Ukraine signals readiness to finalise EU pact
Ukraine's EU ambassador has hinted that Kiev is ready to sign a far-reaching pact with the union even if it makes no more concessions on the economy or pro-enlargement wording.
If all goes to plan, EU leaders and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych will in early December in Brussels scribble their initials on an Association Agreement putting Ukraine on a path to one day join the union and fully opening a market of 46 million people to EU companies.
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If the opportunity slips by, further EU-Ukraine integration will be put on hold as Ukraine and Russia head into 2012 elections, causing doubt among post-Soviet countries if the union is serious about its eastern foreign policy objectives.
Ukraine's EU ambassador, Kostyantyn Yeliseyev, told EUobserver in an interview that just two important issues stand in the way of finalisation.
On the economic side, Ukraine would like the EU to open its market for road haulage services to Ukrainian trucking firms. On the political side, it wants the EU to copy-paste Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty into the preamble of the association text, saying: "Any European state which respects [EU] values ... may apply to become a member of the union."
Noting that negotiators will meet in the EU capital on 26 September for the next round of talks, Yeliseyev said the two sides are fingertips away from agreement. "Any of the next full rounds of talks could be the last one," he said.
The normally pugnacious diplomat hinted that even if the union fails to give ground on the outstanding issues, Kiev would be happy to put pen to paper.
Asked by this website if the Association Agreement would be a huge achievement even without the final concessions, Yeliseyev answered: "It would ... This [pro-enlargement clause] is our aspiration, our ambition. But if you read out the final text of the Association Agreement [as it stands], this already sounds like an agreement for a future candidate country."
"If it happens, it will signal a great geopolitical shift in Europe. People will be able to stop discussing whether Ukraine's future lies to the east or to the West. All this will be over. We'll go West."
The optimistic view is shared by the Polish EU presidency.
Speaking to journalists in Warsaw last weekend, Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski noted that the existing language of the EU-Ukraine pact is pregnant with promise. "Ukraine already has more than Poland had at the same moment in our association with Europe. When we were conducting our policy, our national obsession to get into the EU, all we had was an acknowledgement of our one-sided decision [to seek membership]," he said.
With the EU concerned that Moscow might sabotage the process or that Kiev might spoil it by jailing opposition leaders, Yeliseyev is more wary of last-minute tricks from anti-enlargement EU countries, such as France, Germany and the Netherlands.
The ambassador said Russia recently imposed new tarrifs on Ukrainian products to show what might happen if it turns its back on the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs Union.
But he noted that Ukrainian business tycoons and politicians from the Russian-speaking east of the country are as much on board the EU train as its traditionally pro-EU western regions: "If any politician today in Ukraine declared himself to be against European integration, he would be politically dead."
He was less sure about the EU side.
"The nearer we get to the end, the more little obstacles seem to be emerging," Yeliseyev said. "There are several member states which don't see Ukraine as a potential EU country, which don't want to send any positive messages on enlargement."