Expectations are high in Kyiv that an EU-Ukraine summit in September in France will result in stronger ties between the two sides and boost progress in negotiations on a new bilateral agreement, according to EU Observer.
"We expect certain serious steps to be taken along the lines of preparing the new enhanced agreement and the free trade agreement [between Ukraine and the EU]," Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko told a group of journalists in Kyiv.
"We look forward to the EU flashing the green light for us that would help us on our way forward," she added.
Ukraine`s relations with the EU are currently regulated by a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in force since 1998, a set-up that Kyiv considers politically insufficient.
Negotiations to replace the PCA started in March 2007 and Ukraine wants it to contain a clear reference to eventual EU membership, and avoid the vague political formulations that have characterised Brussels statements about the large eastern European country to date.
The new bilateral agreement is also to include a free trade agreement on which negotiations were launched in February.
Oleksandr Chalyi, a senior foreign-policy adviser to Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, suggested that after overcoming a "very deep political and social crisis" by signing the Lisbon treaty, the EU would now be "more capable of developing a consensus on Ukraine`s European perspectives."
"We want the legal substance of our partnership transformed to association," instead of a simple "closer cooperation," he said.
According to government estimates, a clear majority of Ukrainians – around 65 to 70 percent – back the idea of seeing their country becoming a future EU member.
The EU, however, has not shown much enthusiasm for this and still prefers to talk about "a much closer and enhanced partnership."
Ian Boag, head of the European Commission`s delegation to Ukraine, stressed that the deal that will be eventually reached should not be seen as "a stepping stone for membership of the EU."
But in a bid to reassure the Ukrainian side he added that "nothing excludes [such an option]."
High hopes for the French EU presidency
In this context, a high-level EU-Ukraine meeting planned to take place on 9 September in France and under French EU presidency, is expected to bring a breakthrough in the stagnating bilateral relations.
Paris recently floated a proposal for an "Association Agreement" with the former Soviet country – which stops short of any EU accession commitments but provides for visibly stronger ties.
Kyiv welcomed the fact that "such country as France recently put new ideas to bring Ukraine closer to the EU."
"Now we are working on the basis of the French proposals and… hope this event [the EU-Ukraine summit] will produce some results," said deputy foreign minister Kostiantyn Yelisieiev in charge of negotiating the new agreement.
He stressed the importance of the French idea, considering that "France was one of the countries ‘a little bit cold` [towards Ukraine`s EU perspectives]."
According to Mr Yelisieiev, the September summit will be "the real test [for EU-Ukraine relations] and will show the real intentions of the French leadership" regarding Ukraine.
Problems still to be tackled
Along with the lack of political consensus among EU states on the 46-million strong country`s EU future, Ukraine still has its own internal issues to tackle before such a possibility could be realistically discussed.
Political in-fighting blocking much needed changes has on several occasions prompted the EU to call for more political stability in Ukraine, while Kyiv still has to tackle its inefficient administration, high levels of corruption, as well as judicial and economic reforms.
Ukrainian politicians concede there are problems.
"We have got to get rid of corruption and other negative consequences of our socialist past… We should achieve European standards as soon as possible," foreign minister Volodymyr Ogryzko told journalists in the margins of Europe`s day celebrations in Kyiv on Sunday (11 May).
But he added: "I do hope that we will have a very concrete signal from the EU that Ukraine will in the nearest future be in the EU."