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Ukraine: Government Concerned About Isolation As EU Expands

Prague, 3 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A sharp divergence of views has developed between Ukraine and the European Union on whether Ukraine might suffer a negative economic impact from the eastward expansion of the EU.

Kyiv fears that as the group of 10 Eastern candidate countries steadily moves closer to the EU orbit -- eventually becoming union members -- Ukraine will be left isolated, with its present trade patterns distorted.

The Ukrainian government has already moved to counter what it sees as this threat. It initiated a meeting in Kyiv last November involving three of the front-running Eastern candidate countries -- Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. A representative of the EU's Executive Commission also attended as an observer.

Ukraine's ambassador to the EU -- Boris Hudyma -- told RFE/RL this week that his country wants to see more such multilateral meetings. And he said the EU should take an active role in encouraging the candidates to think about the impact on noncandidates like Ukraine.

"Our position is that the EU can instruct the candidate countries to have consultations with Ukraine on this subject. This would mean that Ukraine would not be taking the initiative in this matter; it would be the EU itself instructing the applicant countries to hold such consultations. That would be the best thing for all concerned."

Specifying Kyiv's concerns, the ambassador said that, for instance, border trade between Poland and Ukraine -- which has flourished for some years -- is being increasingly affected as Poland moves toward EU membership. Further, a prospective visa regime between the two neighbors would complicate matters for Ukrainians.

In another instance, Ukraine's free-trade agreement with Estonia would also have to be scrapped when that Baltic country becomes an EU member.

Hudyma says the implications of the whole matter should be further discussed in a multilateral context:

"Maybe the positive elements of this (EU) enlargement will prevail over the negative. We should sit down together and look at the consequences in detail -- good and bad. Our concern is that we should have more contact, more dialogue, more integration of Ukraine into EU structures."

Of course, Ukraine is not the only eastern transition state not among the present candidates for EU membership. Kyiv's neighbors -- such as Russia, Moldova, and Belarus -- are also in that position. Hudyma said, however, that his government is not talking with those countries about this problem. He said he does not believe a united front is required. He said each country must handle its own concerns.

Those are Ukraine's views. EU officials have quite different opinions.

First, the EU believes the Ukrainians are not placing enough consideration on the strongly positive aspects of eastward expansion. The expansion means the entire EU unified market will be on Ukraine's doorstep, and with that, the favorable trade regime Kyiv already has with the EU will be spread to Ukraine's direct neighbors.

EU sources also say that the Ukrainians' fear of new trade barriers is groundless. They concede, however, that there will be specific readjustments, such as the need to end the Estonian-Ukraine free-trade agreement, as already mentioned.

In response to Ukraine's desire for more consultations, the EU sources note that the two sides already have frequent and regular bilateral contacts at several levels under the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, including panels on trade and investment.

As to the type of multilateral negotiations favored by Ukraine in this case, the EU is firmly negative.

Sources say the EU will not take part in any multilateral discussions between candidate countries and a third country. It has never done that in any previous enlargement and has no intention of doing so in the future. The EU feels that discussions on enlargement are a matter solely between the union and the candidate countries.

EU officials recall that the Commission representative attended last November's meeting in Kyiv only as an observer, to listen to concerns -- which the EU regards as an important task.

However, the EU came away from that meeting with a confirmed impression that the Ukrainians find if very difficult to express exactly what their concerns are.