has delivered a message that they are engaged with the EU integration perspective, that they are still looking to the EU as their main partner, so we do not want to throw this away," the Nordic contact said.

Belarus is also part of the Eastern Partnership group.

But hundreds of President Alexander Lukashenko's officials, as well as the autocratic leader himself, are on an EU blacklist, increasing Russia's influence in Minsk.

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