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Ukraine: EU Proposals For Future Relations Spark Disappointment

Kyiv says it is disappointed by this week's proposals by the European Union regarding the bloc's future relations with neighbors following the 2004 expansion. Ukrainian politicians and analysts say the proposals do not address the country's aim of eventually joining the EU.

Prague, 14 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union this week mapped out plans for future relations with the countries that will be its neighbors once it expands in 2004. The plans, contained in a document titled "Wider Europe -- Neighborhoods: A New Framework for Relations With Our Eastern and Southern Neighbors," were presented by the European Commission to the European Parliament this on 11 March. The proposals are expected to be made official policy following an EU summit in June.

The document says the EU should offer Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova, among others, closer economic integration and enhanced political cooperation in exchange for political, economic, and institutional reform based on "shared values."

Norbert Jousten, the EU's ambassador to Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, said the proposals, which are meant to cover the coming five to 10 years, include preferential trade terms; expanded transport, energy, and telecommunication links; and the possibility of visa-free travel to the EU. The document also appears to leave open the possibility of eastern neighbors eventually joining the EU.

Jousten called the proposals "a very ambitious offer" and a solid opportunity for Kyiv.

But Ukrainian officials are less enthusiastic. A Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Markiyan Lubkivskyy, criticized the proposals, saying they do not fully meet Ukraine's "aspirations" for becoming a full-fledged EU member.

Oleksandr Sushko, the director of Ukraine's Center for Peace, Conversion, and Foreign Policy, told RFE/RL that Ukraine is unlikely to accept the proposal in its current form. "It is natural that the Foreign Ministry reacted in such a way. Any long-term EU strategy regarding Ukraine that does not recognize the prospects for Ukraine's possible membership in this organization will not be well accepted in Ukraine, not by the Foreign Ministry or other institutions, or experts, or anybody," Sushko said.

Steffen Skovmand heads the political division of the European Commission's delegation to Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus. He told RFE/RL that, contrary to remarks by critics, the proposals do not actually preclude Ukraine's eventual membership in the EU. "We are not talking about accession now. We are neither including it nor excluding it. What we are talking about is a new framework or a closer integration of Ukraine into the EU, and it is a very concrete proposal. It basically says: 'Get yourself ready to join our single market. Align your legislation. Let's work together. We'll support you. We'll draw up action plans together with you about what needs to be done. We'll have annual reviews about how you make this progress and what progress is made, and we will have money,'" Skovmand said.

Skovmand also said Ukraine's official goal of becoming a candidate country in a decade is in line with the EU proposals.

Stuart Hensel, a Ukraine analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London, said the country has been offered the best deal it can reasonably expect. "It doesn't offer any prospects for any sort of immediate membership, in fact. It suggests that over the next 10 years the EU is not interested in looking at new members and that the most this deal offers Ukraine is access to the internal markets. That means perhaps greater concessions on trade terms, greater access for Ukrainian goods to get into the EU, greater access perhaps for Ukrainians to enter into the EU without visas, but that's about it," Hensel said.

Sushko said the proposals put Ukraine in a league with countries that will never be accepted into the EU, such as the North African states, which are also discussed in the "neighborhood" proposals. "Ukraine is put in the same league not only with Belarus and Moldova but also with Africa. Even taking into consideration all the advantages that North African countries enjoy in their relations with the EU, such an African option for Ukraine, on an emotional level, provokes misunderstanding," Sushko said.

Sushko said the document implies that Ukraine might never be accepted into the EU. "We have a suspicion that these [North African] countries are put into a single package with Eastern European countries in order to confer upon two groups a single status. This single status may mean a single prospect: exclusion from the possibility of integration, possible membership," Sushko said.

Sushko said Brussels is setting a double standard for EU neighbor countries. He said the situation in Ukraine is no worse than in Albania or Macedonia, whose future candidacy has already been declared by Brussels.

He said Balkan countries like Albania, Macedonia, and Serbia are also far from meeting the Copenhagen criteria -- the economic and political conditions for candidate countries set by the EU in 1993. But the EU is clear in its strategy toward them. "The EU has an aim to fully integrate those countries," he said. "It may happen in the distant future -- the precise dates have not been given -- but the [political] will in Brussels is clear."

Hensel said Ukraine itself lacks political will and has been slow with reform progress. "I think the main problem is a lack of willingness on the part of [Ukraine's] political class to embrace the sort of reforms that it knows the EU is looking for, and more technically, the incapacity of the administration in Ukraine to fulfill the sort of reforms required," Hensel said.

Hensel said Ukraine's foreign policy is fuzzy. Ukraine seeks closer economic ties with Russia on the one hand and with the EU on the other.

He noted that last month, leaders from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan signed a joint declaration stating their intention to create a free-trade zone.