Wednesday

28th Jul 2021

EU-Ukraine summit masks disappointment

  • Prais - the summit was moved from Evian at the last minute as Mr Sarkozy is late getting back from Moscow and Tbilisi (Photo: Wikipedia)

EU and Ukraine leaders will celebrate a "great day" as they unveil plans for a new bilateral treaty in Paris on Tuesday (9 September), but behind the fanfare, Ukraine diplomats are disappointed at being denied an EU membership perspective.

The summit is to see French leader Nicolas Sarkozy and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko agree to sign a future "Association Agreement," deepen trade and judicial cooperation and start talks "with a view in the long-term" for visa-free travel to the EU.

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The summit declaration is also to say "Ukraine is a European country" which shares EU "history and values." It will "acknowledge Ukraine's European aspirations" and state that the new treaty "leaves open the question of further, gradual development of EU-Ukraine relations."

The legally-binding Association Agreement itself - which is to govern EU-Ukraine cooperation for the next 10 or more years - will be signed in 2009 or 2010, with negotiations still ongoing on both the political chapter and technical aspects of a free-trade deal.

Nine EU members including Poland, the UK, Sweden, the Czech republic and the Baltic states had pushed for the Paris declaration to "recognise" Ukraine's EU membership "perspective" instead, with Ukraine negotiators still sounding optimistic as late as Monday morning.

Western analysts had also urged the EU to offer Ukraine a stronger political signal amid post-Georgia war fears that Russia will try to stir up trouble among the ethnic Russian minority in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.

Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg blocked any suggestions of future EU expansion into post-Soviet territory, however.

And French diplomats have explained that while the title "Association Agreement" is reminiscent of treaties signed with countries such as Poland in the run-up to the 2004 round of enlargement, it carries no special promise, as "association" deals also exist with Chile or Morocco.

"The Ukrainians had very high expectations for this summit. Maybe too high," one EU diplomat said.

Disappointment

Ukrainian diplomats see the summit declaration as a sell-out, which could make it more difficult to secure an accession perspective in future negotiations on the legally-binding treaty, despite the flowery rhetoric.

"I feel like we have thrown away our European future," one Ukrainian contact said.

"But the interpretation and presentation will be different. The French [EU] presidency has even given us suggestions for a press release to say how this is a 'great day' for our two countries."

"The visa-free dialogue is the same deal as the EU has with Russia. It could lead to something in the 'long-term.' This means we could have some progress 10 or 12 years from now," he added.

Bad timing

Ukraine's Mr Yushchenko will also be traveling to Paris under the cloud of a domestic political crisis.

The ruling "Orange Revolution" coalition with prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko fell apart last week after Mr Yushchenko accused her of a parliamentary "coup d'etat" when her party began voting together with pro-Russian opposition groups.

The Ukraine prosecutor general's office says it will question Ms Tymoshenko on Thursday in relation to a dioxin poison assassination attempt on Mr Yushchenko back in 2004, AP reports.

The prime minister will not go to Paris, despite French suggestions it might highlight Ukrainian stability if she came. The crisis "could not have come at a worse time" in terms of EU-Ukraine relations, Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said at an informal EU gathering in Avignon, France, over the weekend.

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