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EU: Report Urges More Engagement Of Ukraine, Other Future Neighbors

  • Breffni O'Rourke

A new analysis issued in Brussels is calling on the European Union to develop much stronger policies to help those countries that will be on its borders after the coming eastward enlargement: countries like Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, as well as Russia. At present, the policy is one of neglect, according to the report.

Prague, 25 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Eastward expansion of the European Union is threatening to reverse some of the gains stemming from the end of the Cold War. That's the proposition put forward in a report just issued in Brussels by a team of independent political experts.

The report, by four policy centers in Eastern and Western Europe, says that as the present EU candidate countries in Central and Eastern Europe become full members, the union's external border controls will lead to a new division of Europe, a "paper curtain" as the report puts it.

It recalls that the removal of barriers to the movement of people between the former Soviet Union and its satellites in the early 1990s was one of the main benefits of ending the Cold War. That benefit is being partly lost as the prospective new EU members start applying the EU's strict Schengen rules on entry to the union.

One of the authors of the report, Marius Vahl, of the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies, provided a concrete example of the difficulties: "People in the western Ukraine who used to go, for example, to Slovakia or Hungary, now, for practical reasons, are unable to go so often because the visa requirements mean they have to go to Kyiv to apply, then have to go back [home], and you have to pay for the visa. So, in practice, this 'paper curtain' is to some extent there [already]."

The study says the EU must develop durable policies that limit the negative consequences of enlargement. It describes EU-Ukraine relations in particular as one of the key relationships that will determine the degree of stability or instability in Europe.

It notes that Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus have only very distant prospects of EU membership, and it suggests that the EU should develop policies tailored to the different conditions in each country. At present, EU policy tends to view relations with these future "new neighbors" in mainly negative terms. As British commentator Heather Grabbe put it: "When you look at the actual concrete aspects of EU policy that affect countries like Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, it's all about visas and border controls and so on. There's not an awful lot that is very positive. It's all about protecting ourselves from these countries, rather than engaging with them."

The EU has promised changes. European Commission President Romano Prodi last month set out his vision of having what he called a "ring of friends" on the EU's extended borders. He referred to what he calls the "new proximity policy," which he said must create solid ties with the new neighbors, from Russia and Ukraine, through the Caucasus republics and Moldova, and on to Morocco, Tunisia, and elsewhere.

However, the present lack of policy has made life difficult for the EU's future neighbors. The report notes that Ukrainian diplomats have worked intensively but largely in vain for closer contacts with Brussels and the EU member states. The main result is that the EU is suffering a case of what it calls "Ukraine fatigue." It says the cooperative path employed by Kyiv has been less effective than more assertive methods used, for instance, by Turkey.

The report says that Brussels should aim to have its comprehensive policy toward its new neighbors ready at least by the time most of the candidates enter the union, set for May of next year. As Vahl sees it: "There are a lot of things bubbling, if you like, [though] nothing concrete has emerged on it yet. They are working on it in the EU institutions, on papers and communications right now, but they are not yet finished."

Among other things, says the report, this timing would send a clear and positive signal to Ukraine ahead of the next presidential elections, which are set for autumn 2004.

As for Belarus, any major improvement in relations would have to await a change in government.

The report also says that if Brussels, as the central authority, is not yet ready to act, then the concept of a "Europe of regions" can be used to animate relations. The EU has a Committee of the Regions set up to involve regional and local authorities in decision making at the European level. This committee has numerous commissions covering everything from regional economic policy to tourism and youth affairs and sports.

The report suggests that under this scheme individual cities in Eastern Europe can act independently to increase European integration at the micro level.

The report says: "The regional policy of the EU has to become an instrument to ensure softness of the frontiers between the new members of the EU and their neighbors, primarily Ukraine. At the regional level, the liberalization of the visa and migration regime can be introduced along the western border of Ukraine."

Another of the report's authors, Grzegorz Gromadzki, of the Stefan Batory Foundation in Warsaw, said the scope for regional cooperation is illustrated by the Carpathian area: "For example, in the case of Ukraine, the [prospective] Euro-region is Carpathia, which extends not only to Poland and Ukraine but also to parts of Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. [Together], it forms a Euro-region, and I think such a form of cooperation on the local or regional level should be developed."

The report goes on to say that Western Ukraine will be particularly hard hit by the negative side effects of EU enlargement, and it calls for cross-border projects that can create a bridgehead for investment activity there.