EU Losing Patience With Ukraine

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- EU officials head for Kiev on Friday for a summit with Ukraine at which they will make clear their concern at the glacial pace of reforms in a country beset with rising debt and recurrent political crises.

France's European affairs minister, Pierre Lellouche.

A year is a long time in diplomacy and the atmosphere has completely changed since Europe proposed, in September 2008, a wide-ranging association agreement with Kiev which was to have been concluded this year.

That idea stopped short of promising eventual EU membership, but showed Europe's willingness to boost ties with a country spooked by Russia's brief war in Georgia that summer.

However when European and Ukrainian officials meet on Friday, to Kiev's great disappointment, there will be no such accord to sign.

Europe is in no hurry to help out any particular candidate ahead of Ukraine's presidential election on January 17, says Vadim Karassiov, the director of Kiev's institute for global strategies.

"Some countries are disappointed with Ukraine, with the lack of recent progress, they want to see a new start after the election, a renewed burst of reform energy," echoes Andrew Wilson, an analyst at London's European Council on Foreign Relations.

France's European affairs minister, Pierre Lellouche, read out a pretty fundamental wish list earlier this month

Europe wants "a return to a state of law, an end to corruption" in Ukraine and "electoral promises must not be financed with money from the international community, from the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and European taxpayers," he explained.

Ukraine is one of the countries worst hit by the economic crisis and was granted a $16.4 billion (£9.8 billion) IMF loan last year. But the money has been frozen after Ukraine's parliament voted to increase social spending.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has separately delayed a decision on a planned $300-million loan to Ukraine because of its failure to implement reforms.

Neither are there too many green economic shoots visible to ease the problems, with the country facing a 15 per cent contraction of its economy this year.

A Ukraine teetering on the edge of bankruptcy is especially worrying to the EU, which relies on it to transport Russian natural gas - which meets a quarter of Europe's needs.

In January, a row betweenRussia and Ukraine resulted in the gas taps to much of Europe being turned off for two weeks when the temperature was freezing.

The EU's attentions have also been increasingly turning towards Moscow, amid a thawing in relations since the end of hostilities in Georgia.

Europe is not the only party feeling frustrated at the rate of change.

Ukraine is "the only European nation with clear ambitions to enter the EU which hasn't even vaguely been recognised as a potential future member state," Konstantin Eliseev, the deputy foreign minister, complained in Brussels recently.

The EU team is to repeat in Kiev Friday that Ukraine is a "European country" that "shares a history and common values" with the 27 EU nations.

A European country, but not a prospective European Union country despite Kiev's eagerness for both EU and Nato membership ever since the Orange revolution of 2004.

Ukraine's presidential election may not prove the catalyst for changing that scenario.

The current opinion poll favourite, Victor Yanukovich, favours closer ties with Russia, though he has in recent years sought to shake off his image as a servant of Moscow.

"The priority of the foreign policy will be the revival a full partnership with Russia and also the development of partnership with the United States and European Union," he has said.

Source: Telegraph UK