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Ukraine: Kuchma Acknowledges EU Membership Must Be Earned

Top leaders from the European Union and Ukraine met at a summit in Yalta yesterday to discuss the future of their relations, which have recently come under strain.

Prague, 8 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine and the European Union yesterday held their sixth annual summit, this time in the opulent surroundings of the Livadia Palace in Yalta in Crimea.

The EU delegation was led by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, and the president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi. President Leonid Kuchma headed the Ukrainian delegation.

In the run-up to the summit, Ukraine indicated that it wanted to see real steps taken that would facilitate its effort to obtain eventual membership of the EU. Ukraine has become increasingly anxious that it will be left on the wrong side of a new economic Iron Curtain that could be created when the EU accepts 10 new members next year, including three former Soviet bloc countries -- Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia -- that border Ukraine.

Ukraine fears its trade links with Europe will suffer, while its citizens' freedom to travel will be hampered by the tough border controls that the new members will implement in accordance with EU regulations.

The concerns about travel were highlighted on 1 October when Poland introduced visa regulations for Ukrainians crossing its borders.

Kuchma, at a press conference with Berlusconi and Prodi after the summit, proclaimed himself satisfied with its results.

"The discussions showed that our positions on most of the issues touched upon are either close or converge completely," Kuchma said.

The EU delegation told Ukraine that it is too early to talk about a timetable for Ukrainian entry into the EU but reassured Ukraine that it could eventually join if it presses ahead with reforms needed to enter the World Trade Organization and be designated as having a full market economy.

Berlusconi and Prodi said Ukraine also has to measure up to EU standards on political and democratic behavior.

Berlusconi said at the press conference: "We want your country to be fully integrated into the European Union one day."

Kuchma noted that the EU assured him that Ukraine would not suffer adverse consequences from the enlargement and that it has a real chance of entering the EU.

"One of the important results of the meeting was that we began to talk in practical terms about the consequences of European Union enlargement as a mechanism intended to add a new quality to the relations between Ukraine and the European Union. We agreed that the final aim of European enlargement should also enable Ukraine to attain her goals of integration into [Western] Europe and to accelerate the process of bringing Ukraine closer to the EU in concrete areas," Kuchma said.

The summit produced agreements on plans to increase cooperation in the energy, transport ,and scientific fields. But it seemed to yield no concrete measures to facilitate EU membership.

For years, Ukraine has failed to implement the economic reforms and changes to its political culture demanded by the EU. Western governments and bodies, including the EU, have accused Kuchma of corruption, of cracking down on press freedom, and of abusing human rights.

In response to Western criticisms, Kuchma has often sent signals that he is ready to embrace Russia. Last month, Ukraine signed an agreement with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan to create a Single Economic Space (SES), which some see as an attempt by Russia to increase its economic dominance in the region.

The SES plan was discussed at the summit. Prodi said yesterday that the EU did not think Ukraine's attempts to better relations with Russia harm Kyiv's relations with the EU.

Kuchma said he accepts that Ukraine is not yet ready to join the EU: "I can say completely openly that at present, by any standards, Ukraine is not ready to be a full-blooded member of the European Union. But we are setting ourselves a task, as ambitious as it is, to achieve those standards. Therefore, we're going to stop making declarations about a timetable to become part of the European Union and [instead] we will convince our politicians and society that to be there we need to merit [the right to be in the EU]."

The summit, he said, showed what Ukraine must do to earn that right.