Poland, Britain Keeping EU's Doors Open To East

WARSAW, Poland -- Polish and British leaders have urged Ukraine and other states to the European Union's east to embark on far-reaching democratic reforms, promising them that EU membership could be theirs, eventually, in exchange for real progress.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Thursday that previous enlargements of the EU have brought "enormous economic benefits" that could be replicated by opening even more eastern markets to the established members of the common market.

He said London remains a strong supporter of eventual membership for Turkey and eastern European countries that adopt EU standards on human rights and the rule of law.

"It is in the EU's clear interest to offer meaningful integration to those neighbors, including through full EU membership, where the criteria are rigorously met," Clegg said in Warsaw ahead of an EU summit.

"The UK is clear: 'no' to a planned pause after Croatia," he said, referring to the next ex-communist country set to join the bloc.

Earlier in the day Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski of Poland stressed that EU membership "at this point is distant" for the countries, some of whom have been backsliding on democratic standards recently.

But, he said, "If you become legally speaking and commercially speaking a little bit like Norway or Switzerland, then things become possible. Of course if you don't, you won't (join)."

Both leaders spoke at a conference organized by local think tanks as European leaders were arriving in Warsaw for a two-day EU summit on the Eastern Partnership that opened with a dinner Thursday evening.

The Eastern Partnership is an initiative launched two years ago by Poland and Sweden aimed at deepening EU integration with six eastern European countries: Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

A former communist country with a leading role in the 1989 revolutions that shook off Communist regimes across Europe, Poland wants to see the eastern neighbors on its doorstep build strong trade and investment ties with the West that would distance them from Russia's sphere of influence.

"This is not a geopolitical project, but it's fulfillment will have geopolitical implications," Sikorski said.

The eastern countries, however, aren't helping their own cause, with Moldova arguably the only country showing real democratic improvement.

Some countries, most notably Belarus, have instead been backsliding on human rights.

Polish leaders hope the summit, which comes during its six-month EU presidency, will spur eastern countries to embrace a pro-Western course.

They also hope to revive interest in the project in Western capitals such as Berlin and Paris, which are more focused these days on upheaval in the Arab world and the financial crisis in the euro zone.

Though Clegg's words were welcome to Polish leaders, Warsaw's officials don't expect London to throw any real weight behind pushing for democratic reforms in eastern Europe.

The summit is to focus heavily on Ukraine, which has been negotiating free trade and association agreements with the EU, a milestone for the former Soviet state in its hoped-for path toward deeper integration with its wealthier neighbors.

The landmark deals, however, are now threatened by signs of Kiev's wavering commitment to democratic standards, including the detention and trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a hero of the Orange Revolution and the main opposition leader in the country of 46 million.

EU and U.S. leaders have criticized the trial against Tymoshenko as politically motivated.

Tymoshenko, in an emotional session of her trial Thursday, accused her longtime political foe President Viktor Yanukovych of "lynching" her to remove her as an opponent.

Yanukovych met with Polish leaders in Warsaw ahead of the summit but did not comment on the Tymoshenko trial.

Tusk said at a joint news conference with Yanukovych that he told Yanukovych that democratic and human rights standards must be "very high" in countries aspiring to EU membership.

"Democratic standards will influence the assessment of the process of integration," Tusk said.

But Tusk largely kept the tone positive.

"All of Europe and those of us in Warsaw have a decidedly good assessment of the political determination of Ukrainian authorities on the issue of integration with the rest of Europe."

Source: AP