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EU: Updated 'Action Plan' For Ukraine Wards Off Talk Of Membership

The European Commission today confirmed reports that the EU has updated its offered "action plan" for Ukraine, which was made before Kyiv's presidential runoff in late December. The offer comes after new President Viktor Yushchenko said yesterday that Ukraine aims to join the European Union. But officials say the action plan in no way upgrades Ukraine's prospects of joining the EU and that such decisions are not on the agenda for the foreseeable future -- a fact set to be explained to Yushchenko when he arrives on his first official visit to Brussels on 10 February.

Brussels, 24 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission said it had yielded to pressure from some members as well as the European Parliament and updated the "action plan" it is currently offering Ukraine.

The action plan sets out a course for EU-Ukrainian relations for the next three years. The initial plan was negotiated with the administration of former President Leonid Kuchma.

Now, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner have drawn up a 10-point addendum to the document, taking account of pressure to acknowledge Ukraine's elevated expectations in the wake of the presidential elections. EU foreign ministers will discuss amending the action plan when they meet on 31 January.
Solana said a new type of agreement with Ukraine would be put in place in early 2008.

Emma Udwin, spokeswoman to Ferrero-Waldner, said the chief additions to the action plan included offering Ukraine market economy status and stating clearly that upgrading the current Partnership and Cooperation Treaty with Ukraine was possible in the long run.

But Udwin emphasized the added list did not amount to a full review of the action plan, which already included plans for making it easier for Ukrainians to obtain visas.

"The visa facilitation point -- you will find in the action plan that that is already there, it is a matter of how fast and how firmly we can move forward with that," Udwin said.

She said the same applies to Ukraine's request to be acknowledged as a market economy, a status that would remove sizable antidumping fines on some of its exports. The possibility has been in the air for a while now, but it might now happen much quicker.

As to upgrading the type of cooperation treaty currently in force between the EU and Ukraine, Udwin said that possibility too was already present in the original action plan.

"If you go back to the action plan, you will find in it a reference to the possibility of a new agreement with Ukraine; it does not give a date and it does not give the agreement a name," Udwin said. "That is already in the action plan, it is an element that is important."

Solana, talking to the European Parliament today, said a new type of agreement with Ukraine would be put in place in early 2008.

Udwin, asked whether Ukraine could be given a "Europe agreement" such as that the EU signed in the early 1990s with 2004's new entrants, said the bloc does not "prejudge the issue either way." But, she added, "what we do is hold out the prospect [of such an agreement] if both sides so wish according to progress."

Udwin also explained the formal procedure that follows an application for EU membership.

"What happens when there is an application from a European state, that application has to be looked at and you'll remember that the process of conducting an avis [assessment] happens in the following fashion. It goes to the council [representing EU member states], the council have to decide whether they want to ask the commission to carry out an avis. If they do, the commission goes away and looks at the political, economic situation in that country and also the capacity of that country to implement negotiated agreements with the EU. That process can take a considerable amount of time," Udwin said.

What is crucial for Ukraine here is the term "European state." The EU's basic treaties say no European country may ultimately be denied membership. However, the bloc has yet to decide where the borders of Europe lie.

Udwin said that "implicitly, there will first have to be a discussion of whether a country is European," before it can apply for membership. In Ukraine's case, that decision has not been made.

Meanwhile, Udwin said Ukraine could embrace the EU's European Neighborhood Policy, which remains distinct from an enlargement policy. She said the neighborhood policy offered Ukraine closer relations with the EU, without "prejudging in one way or the other its future relationship" with the bloc. The main benefit of the policy is potentially full access to the EU's internal market.

To achieve that, Udwin said Ukraine must keep "its side of the bargain." Kyiv must address the political priorities outlined in the action plan, including further democratization and reinforcement of the rule of law and other basic rights.