Ukraine's Uphill EU Struggle

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- "Ukraine is clearly committed to reform and shares our fundamental values. There is still a lot of work to do to promote democratic and economic reforms. Ukraine and the EU know that this won't happen overnight," said European Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas ending a two-day visit to Kiev.

Following the rejection of the Constitution by French and Dutch voters, a growing number of politicians from richer old EU Members, the latest being French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, have called for enlargement to be frozen. "We must hold up enlargement at least until institutions have been modernised. Europe cannot enlarge for ever," Sarkozy said on Monday after meeting newly installed French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. The meeting was aimed at fleshing out a new EU strategy following the rejection of the Constitution.

As for Kallas, he is the fifth European Commissioner to travel to Kiev in the six months following the election of President Viktor Yushchenko. That shows the level of commitment by EU institutions to implementing cooperation plans framed in an EU-Ukraine Action Plan and signed in February. Hailing from a former Soviet republic himself, Estonian Kallas is fearful that the EU's drawing a line on further enlargement may encourage new democracies in eastern and south-eastern Europe to backslide.

But despite the amount of flying between Brussels and Kyiv, the EU door is definitely closed for Ukraine. "Yushchenko was very wise not to send a premature application for membership," admitted Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, speaking last week at a breakfast event organized by the Brussels-based think-tank, the European Policy Center.

"Enlargement has been stretched to its limits," said Rehn. "We want to bring the Ukraine closer to the EU by concrete measures like free trade, market economy status, enhancing market functioning, better dialogue, improving the opportunities for Ukrainians to study and work in the EU," continued Rehn. "The Ukraine is indisputably a European country. The Treaties say that any European country that respects European values may apply to join."

In Kyiv, Kallas also concentrated more on practical steps. "The Commission fully supports Ukraine in its efforts step by step to implement the EU Ukraine Action Plan and the complementary conclusions on Ukraine of the General Affairs and External Relations Council of 21 February," said Kallas. "I am confident that Ukraine’s government and people will rise to challenges that include reform of the administration and the judiciary, in particular with a view to ensuring the rule of law and to strengthening the confidence of investors."

Kallas, who is responsible for administrative reform, audit and anti-corruption in the Brussels administration also met with Deputy Prime Minister Roman Bezsmertnyi in charge of administrative reform, Interior Minister Jury Lutsenko, and other top officials. Ukraine is facing an uphill struggle to maintain a clear separation between business and politics and ensure security of domestic and international investment. Extensive administrative reform is needed in the former Soviet Union republic as well as stronger policy aimed at fighting corruption and eliminating red tape.

Earlier this month top Ukraine officials were in Brussels for the Ukraine-EU Council. "Now is the moment to get down to work and this is the goal of the Action Plan," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told them at the time. "We want to see the Ukraine get closer to the EU. An important question is visa facilitation. I can say a mandate will be given before the summer."

On 1 May, Ukraine unilaterally introduced a visa-free regime for EU nationals and Swiss citizens, partly to facilitate travel before and after the Eurovision song contest held in Kyiv. Although, the visa-free regime remains in effect until 1 September 2005, Yushchenko wants to further extend the visa-free regime.

Source: Euro-Reporters