EU Warns Ukraine That Political, Free Trade Deals At Risk

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union might not sign a landmark political cooperation and trade agreement with Ukraine if rule of law and political pluralism conditions in the country do not improve, two leading officials from the bloc warned on Thursday.

EU Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Stefan Fule.

At a summit in December, the two sides announced the end of four-year negotiations on an association and free trade agreement.

But the deals still need to be initialled and signed over the course of 2012.

The agreement would 'represent a decisive step for Ukraine's progress towards modernisation and prosperity as well as for the deepening of EU-Ukraine relations,' said EU Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Stefan Fule and Elmar Brok, a German lawmaker who chairs the EU Parliament's foreign affairs committee.

But in a joint statement, they warned that 'recent political developments in Ukraine nevertheless raise serious questions on the willingness of the Ukrainian authorities to respect the commitments enshrined in the agreement, especially in the area of the rule of law and of the respect of political pluralism.'

In recent months, the EU has particularly been concerned with the treatment of former prime minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who was handed down a seven years' sentence for abuse of power in a trial that the West sees as politically motivated.

Without making direct reference to her case, Fule and Brok called on Ukraine to ensure that 'the political conditions for a smooth signing and ratification of the agreement are met.'

'Some countries - notably Germany ... - have seemingly made Tymoshenko's release a precondition of ratification,' Amanda Paul, an analyst with the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank, wrote this week.

But she argued that the EU would make 'a grave error of judgement' if it held the deals with Ukraine hostage to the Tymoshenko affair.

Signing the association agreement - which would still need ratifications in national parliaments, giving the EU more leverage over Ukraine - would improve business climate and encourage Kiev to pursue more reforms, Paul said.

The free trade deal, on the other hand, only needs ratification by the European Parliament and Ukraine's assembly, the Rada.

But 'safeguard measures' could be introduced to suspend it if 'essential and fundamental principles are ignored or deliberately violated,' she suggested.

Source: DPA