STRASBOURG, France -- Addressing MEPs in Strasbourg, Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko presented his ambitious plans for reforms, with a goal to start membership talks in 2007 – or earlier – at its centre.
President Yushchenko gave his speech to European parliamentarians on Wednesday (23 February), after a series of talks in Brussels, where both the EU leaders and the Ukraine officially endorsed an action plan for co-operation with the country.
"The borders of Europe now stretch from the coast of Portugal to beyond Kiev. We have chosen Europe: it is not just a question of geography, but a matter of shared spiritual and moral values", Mr Yushchenko told the MEPs, referring to them as the "godfathers and godmothers" of his newly born democratic society.
While stressing that Kiev still also wants to deepen relations with Russia, he pointed out "European integration is the only path open for Ukraine. It is time to move beyond words and take action to develop democracy, the rule of law, freedom of the media and to tackle corruption. We must not lose this unique opportunity to bring the EU and Ukraine closer".
Mr Yushchenko said he believed Kiev could start EU membership talks directly after concluding the first projected stage of the action plan’s timetable in 2007.
However, talking to journalists later on, he suggested that if Ukraine met the so-called "Copenhagen criteria" - basic EU membership requirements on democracy and rule of law - prior to that, the talks could begin even earlier.
Asked about the possibility of Ukraine joining the EU before Turkey – with less controversy and stronger popular support – Mr Yushchenko diplomatically replied that he did not want to "cast shadow on the interest of other countries, [or] compete with Turkey now".
Neighbour or applicant country?
While the action plan endorsed this week is viewed as a step closer towards EU membership by Kiev, it is part of a different Neighbourhood policy framework projected in Brussels.
The Neighourhood policy was originally created for countries unlikely ever to be considered for accession, but Ukraine insisted during this week’s talks that the co-operation in its framework should not be considered as an alternative to the process of EU accession.