EU split over Ukraine’s path to membership

EU split over Ukraine’s path to membership

After the crisis over Georgia, new divisions have emerged within the European Union over whether to offer Ukraine a clear signal that it might one day join the 27-nation bloc...

After the crisis over Georgia, new divisions have emerged within the European Union over whether to offer Ukraine a clear signal that it might one day join the 27-nation bloc.

 The Russian military action in August increased pressure on the EU to increase its engagement in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova to shore up pro-Western forces there. But the Georgian conflict has reignited a vigorous debate within the EU on whether the bloc can continue to expand to include more nations that border Russia.

A test of the EU`s commitment to its Eastern neighbors comes Tuesday in Évian, when President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, which holds the EU rotating presidency, leads talks with Ukraine on behalf of the bloc. The meeting will have an added sense of urgency following the collapse of the government in Ukraine this week. The two sides expect to reach broad consensus on a new agreement dealing with ties between the EU and Ukraine.

POLAND, CZECH REPUBLIC, BALTIC STATES, SWEDEN AND UK

But several EU countries, including Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, want to make clear that this will not lead, automatically, to EU membership talks. By contrast, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltic States, Sweden and Britain are pressing for language stating that Ukraine has a clear European future.

Latest drafts of the text suggest that the EU will say that the agreement does "not prejudge any possible future developments in the EU-Ukraine relationship."

One EU diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the discussions, said writing the draft required a "delicate balance" because governments "were pushing quite hard in both directions."

The outcome could disappoint the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko, who may have hoped that the crisis in Georgia would have spurred the EU to be bolder about its ties with Kyiv.

However, the EU will agree to Kyiv`s suggested title for the accord - an Association Agreement - a name that Ukraine believes implies a path to membership. Recently, countries that aspire to membership in the EU, such as Croatia, negotiated Stabilization and Association Agreements before becoming candidates to join the club.

The accord with Ukraine will include similar elements, such as a free-trade agreement already being negotiated, cooperation on energy, and discussions on visa-free travel in the long term.

Tomas Valasek, director of foreign policy and defense at the Center for European Reform in London, argued that the EU risked being too timid by refusing Ukraine a clear prospect of membership. "The biggest advantage of an EU membership perspective is that it allows us to influence their decision-making and changes their political calculus," he said.

"Countries that want to be in the EU and want a perspective of being in the EU are a lot more disciplined and focused on the political and economic reforms needed for accession. Ukraine does not have that discipline," Valasek added.

On Wednesday, the shaky coalition that united Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko collapsed. Opponents of giving Ukraine a clear prospect for EU membership have pointed to this as evidence of the country`s lack of readiness.

By Stephen Castle, International Herald Tribune (IHT), Paris, France

Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service

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