Füle Warns Ukraine Not To Ruin Its EU Hopes

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Štefan Füle, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, said that there were "no limits" to the possible depth and scope of Ukraine's integration with the EU, but warned that the political trial against opposition politicians risked blocking the country's European perspective.

Štefan Füle, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy.

In a highly political speech delivered at a Brussels event on the occasion of Ukraine's 20th independence anniversary, Füle said the country was on the cusp of signing an Association Agreement with a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU.

Following this step, according to Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty, Ukraine would be eligible to apply for EU membership.

Ukraine is currently in the final stage of concluding the DCFTA, with a Brussels visit of its President Vikor Yanukovich and an EU-Ukraine summit to be held on 14-16 December in Kyiv.

On this occasion, the Association Agreement, which includes the DCFTA, is expected to be signed.

As Füle said, this would make Ukraine the most advanced country in terms of European integration among the EU's Eastern Partnership initiative, which also includes Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus.

In the longer term, the EU hopes to put in place a free trade area with all the eastern partners, similar to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

Today's EFTA members are Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

Ukraine however aspires to full EU membership, as President Yanukovich recently said.

From a Brussels perspective, Ukraine and Moldova are not to be excluded from EU membership in the longer term, but any discussion on such perspective is seen as premature before signing Association Agreements.

Stressing that he was speaking to Ukraine as a "friend", Füle warned that the country had recently brought upon itself the "wrong kind of publicity" with the trials which in the EU perspective appear as politically motivated, against opposition leaders, and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in the first place.

Soviet-style justice

The Commissioner said that part of the problem was the antiquated judicial system, inherited from Soviet times, in which according to his terms no dividing line existed between political and criminal responsibility.

"Through my close contacts with Ukrainian counterparts, I am convinced that the Ukrainian leaders have understood the gravity of the situation, and are able to turn things around, and choose a different track," the Commissioner said.

He also strongly appealed for a deep reform of the country's judicial system.

Many Ukraine observers expect Tymoshenko to be sentenced to jail. This in effect could bring the entire momentum in EU-Ukraine relations to a halt.

Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the European Parliament's liberal group who played host at the Brussels conference, said that the Association Agreement should open the door for Ukraine to become a candidate country, but only if Kiev was committed to build "deep democracy".

Ukraine's First Vice Prime Minister Andriy Klyuev stressed the commitment of his country to finalise negotiations on the DCFTA, also highlighting the positive economic trends in Ukraine.

In a recent interview with EurActiv Germany, Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that the Tymoshenko trial was not a political one and pleaded that the EU should not link this issue to a possible freezing of negotiations on DCFTA.

Source: EuroActiv