EU trade pact not at risk, Ukraine ambassador says04.10. 2010 ANDREW RETTMAN
EUOBSERVER/ BRUSSELS - Ukraine's ambassador to the EU has said that Kiev remains keen on closer trade and political ties with the Union, following controversial remarks by both sides in recent days.
Speaking to EUobserver in Brussels on Monday (4 October), Mr Kostiantyn Yelisieiev said that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's recent criticism of a proposed EU-Ukraine trade pact should be seen as part of ongoing negotiations rather than a break in the process.
"The DCFTA [Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement] is one of the core elements of our planned Association Agreement. We are very much determined to negotiate it because it is important for the future of Ukraine. The DCFTA should be considered as a vital instrument for Ukraine's integration into the EU market, but should at the same time take into account the interests of Ukrainian producers and exporters," he said.
He added that the EU's unwillingness to promise that Ukraine can one day join the Union is making Kiev less keen to implement costly reforms, however. "Look at the Western Balkan countries - their EU enlargement perspective is a huge incentive for democratic, social and economic transformation," he said.
An EU delegation will in Kiev on Monday start a new six-day-long round of DCFTA talks. Ukraine Prime Minister Mykola Azarov will next week in Brussels also meet with EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht and EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton is to travel to Kiev early next month in order to try and make progress on the trade pact head of an EU-Ukraine summit on 22 November.
The ambassador's comments are an attempt to scotch talk of a rift between the two sides.
President Yanukovych at an event in Yalta, Ukraine on Friday said the DCFTA will cost Ukraine billions to implement. "Ukraine has no alternative to the European choice, but as the European Union is not even ready to discuss Ukrainian membership, we will select the pace, the forms and the methods of integration in accordance with our national interests," he said.
Earlier last week on Monday, an off-the-cuff remark by Catherine Ashton at an academic debate in the Arthur M. Sackler Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US caused a storm in Ukrainian media.
"I think Ukraine does not particularly see its future in the European Union, I think it sees itself as having a European identity. It's a country that has got to manouevre its relationship between the EU and Russia and to get that right," Ms Ashton said.
The quote, picked up by Ukrainian news agency Unian, was taken to mean that all accession prospects are off. Ms Ashton's office later reassured Kiev that her words were "misunderstood."
The Russia-friendly President Yanukovych has in recent months caused alarm in Brussels with a series of moves which look like a roll-back of the 2004/2005 Orange Revolution.
Mr Yanukovych has since he came to power in February pushed through legal changes to modernise Ukraine's gas industry. But at the same time his secret service, the Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrayiny, has harassed government-critical media and leading international NGOs. And Ukraine's top court on 1 October overturned a post-Orange Revolution change to the country's constitution, handing back powers over government appointments and resolutions from parliament to the presidential office.
Mr Yelisieiev defended the move by saying the EU has in the past itself blamed the post-2004/2005 constitution for causing barriers to reform. "Yes, we have de facto and de jure made a switch from a parliamentary-presidential system to a presidential-parliamentary one. In France there is a also a presidential system," he said.
Asked by this website if Mr Yanukovych is a genuine democrat, the diplomat replied: "Democracy in Ukraine does not depend on me or my President. It's the modus vivendi of society. We had the democratic changes in 2005 and now nobody can limit these values. Nobody can change our way of life."