Prague, 27 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The possible admission of Ukraine into the European Union depends most on the pace of the country's own internal reforms and transformation. That was the message delivered to Kyiv by Fraser Cameroun, a foreign-policy adviser to the EU's Executive Commission, at a conference in Prague over the past weekend (Oct. 24-25).
Cameroun told the meeting that, "at the summit in Vienna (earlier this month) between (Ukrainian) President (Leonid) Kuchma (on the one hand) and Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima and (EU Executive) Commission President (Jacques) Santer (on the other hand), the EU reiterated its desire for a strategic partnership between the Union and Ukraine. But," he added, "the speed at which this will be reached depends very much on internal developments in Ukraine."
The Prague Conference, called "Lessons of European Integration Experiences for Ukraine," was designed to help Kyiv prepare for eventual EU entry. It was attended by some 40 high-ranking officials from Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Poland, as well as by representatives from several EU member states and from the U.S. Together with Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Poland make up the five Central and East European nations now engaged in so-called fast-track admission negotiations with the EU.
Responding to Western critics of Ukraine, who often say that Kyiv has failed to make its foreign-policy objectives clear, Ukrainian First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Anton Buteiko stressed that his country's decision to join Europe was taken several years ago. Buteiko said: "At that time, when we were discussing what (foreign-policy posture) would be best for Ukraine's future, we concluded that we had to continue to maintain good relations with our allies in the former Soviet Union. (At the same time, however,) we also decided that the strategic course of Ukraine's policy should lead to its integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures." This course, he added, was officially expressed in a presidential decree signed four months ago (June 11).
Pavel Telicka, Czech Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that his country had to cope with the heritage of several decades of communism, a substantial burden to overcome in preparing itself for entry into the EU. Telicka said that, during the early years of transition, it became clear to the Czech Republic that the speed of meeting EU standards hinged in no small part on the nation's internal transformation process. He said that this process was made up democratization, economic overhaul and fundamental changes in laws.
Several conference participants from the East European candidate states emphasized that Kyiv could expect to benefit from a strong pro-Ukrainian lobby once their countries were admitted to the EU. But they warned that, in the short run, Ukraine could also be negatively affected by the EU's incorporation of Eastern countries, particularly in the areas of trade, cross-border cooperation and employment possibilities. Marek Ziolkowski, a representative of Poland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that his country intended to discuss these problems with the European Commission, but he pointed out that Poland will be compelled to implement a visa requirement for Ukrainians in the future.
Estonia's former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, encouraged Ukrainian authorities to proceed in preparing their country for the EU even though there was some skepticism toward former Soviet republics within the Union. He said that radical economic reforms in Estonia had effectively changed the EU's old negative attitude toward Tallinn and quickly put it on the same level as the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. With Estonia's success in mind, Ilves told the Ukrainians that basic reforms were the only way to prove that, in his words, "you are not only a country in Europe but a truly European country."
The Prague conference was jointly sponsored by three international think tanks: the International Center for Policy Studies, the RAND Corporation and the Institute for East-West Studies' Prague Center.