Centre-right leaders give Ukraine hope of EU membership
EU centre-right leaders, including Germany's Angela Merkel and Poland's Donald Tusk, have given the strongest support so far for Ukraine's hopes to join the EU one day.
A resolution adopted by the European People’s Party at a congress in Dublin on Friday (7 March) refers to a clause in the EU treaty about which countries can apply to become EU member states.
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The EPP "stresses that Article 49 of the EU treaty refers to all European states, including Ukraine, which has a European perspective and may apply to become a member of the Union, provided that it adheres to the principles of democracy, respects fundamental freedoms and human and minority rights and ensures the rule of law."
The language was made possible by the fact that France, which is opposed to Ukrainian membership, but which currently has a centre-left government, was not at the EPP event.
EU sources told this website that France, at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels last month, did not merely oppose any mention of Ukraine’s membership prospects in the ministers’ conclusions, but wanted to go further, inserting language to make clear that Ukraine will never become an EU member.
Poland wanted to give an enlargment promise.
And Germany came up with a compromise, with ministers agreeing to say that an association and free trade agreement with the EU is not the "final goal" in EU-Ukraine relations.
EU sources also cautioned against reading too much into the EPP statement, however.
The contacts noted that the text represents a political group trying to give a political boost to Ukraine’s new government in the face of Russian hostility.
But a formal EU statement on Ukrainian accession would have to be made by the EU Council, where the French, or any other EU country’s veto, can apply.
Meanwhile, if the EU and Ukraine sign the political chapters of the EU association accord in the next few weeks, as planned, they will be signing a legally binding document, which locks in the nature of bilateral relations for at least 10 or so years and which says nothing on article 49.
Earlier at the Dublin congress, Ukraine opposition leaders Yulia Tymoshenko and Vitali Klitschko got standing ovations by the EPP elite.
Chancellor Merkel said that "Ukrainian people have the same right for freedom and democracy as we have in the EU."
She added: “And the same goes for the people in Moldova, Georgia, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan," referring to the other countries in the EU's "Eastern Partnership” policy on former Soviet Europe.
The EPP’s resolution "strongly condemns the invasion of Russian troops on the sovereign territory of Ukraine as a breach of international law and calls on President Putin to stop and withdraw any Russian armed forces" from Ukraine.
The centre-right leaders warned that failure to comply will lead to "further isolation of Russia and to further targeted measures."
A high-level EU official told EUobserver it is very likely that further snap summits will be called if Russia goes ahead with its “provocations” in Crimea - such as Thursday’s Crimean decree on making the region part of Russia.
The high-level source said that only EU leaders, not ministers or officials, can authorise sanctions against Putin's entourage.