bne IntelliNews -
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko called on the European Union to give his country prospects for visa-free travel and eventual membership of the union, in his opening remarks at the EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv on April 27.
"I appeal to the EU to acknowledge that Ukraine, like any other European state that respects and is ready to defend common values, can become an EU member in the future, supporting ambitions for European integration by the people of Ukraine,” Poroshenko said, as quoted by Interfax.
No visa relief or a place in the 28-country bloc was offered. EU officials instead promised funds for the concrete ‘sarcophagus’ cover being built over the shattered nuclear reactor at Chernobyl and called for implementation of the existing EU-Ukraine free trade agreement on January 1, 2016.
Poroshenko was elected president in May 2014 after a revolution ousted pro-Moscow leader Viktor Yanukovych that February, partly as a result of the sudden refusal of his predecessor to sign an association agreement and free-trade deal with the EU, as was planned.
The strong pro-EU sentiment driving the opposition movement during the regime change had boosted hopes Brussels would provide Ukraine with membership prospects, but the union has so far not moved on the issue.
Visa-free travel also remains a remote prospect for Ukrainians, partly due to the destabilising effect of the Russian-backed insurgency in East Ukraine's Donbas region. It is a long-held dream of many Ukrainians, especially those who participated in the opposition protests in the winter of 2013-2014.
"I am convinced that Ukrainians as a European nation have a right to one of the key freedoms on which European integration is based: freedom of travel and human relations," Poroshenko said. "I understand that Moscow's actions on the eastern border considerably complicate this process,” he added. "But I agree with [EU] President [Donald] Tusk that this problem should not be an obstacle for a visa-free regime."
EU keeps lid on visa issue, Chernobyl site
However, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker largely ignored Poroshenko's appeal in his opening remarks, promising instead €70mn to reinforce the sarcophagus enclosing the damaged reactor at the Chernobyl plant near Kyiv, the scene of the world's worst ever nuclear accident on April 26, 1986.
Junker also confirmed that the first tranches in €1.8bn of EU macroeconomic aid to Ukraine would be paid during 2015.
The EC president also called for implementation of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, including a deep and comprehensive free trade area. "There have been many postponements and one can put off things indefinitely. However, this agreement should take effect from January 1, 2016," Interfax quoted Juncker as saying.
Implementation of the agreement had been for a year earlier but was postponed for 12 months following Russian protests that the move would disrupt its trade with Ukraine. The postponement was also a result of Ukrainian fears that the country’s economy could not withstand free trade with the EU as it reeled under the effects of the Russian-backed insurgency in the East.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, traditionally more bullish on implementation of the free trade pact than Poroshenko, backed calls for the 2016 launch.
There was “no doubt” that the free trade zone would come into force in January, Yatsenyuk said during the summit, according to his website. “No more postponements, especially considering neither Moscow nor anyone else is entitled either to delay this agreement or to amend it," he added.
It was hard to find another country in Europe’s modern history that had faced such challenges as Ukraine currently did, Yatsenyuk concluded, reminding that "over the past year Ukraine has lost 20% of its economy through Russian military aggression".
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