Yushchenko underscores accession aspirations
European Report (www.eis.be) - 26 February 2005
Ukraine's new President Viktor Yushchenko said on February 23 in Strasbourg that he would like to see Kiev start accession talks with the European Union in 2007 or earlier. Addressing the European Parliament on his 51st birthday, the spearhead of Ukraine's recent ‘Orange Revolution’ underscored his desire to see Ukraine join the EU and his commitment to reforms. He earlier held a meeting with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso in which various practical possibilities for EU-Ukraine cooperation were discussed.
Mr Yushchenko was expected to address the European Parliament on January 27 during a brief visit to Brussels, following his inauguration as President on January 23. But the trip had to be cancelled due to snow in Poland. The EP had adopted on January 13 a resolution proposing that Ukraine be given a clear European perspective, "possibly leading ultimately to the country's accession to the EU". When Mr Yushchenko did arrive at the European Parliament on February 23, it was to a standing ovation.
Mr Yushchenko referred in his speech to the ‘Orange Revolution’ as a "new symbol within democratic Europe", showing that "totalitarianism is no longer possible on our continent." Europe's borders now stretched from Lisbon to beyond Kiev, he said. Ukraine had chosen Europe and this was not just a question of geography by of spiritual and shared moral values. The Ukrainian President referred also to the support shown by the EP as Ukraine's political crisis unfolded towards the end of 2004. He told MEPs that they should consider themselves the "godfathers and godmothers of the new democratically born Ukraine."
EU membership aim
President Yushchenko added that "European integration is the only true path open to Ukraine." He explained that the Ukrainian side would do its utmost to implement the EU-Ukraine action plan under European Neighbourhood Policy, signed on February 21. But he said that neighbourhood policy already seemed to have been overtaken by events, as Ukraine was already part of "united Europe."
Mr Yushchenko explained that: "We feel that our cooperation with the EU is situated very much within the framework of the action plan but going beyond neighbourhood policy. We are proposing now to take actions with a view to future membership of Ukraine in the EU." He hoped that it would be possible in 2007 with the end of the action plan to begin negotiations for EU membership. He later told journalists that he believed that the negotiations might start earlier provided all the conditions of the action plan had been met.
Ukraine, Mr Yushchenko told MEPs, was prepared to implement the action plan "faster than planned", and it could lead to concluding an association agreement with the EU. Ukraine, he said, could make an official (membership) request on the basis of Article 49 of the EU Treaty, and would aim to meet the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership. He reported that his government had already drawn up a plan for the next five years with the "final objective of joining the EU."
Pros and cons
UK MEP Charles Tannock (EPP-ED) immediately released a statement saying that "the time is surely right for Europe to underpin its commitment to the nascent democracy in Ukraine by offering the real prospect of membership in the period ahead." However, French EPP-ED Member Françoise Grossetête said that it was not apt to talk about Ukraine being a candidate for accession, saying the EU risked moving "too quickly."
Ukraine, Mr Yushchenko explained, still had much to do to become a full member of the European family. He likened the reform process on which his country had embarked to baking bread: "You need good ingredients and hard work. When the dough is ready it depends on how you shape it for it to become a good loaf: for us in Ukraine our objective for this bread is that it be shaped... in accordance with European standards and values."
As for the reform agenda, the President talked of issues such as respecting human rights; adapting administrative structures to European standards; social reforms in education, training, and social protection; reform of the judiciary; and the fight against drugs trafficking and illegal immigration. Such work would be underpinned by a "European vision and spirit." On the economic side, Mr Yushchenko intends to address macro-economic problems and revisit certain flawed privatisations, for example.
Mr Yushchenko also broached ties with Russia in his address, saying that Ukraine wanted to deepen relations with the country. Moving closer to Europe, he continued, did not prevent closer cooperation with Russia, and could help bring Russia closer to Europe too. Nor would Ukraine's membership of the EU and NATO be used against Russian interests, Mr Yushchenko said.
Asked about ties with Russia after meeting Mr Barroso, Mr Yushchenko told journalists that "cooperation with the EU is not a policy against somebody." Ukraine wanted to resolve "complicated issues" with Russia, because he said he understood that "it is not possible to move to Europe... without having good relations with Russia."
The meeting between President Yushchenko and Mr Barroso early on February 23 saw a pragmatic discussion about concrete steps that might be taken in EU-Ukraine relations. Themes included the question of granting Ukraine 'market economy status' (for anti-dumping purposes); EU support for Ukraine's entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO); potential negotiations on an EU-Ukraine free trade area once it has joined the WTO; prospects for visa facilitation and energy cooperation; and border management and the fight against illegal immigration.
Mr Barroso said that the European Commission would help to make the just-signed EU-Ukraine action plan a "way of bringing Ukraine to stronger and closer relations with the EU." The Commission President added that he had accepted an invitation to visit Ukraine later this year. He said his message for the visit would be one of EU support for the "courageous economic and political reforms that President Yushchenko and his government are bringing to Ukraine."
Referring to the action plan, Mr Yushchenko observed that Ukraine and Europe were entering an "absolutely new stage in their relations." He said he was "very satisfied" with the results of his talks with Mr Barroso. EU sources said that Mr Yushchenko came to the meeting looking to identify concrete steps for 2005, and wanting to know the benchmarks for getting there. The question of EU accession, they said, was not mentioned.
Mr Barroso said that 'market economy status' would be granted when Ukraine met the necessary conditions. Officials said that bankruptcy law had to apply to all companies, and state control of prices in certain areas removed. Sources said that Mr Yushchenko called for easing of visa procedures for certain categories of traveller including students, journalists and diplomats. Mr Barroso reportedly answered that the EU side was ready to engage in this area, depending on progress towards concluding a readmission agreement with Ukraine, to deal with the return of illegal immigrants.
In March 2004, the EU became one of the first partners to conclude a 'bilateral protocol' with Ukraine to pave the way for the latter's WTO accession. Negotiations between Ukraine and other WTO members continue, including the United States, Australia, and Japan. According to Ukrainian officials, Kiev would like to wrap up the necessary procedures in time for the WTO ministerial conference this December in Hong Kong.