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Ukraine: Yushchenko Goes To Brussels To Ask EU For Membership Talks

Viktor Yushchenko (file photo) Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko travels to Brussels today to try to convince European Union officials to open membership talks with his country by 2007. The EU plans to adopt an action plan for Ukraine giving Kyiv certain benefits, including better trade terms and fewer visa restrictions. However, the plan falls short of addressing Ukraine's desire to join the bloc. While in Brussels, Yushchenko will also address the Ukraine-NATO Commission and hold talks with U.S. President George W. Bush.

Prague, 21 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is knocking at the EU doors asking Brussels to let the country in as a member as soon as possible.

During his three-day visit to the EU capital Yushchenko will address European Parliamentary members and present a program for Ukraine's integration into the EU.

Before embarking on the trip, Yushchenko said over the weekend that in six months Ukraine intends to file an application for admission to the EU, with the talks beginning in 2007. He added that Ukraine will take a series of steps in this regard. These steps include the EU "granting the Ukrainian economy a market status, [Kyiv’s easing of] the visa regime for EU citizens, and joining the World Trade Organization."

Brussels doesn't seem ready for a quick embrace of Ukraine and will only promise better trade terms and fewer visa restrictions.

Stuart Hensel of the Economist Intelligence Unit says that Germany and France are opposed to making any promises to Ukraine. The two countries are likely to block any serious EU commitments for quick Ukrainian admission -- opposing Polish and Lithuanian efforts. However, even without a promise in Brussels for membership talks, Yushchenko's visit will be important in the long run.
Even without a promise in Brussels for membership talks, Yushchenko's visit will be important in the long run.

"I don't think he can realistically expect too much. I think the nature of the disagreement or the lack of consensus within the EU suggests that [Yushchenko is] not going to get the concrete promises that he wants this time around. But what he [can do is make] himself and his policy much more familiar in Brussels [and] to reconfirm his commitment to the things that the EU would like him to do and what he would like to do for Ukraine," Hensel said.

Hensel said the EU doors are open for Ukraine just as they are for any other European country, but if Ukraine is serious about joining the EU it needs to continue on with reforms.

"To move as quickly as possible on the domestic front -- to entrench many of the more serious reforms that the EU wants. Particularly, in the realm of entrenching stronger democratic institutions and a market economy. And once it does that it's in a very strong position. Yushchenko realizes that the EU basically has a standing promise to all European countries that if they satisfy basic democratic and market-economy principles, they are eligible for membership," Hensel said.

Hensel sayid that the fact that Turkey is now on the road to joining the EU makes it quite difficult for Brussels to indefinitely deny membership to Ukraine.

Oleksandr Sushko is the director of the Center for Peace, Conversion, and Foreign Policy, a Kyiv-based think tank. He said that polls indicate that many Ukrainians associate the EU with a better life and some 50 percent of them support membership in the union.

During his trip to Europe, Yushchenko will also address the Ukraine-NATO Commission. However, NATO membership is a much more complicated problem, as it lacks the popular support among Ukrainians that EU membership enjoys. "Our society has an ambivalent attitude [towards NATO]," analyst Sushko said. "The number of those opposed is higher than the number of those who support [it]."

He said several "Cold War" stereotypes of NATO as an aggressive organization are still alive among many Ukrainians. Sushko said the government is not trying to push the NATO question. Kyiv’s official position is to work on the programs that have already been agreed to with the alliance and in two or three years move closer to NATO membership criteria.

Yushchenko also admits that Ukraine is not ready to join NATO and that it is too early even to discuss it.

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