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Alliance News


EU ministers likely to delay decision on Ukraine association deal

Mon, 18th Nov 2013 06:48


BRUSSELS (Alliance News) - EU foreign ministers are expected to delay a decision Monday on establishing closer ties with Ukraine, according to EU diplomats, giving Kiev 10 days to meet the bloc's demands ahead of the summit at which the deal was to be signed.

Postponing the go-ahead, which had been expected at talks in Brussels, would send a "powerful message" to Ukraine ahead of the November 28-29 summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, one diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

A senior EU official described the last-minute negotiations as "arm wrestling" with Ukraine, but also with Russia, which has reacted suspiciously to the EU'S efforts to improve relations with six countries in Moscow's sphere of influence.

The EU's association and free trade agreement with Ukraine - the first such deal with a former Soviet state - hinges on a number of conditions, the most prominent of which is the fate of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Releasing her, or at least enabling her to travel to Germany for treatment, has been seen by EU members as a key condition for the deal to be signed.

Last week, the Ukrainian parliament postponed a bill that would have allowed Tymoshenko to get treatment abroad. Lawmakers will return to the issue on Tuesday.

The foreign ministers meeting in Brussels may need "more time ... to look at way events are unfolding in Ukraine," the EU official said Friday on condition of anonymity. "Every day brings more news," he added.

Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of power linked to oil deals when she was prime minister between 2007-10.

But some EU members stress that broader issues are at stake.

"For Ukraine, it's about setting up fair justice, not just about the Tymoshenko case," one diplomat said.

Failure to secure her release before the Vilnius summit would not "automatically" exclude signing the deal, he added.

"It would be wrong to seize on one specific aspect," said another diplomat, adding, "In the end, the overall picture will decide."

The EU's demands of Kiev include progress on selective justice - of which Tymoshenko's case is the most high-profile example - as well as reforms to the general prosecutor's office and to parliamentary elections.

Bills on the latter two issues had a positive first reading in the Ukrainian parliament this month, leading to EU calls for "urgent adoption" in their second reading too.

"Time is very short for delivery," European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said last week.

The EU ministers will also take stock Monday of preparations to initial association agreements with Moldova and Georgia at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, which will also be attended by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus.

The EU is offering these countries a gradual path towards economic integration, the easing of travel restrictions and closer political ties, in return for reform pledges. It is also offering financial aid.

But Russia has been increasing pressure on the six countries ahead of the summit, for example by imposing trade barriers on Ukraine and blocking imports of alcoholic beverages from Moldova.

Moscow has also been courting them to join a Russia-backed customs union, rather than seek closer EU ties - a path that Armenia has chosen, despite three years of free trade negotiations with Brussels.

Monday's talks will also focus on developments in Syria, Libya and Egypt, as well as EU migration challenges, following the death of hundreds of migrants off the coast of Italy last month.

Rome has asked the EU to consider taking military action against organized crime networks trafficking people across the Mediterranean - an option that ministers could address in the context of broader discussions on common security and defence policy.

They will also discuss this week's summit with China, at which negotiations are to be launched on a bilateral investment deal. EU President Herman Van Rompuy and Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will travel to Beijing after a summit Tuesday in Japan.

Copyright dpa

Alliance News



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