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23rd Oct 2020

Ukraine diplomats take risk on EU application

  • Europe Day celebrations in Ukraine last year - support for EU membership is falling among the population (Photo: EUUBC)

Two senior Ukrainian diplomats have come out on the record as saying that the country should submit a formal application for EU membership in early 2010.

Ukraine's ambassador to the EU, Andry Veselovsky, made the statement in a comment piece for Ukrainian newspaper Den on Saturday (12 September).

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"We want to believe, that no matter who becomes president [of Ukraine] in 2010 he will apply to the EU for membership in Spring next year," he said. "The main thing that Brussels will then have to think about is whether Ukraine can respond in an adequate way ...so far, we are not sure. But our neighbours, who are already members or candidates, were always sure. Despite all the doubts in Brussels, they moved forward and achieved results."

The deputy head of Ukraine's EU mission, Vasyl Filipchuk, backed the ambassador on Wednesday (16 September).

"I am sure that if the EU considers this application on the basis of the norms that it has established over the past 20 to 30 years, the answer would have to be 'Yes, but there are conditions to fulfill.' Anything else would be politically irresponsible and legally groundless," he told EUobserver.

Mr Veselovsky and Mr Filipchuk's remarks do not constitute official Ukrainian policy. But they reflect the opinion of other Ukrainian diplomats and analysts, who have grown frustrated with EU ambiguity on enlargement over the past five years.

"Even the slightest real hope on the European integration of Ukraine, even in the long term, could work wonders with this country in terms of internal reform," EU-Russia Centre analyst Olena Prystayko said.

Under EU procedure, if a country submits a formal request for membership, EU member states decide by consensus whether or not to refer the application to the European Commission for evaluation before later launching accession talks.

The pro-application camp's thinking is that a March 2010 submission would lead to a commission evaluation one year down the line, in the middle of the 2011 Polish EU presidency.

Poland reticent

Poland has been a champion of Ukraine accession ever since Kiev split from Moscow in the Orange Revolution of 2004. But it has become more reticent on the issue as it cultivates the image of a big, mainstream EU player.

"The EU has decided that the best way to help Ukraine is to try to prevent another gas crisis by concentrating on the transformation of its internal gas transmission networks. This is a significant decision, which means the EU is taking Ukraine under its stewardship. In this sense, the atmosphere in EU-Ukraine relations is better," Poland's ambassador to the EU, Jan Tombinski, said.

The Polish minister for EU affairs, Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, declined to comment directly. But he said that the European Commission should consider adding the Eastern Partnership, an EU policy basket containing Ukraine, to its enlargement portfolio in future.

"You now have for example Olli Rehn responsible for the Balkans and enlargement, [in future] you could have Enlargement and Eastern Partnership," he told this website.

With Germany and the European Commission opposed to Ukraine accession, even Ukraine-friendly EU personalities, such as UK conservative MEP Charles Tannock, are sceptical about the 2010 application gambit.

"They would get egg on their face because there's not enough support among member states," Mr Tannock said.

France more open

But the gambit looks more attractive in the light of a moderate shift in France's position toward Ukraine.

Back in September 2008, France forced Kiev to accept a deal under which the EU would launch talks on an Association Agreement with Ukraine, if it agreed to drop Article 49-type language from the preamble to the pact.

Article 49 of the EU treaty says that "any European state ...may apply to become a member of the union," while the preamble is to make no mention of Ukraine as a "European state."

When asked about the 2010 application scenario by EUobserver, the spokeswoman for the French mission to the EU, Marine de Carne, said: "It [the Association Agreement text] is not exactly Article 49 language, but it doesn't close the door to any application either. It's somewhere in the middle."

The EU-Ukraine climate could still transform before March 2010. If Ukraine makes a mess of its January 2010 presidential elections, it could increase Ukraine fatigue in Brussels.

Russia might enter the game by instigating instability in The Crimea. Or, if Europe's football governing body, UEFA, decides in November that Ukraine is unfit to host the Euro 2012 finals, it could anger ordinary Ukrainians, just 20 to 34 percent of whom want EU accession according to recent polls.

"A football insult could prompt a severe backlash against Europe," European Council on Foreign Relations analyst Andrew Wilson said.

Correction: the original story said 20 percent of Ukrainians support EU integration, on the basis of a Eurasia Monitor poll. The story was amended to add the higher figure of 34 percent on the basis of a European Council on Foreign Relations study, as research on the topic can diverge.

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