LUXEMBOURG, October 10 (Itar-Tass) —— The entry into force of the agreement between the European Union and Ukraine on association and a free trade zone may be delayed by the ex-Prime minister Yulia Timoshenko case, Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said.
She said at a press conference after a EU ministerial meeting on Monday, October 10, that the coordination and signing of the agreement would proceed in accordance with the schedule, but the technical stage would be followed by a political one, which includes the approval by the European Union, and this is where complications can arise.
EU ministers confirmed on the sidelines of the meeting that the document would be signed before the end of the year, but its ratification by the national parliaments of the EU member states and by the European Parliament was unlikely to be completed until Ukraine resolves EU human rights concerns, one of which is the Timoshenko case.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Konstantin Grishchenko denied politics behind the Timoshenko criminal case.
“It's very bad when opposition leaders are prosecuted, but this is different - this is a matter of government responsibility,” Grishchenko said at the PACE replying to questions from parliamentarians last week.
“The only instance that can solve all questions is the court,” the minister said.
He assured the PACE that Kiev is more interested in an independent investigation of the Timoshenko case.
“I would not like to make any statements that could be taken as pressure on the court,” he said.
Nevertheless, he admitted, when speaking of the Timoshenko case, that Ukraine needs to carry out a judicial and legal reform, and expressed readiness to cooperate on this issue with the Council of Europe.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich earlier called for integration and further admission of his country to the European Union.
“Our main priority is integration into the European Union,” Yanukovich said.
“We are ready to sign an agreement on association this year. And we want this agreement to mention prospects for Ukraine's admission to the European Union so that it is not a hollow document,” he said.
Ukraine and the EU began negotiations on a new basic agreement in March 2007 and on the creation of a free trade zone in February 2008. In September 2008, Ukraine and the EU agreed to sign a new reinforced agreement on the principles of Ukraine's association, which would include the creation of a free trade zone.
Yanukovich called for broader international cooperation and foreign investments. He said the Ukrainian economy depended on export as 60 percent of good made in the country were sold to other countries.
He admitted that raw materials made up the bulk of them and called for investments in the processing industry.
Yanukovich believes that Ukraine's potential is quite big and that his administration was taking serious efforts to create a favourable investment climate in the country.
Public investment communities have been created in Kiev and in regions to this end, and licensing procedures have been simplified. Ukraine also intends to step up the fight against corruption. The parliament will debate relevant laws shortly.
Speaking of broader ties with the European Union, Yanukovich said EU membership “is not a goal in itself” but a means of modernising Ukraine. “We want to integrate Ukraine into Europe,” he said, adding that this process should be bilateral.
The president called for signing an agreement with the EU on associated membership, noting the work on the document had been in progress for a long time.
He stressed that it was important to confirm prospects for Ukraine's EU membership, not to determine a specific date for admission.
Yanukovich also said that his country would implement the action plan for visa-free travel with the European Union by the end of 2011.
He admitted, though, that it would be hard to do that. “The action plan will require Ukraine to carry out reforms. This is going to be a thorny path, but we are determined to finish it in 2011,” he said.
“The document will set forth clear terms for Ukraine that have to be met for compliance, and we hope that we will be able to do so and the ball will be in the European court,” the president said.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said it was an ambitious plan that summed up all the necessary reforms. Now that the progress lies in the hands of Ukraine, he cannot say when exactly visa-free procedures will be introduced.
He promised technical assistance to Ukraine in order to facilitate the implementation of the action plan.
The European Commission will provide 470 million euros to Ukraine in the next three years, according to a national programme of cooperation between the EU and Ukraine that was signed in Brussels on March 2.
European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Stefan Fuele said the programme was aimed at making public administration more efficient and strengthening rule-of-law institutions in Ukraine.
The programme covers a period of up to 2013 and should pave the way for signing an agreement on association and a free trade zone between the European Union and Ukraine.