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EU: Delegation Heading To Ukraine To Discuss Enlargement Concerns

Kyiv is concerned that when some of its neighbors join the European Union next year, Ukraine will be isolated on the wrong side of a new Iron Curtain dividing the continent. RFE/RL reports about an important meeting the Ukrainian government will hold with the EU tomorrow.

Kyiv, 10 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A European Union delegation arrives in Kyiv tomorrow for a two-day conference to discuss Ukraine's relationship with the bloc.

A spokesman for the European Commission's office in Kyiv, Steffen Skovmand, says the meeting will cover a wide range of issues. "I think we have a very interesting agenda," he said. "The first part will deal with a wider Europe and EU enlargement, and it will have such things as -- we will be speaking about developing an action plan for Ukraine, regional and cross-border cooperation."

Cross-border cooperation, Skovmand says, includes such things as building modern crossing points into what will be Ukraine's border with the EU and developing fresh social and economic links across the frontier. The meeting, which takes place within the framework of the Ukraine-EU Cooperation Committee, will also discuss the EU's Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Ukraine, which seeks to deepen trade, scientific, and cultural relations.

Top Ukrainian politicians have been expressing concern throughout the year that Kyiv is being left behind as the EU expands. In May, 10 more countries will join the EU -- eight of them former Soviet bloc countries and close trading partners of Ukraine. Three -- Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia -- border Ukraine.

The expansion has already led to tighter visa requirements for Ukrainians traveling to neighboring countries. Many Ukrainians fear the visa restrictions are only the first of what will be many negative consequences of EU enlargement.

Skovmand says the EU recognizes the subject of expansion is of great interest to Ukraine. "We will be speaking about EU enlargement and the consequences of EU enlargement," he said. "As you know, Ukraine is worried that there may be negative consequences of enlargement, and we would like to put the record straight and say that we don't think so."

Ukraine has made clear that its aim is to eventually join the EU, although Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said earlier this year that he accepts his country still has a long way to go before it meets EU criteria for economic and political standards.

Ukrainian politicians complain the EU has not responded to Kyiv's requests for a closer formal association, let alone full membership. Skovmand says the EU regards Ukraine as an important partner and notes positively that it has chosen a future direction that includes closer relations with the EU and the West. Skovmand says the EU is determined to help Ukraine.

"The first thing you have to do is, I think, recognize that although we don't think that this is going to happen, that we have a real task talking about what we think are going to be the consequences. We think that by informing about what has happened in earlier enlargements, what has happened to the countries bordering in these kind of cases, what history tells us what will happen, I think, is a good model," Skovmand said.

He says sharing a border with the EU can bring benefits -- for example, in trade. Tariffs for goods now exported by Ukraine to its neighbors will be lower once those nations join the EU. "This is a simple fact of life, because the EU simply has lower tariffs than the new member states had and will have up until next year -- and that is a clear gain for Ukraine," he said. In addition, Ukrainian exporters, he says, will have easier access to the EU's market of 450 million consumers.

Skovmand says another issue on the agenda of the EU-Ukraine meeting will be Moldova and its Russian-speaking minority in the breakaway Transdniester region. There were large anti-Russian demonstrations in Moldova last month after President Vladimir Voronin looked as if he was going to agree to a controversial Russian peace plan. The plan would have given a large measure of autonomy to Transdniester and called for Russian troops to remain in the country as peacekeepers until 2020.

Ukraine, along with the Organization or Security and Cooperation in Europe and Russia, has long been involved in trying to broker a peace plan for Moldova. Moldova wants the EU to play a greater role in resolving the impasse.