Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine cement EU ties
Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine have said their signature of EU free trade treaties is a first step to accession.
Leaders of the former Soviet republics and the 28 EU states signed the accords in Brussels on Friday (27 June).
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The move crowns seven years of technical negotiations and comes despite Russian efforts to disrupt the process with trade bans, gas disputes, and military aggression.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko used the same pen that his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, was supposed to have used at an EU summit in Vilnius last November before he changed his mind and before pro-EU demonstrators swept him from power.
Poroshenko told press in Brussels that Lithuanian President Dalia Grybausakite had kept the pen for him.
“It [the signature] didn’t happen then, but the pen is the same, demonstrating that historical events are inevitable,” he said.
He called the signature “a tribute to those who gave their life … to make this happen”.
He said: “By signing the agreement with the European Union, Ukraine, as a European state … is underlining its sovereign choice in favour of future membership”. He added that he expects the EU to give Ukraine a “membership perspective” in “a short time”.
Moldovan PM Iurie Leanca said he will file an official EU entry application next year. “Moldova has made a choice and this choice is definitive - European integration”, he noted.
Georgia’s Irakli Garibashvili said: “Unofficially, we applied today. Officially, it [Georgia’s application date] depends on the progress that we make in terms of reforms”.
The “deep” free trade accords oblige the three states to make far-reaching reforms to comply with EU single market rules.
They can still have free trade with Russia, but they are bound to stay out of Russia’s Eurasian Union.
The signature prompted a small celebration in Kiev city centre, where some of the people who fought riot police in February reconvened on Friday to mark the EU summit event.
Latest polls say 61 percent of Ukrainians favour EU membership, compared to 54.5 percent in March before Russia began its assault.
All three leaders tried to dampen popular expectations by warning the EU pacts will, for the time being, mean years of “painful” economic and political reforms.
Poland and some other ex-Iron Curtain EU members would like the Union to expand further east, but they are in a minority.
For his part, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso described the trade treaties as “the most ambitious the European Union has entered into” with non-candidate countries.
“We are well aware of our partners' aspirations to go further; and we acknowledge their European choice. As we have stated before, these agreements do not constitute the endpoint of the EU's co-operation with its partners. Quite the opposite”, he said.
EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy added the three states “rightfully belong” in the “European family”.
Poroshenko described their remarks as the strongest ever pro-accession EU statements.
But some EU diplomats say the Union is still unsure how to handle the consequences of the Ukraine revolution despite its warm words.
“So far in the history of the EU, no country has had to fight for the sake of EU integration. This is the first such country and the West doesn’t know how to react. It's surprised that some people are actually ready to give their lives for European values”, said one contact.