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12th Apr 2024

Ukraine enlargement plea falls on deaf ears

  • Helsinki: Yushchenko got nothing on enlargement (Photo: eu2006.fi)

Ukraine president Viktor Yushchenko continued to hammer on enlargement as the EU-Ukraine meeting in Helsinki drew to a close on Friday (27 October) afternoon, but got zero political commitment in return.

The dioxin-scarred Orange Revolution veteran told press he was "occasionally worried about the intention to determine EU borders" adding "we hope these discussions will not result in the creation of some new Berlin Wall along the EU borders."

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Ukrainians "need to see the European doors open" the president stated, warning that unless the new EU-Ukraine treaty for post-2007 relations contains explicit recognition of Kiev's accession hopes "the political chapter of the agreement will have no sense."

Mr Yushchenko assured Brussels there would be no rerun of last year's winter gas crisis and said he would co-sponsor new pipelines to bring Caspian oil and gas to Poland under the "Brody" project and to Austria under the "Nabucco" scheme.

"The integration of the Ukrainian energy system into the European energy network is a part of Ukraine's strategic ambition to join the European Union," he said, having previously suggested membership talks could start in 2008.

But European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso gave a blunt response to the president's call, saying "Ukraine is not ready, and we are not ready [for discussions on enlargement]," AP reports.

"Ukraine still has reforms to do...and today in the European Union, member states are not ready to assume new membership obligations," Mr Barroso stated, adding that his words are not a "negative signal" but a spur to work on the new pact.

Enhancing relations

Official talks on the so-called "Enhanced Agreement" [EA] between the EU and Ukraine are tabled to start in early 2007, with a "deep free trade area" at the heart of the programme dependent on Ukraine's speedy entry into the WTO.

But the draft EA treaty contains nothing on enlargement so far, while Friday's summit conclusions foresee only a "development of stronger economic and trade relations" and "increasingly close co-operation" on foreign policy.

Politically speaking, the draft EA puts Ukraine on a par with other EU "neighbourhood" states such as Morocco or Azerbaijan at a time when Europe is suffering from post-2004 enlargement fatigue but engaging in ever-closer relations with Russia.

Meanwhile, external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told Reuters "it is a particularly difficult time for the process of democratic consolidation and the overall reform process in Ukraine."

EU voices stability worries

"Political stability will be one of the key priorities that president Yushchenko has to find," she added, in reference to the recent comeback of Russia-friendly, anti-NATO politician Viktor Yanukovych as Ukraine's PM.

Brussels is wary that Yushchenko-Yanukovych wrangling could slow down WTO entry and the creation of the EU free trade zone, or even damage sensitive projects such as the EU border monitoring mission for the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniestria.

"The importance of the continued implementation of the joint declaration by Ukraine and Moldova on customs was highlighted," the summit conclusions said on the Transdniestria customs scheme, which is deeply disliked by Russia.

Friday's summit also saw the EU and Ukraine ink a deal on cheap EU visas from 2007 onward and Ukrainian phone operator, Ukrtelecom, sign a contract to buy 3G mobile phones from Finnish giant Nokia.

Brussels and Kiev to discuss ties ahead of crucial elections

EU and Ukrainian leaders will on Friday meet to discuss advancements on a new bilateral agreement with Kiev hoping it will make a clearer allusion to eventual EU integration, but Brussels is still keeping Ukraine at arm's length.

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