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Ukraine: Minister Wants Positive Signal From EU On Membership

London, 3 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk has called on the European Union to send a clear signal that it will keep the door open for Ukraine.

Speaking in London last night, he said Ukraine's long-term objective is full membership in the 15-nation EU, already preparing to expand east after opening talks last year with five aspiring central European countries.

Tarasyuk, on a three-day official visit to Britain, told the Royal Institute of International Affairs that his country is seeking EU membership as part of "its return to Europe," putting a final end to the artificial division of the continent caused by the Cold War.

"We have joined other Central and East European countries in their drive to a united Europe. In this case, Ukrainians are not special. They want what most of their neighbors want. To have a decent prosperous life which we, as a nation, deserve no less than any other nation."

The EU has opened accession talks with five central European countries, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia and Slovenia, while five others, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia, have been told to wait. Our correspondent notes there is already considerable opposition to any further expansion of the EU.

Tarasyuk said the collapse of the Soviet empire, leading to Ukraine's 1991 independence, had given his country "a chance to return to our place among the European nations," although he was not so "naive" as to expect EU membership in the near future.

He welcomed the decision of the Vienna EU summit in December to formulate a strategy for EU-Ukraine relations. But he said he is hoping for a more viable EU strategy on possible membership to emerge than the "delicate, small signals" received so far.

Tarasyuk said EU membership for Ukraine would correspond with the ideals of European integration, with the EU's founding acts, and would strengthen regional stability and prosperity.

He called for an opening of the EU's markets for Ukrainian exports, and also for a liberalization of the visa regime between Ukraine and the EU, saying this would avoid new divisions in Europe. The eventual aim was the free movement of peoples.

He understood EU caution on this, saying, unfortunately Ukraine has become one of the routes for illegal immigration, drug trafficking and smuggling. But the EU and Ukraine should combat "this negative phenomenon together" by adopting common action to strengthen Ukraine's northern and eastern borders.

Ukraine was preparing for its long-term goal of EU membership by cooperating in the areas of justice, home affairs, cross-border cooperation, and adapting its legislation to EU norms. He called on the EU to draw up a white paper, or policy document, that would specify the "main political, legal, social and economic parameters" of Ukraine's integration into the EU, and how to reach them.

He said another issue of utmost importance to Ukraine is its permanent participation in the European Conference, a pan-European forum that would allow it to join in on debates on environmental protection, regional cooperation and crime control.

Tarasyuk also said Europe's future depends on how successful it is in building a system of collective security, stability and mutual trust in what he called the "Euro-Atlantic area."

"The North Atlantic Alliance has played, and will continue to play, a pivotal role in this process. We view NATO as an established structure which has been an anchor of stability for half a century of controversial European history. We are convinced that Europe still needs NATO's competence and strength."

He said Ukraine regards the enlargement of NATO "as an expansion of democracy and guaranteed stability in Europe." He looked forward to the prospect of further cooperation with NATO at the Ukraine-NATO commission summit in Washington in April.

He also said his country wants friendly, mutually beneficial relations with all its neighbors, Russia, first of all. He said both have inherited a difficult heritage, but are coping with it. He cited the successful agreement on the Black Sea fleet, "one of the success stories of the divorce process" after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He said: "We are in the process of learning how to do business together as sovereign nations."