Tymoshenko visits Brussels to cement EU integration

By bne IntelliNews January 29, 2008

Roman Olearchyk in Brussels -

Yulia Tymoshenko, the Ukrainian prime minister, arrived in Brussels January 28 for a two-day visit that comes at a critical time in bilateral relations between the EU and Kyiv. With the establishment of a pro-Western, but still fragile, coalition after years of political turbulence, the PM and the European Commission have a window of opportunity to further and deepen the country's integration with the EU.

Kyiv's Western-integration drive, originally set in motion after the pro-democracy Orange Revolution of 2004, has received a fresh start after pro-Western forces backing Tymoshenko and Ukraine's president, Viktor Yushchenko, reunited to win a snap parliament election last autumn. A strong election showing by her political bloc propelled Tymoshenko, the off-and-on ally of Yushchenko, back into the premier's seat, ousting the Moscow-friendly coalition led by former PM Viktor Yanukovich.

On her first foreign visit since being voted in as premier late last year, Tymoshenko stressed her country is dedicated more than ever to inking a free trade pact with the EU. Formal negotiations are to kick off after Kyiv joins the WTO, a long-delayed feat that is all but sealed for February.

Appearing with Tymoshenko after a meeting, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said, "Ukraine is getting closer and closer to the European Union."

"Our aim is to bring Ukraine and the EU closer together in as many areas as possible," he said. Ukraine is a "country with a great future in Europe."

To further integration, Barroso urged Ukraine to put aside the longstanding political struggle between Yushchenko, Yanukovich and Tymoshenko - a three-way rivalry that has poisoned the politics of the country since the Orange Revolution.

The EU is "satisfied with the formation of a new government and her leadership," Barroso said referring to Tymoshenko. And Tymoshenko is becoming an increasingly popular politician in Ukraine that has her sights set on playing a larger role in directing Ukraine towards Europe. A high ranking EU official said Brussels was pleased to see a pro-Western coalition formed in Kyiv and has hopes that the "strong willed" female leader would play a big role in keeping Kyiv on the path of reforms and closer ties with the West.


But political stability in Ukraine remains fragile. Tymoshenko's coalition is backed by a thin two-seat majority in parliament. Political analysts in Kyiv insist she has presidential ambitions and could, as a result, be set on a course for a repeat of a 2005 clash with President Yushchenko. The consequences of such a conflict would collapse her governing coalition and stall Western-integration efforts once again.

Pro-western political forces in Ukraine, a country of 46m with bustling economic growth, have hopes their country can in the distant future become a full-fledged member of the EU. But support for further enlargement by the EU remains weak.

Ukraine is a strategically important partner for Europe, as a market and partner on energy security. Kyiv is home to a vast pipeline system which serves as a major artery for energy supplies from former Soviet states to Europe. Tymoshenko has pledged that a major goal of hers would be to boost energy security relations with the EU. She has called for construction of new gas pipelines that would stretch across the Caspian and Black Seas bringing gas from Central Asia and Iran to Ukraine, and European markets. But her pledge to clean up the murky role of intermediaries in the multi-billion-dollar gas supply business between Ukraine, Russia and Central Asia is expected to strain relations with top power brokers in Moscow.

To the dissatisfaction of Moscow, Tymoshenko joined Yushchenko and Kyiv's parliament speaker in signing a formal request early this year to be accepted into a so-called Nato Membership Action Plan, a first step in the long road towards membership in the military alliance.

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