Kyiv, 16 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine last week made a bid for closer ties with the European Union, but was rebuffed by EU officials.
Kyiv requested the status of associate member during the first official meeting of the EU-Ukraine Cooperation Council, held in Luxembourg. The Cooperation Council is a junior version of an association agreement, which puts a nation on a course to EU candidacy and admission. More limited in its scope, the Council is still viewed as a first step toward eventually gaining EU membership.
EU representatives at the meeting poured cold water on the request, suggesting in effect that Ukraine should learn to walk before it tries to run. A spokesman for the EU's British presidency in London, Simon Boyden, said it was more important for Ukraine to concentrate on its current agreements with the 15-nation group. He called Kyiv's request "rather premature."
According to Boyden, associate status could be construed as indicating that Ukraine was on the road to accession and fulfilling the same EU criteria as its Central and Eastern European neighbors. But at this point, he said, that is not the case.
In Luxembourg, the EU asked Ukraine to focus instead on implementing its Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with Brussels. The PCA came into effect three months ago (March 1) and, Boyden says, represents a "substantial step forward in EU-Ukraine relations." Its aim is to strengthen cooperation between the two parties in areas such as intellectual property, the environment, nuclear safety and energy, and barriers to trade.
Viktor Nahaichuk, head of the information department in Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, said this week in Kyiv that the EU had so far made only minimal efforts at building relations with Ukraine. Nahaichuk said he considered associate membership an important step toward a new, more substantial phase of bilateral relations.
The Luxembourg meeting also touched on the Chornobyl nuclear plant. The EU stressed the necessity of shutting down the plant by 2000, while Ukraine reiterated what it feels is the need to complete two other power plants in Rivne and Khmelnitsky before closing Chornobyl.
The EU also encouraged Ukraine to implement laws that would do away with capital punishment. Ukraine's failure to impose a moratorium on executions violates a commitment it made when it joined the Council of Europe three years ago. The Council's Parliamentary Assembly has criticized the violation, but stopped short of moving to suspend Ukraine's parliamentary delegation.
Boyden said the problems between the Council and Ukraine did not have a direct impact on the country's relations with the EU. But, he added, complying with the Council's requests would demonstrate what he called Ukraine's "acceptance of EU norms and help develop further relations."