Yushchenko seeks EU membership
 Tuesday, 25 January, 2005, 16:32

Ukraine's President, Viktor Yushchenko, has vowed to make democratic reforms irreversible and prepare Ukraine for eventual EU membership.
He told the 46-nation Council of Europe in Strasbourg that his reform plan was geared towards the "strategic foreign policy goal of EU membership".

Mr Yushchenko, who took office on Sunday, said he would try to make "the democratic changes... irreversible".

He was speaking after visiting Russia, which had backed his bitter rival.

The EU has refrained from offering Ukraine the prospect of eventual membership, but stressed that it wants to deepen the existing partnership.

Integration agenda

Mr Yushchenko said Ukraine's government would be "reorganised to add a real, rather than rhetorical, dimension and content to the process of integration into the European Union".

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was with Mr Yushchenko
"We welcome the EU's intention to develop a new strategy of relations with Ukraine. I am convinced that it should contain the prospect of membership."

On Thursday he will address the EU Parliament in Brussels.

The Council of Europe's main task is to monitor human rights, and he promised to be guided by its principles as he brought in reforms of the media, minority rights and the courts.

EU plan

The EU has drawn up a plan to forge closer ties with Ukraine.

Correspondents, however, say the EU has mixed feelings about further expansion. Instead it has offered Ukraine, Georgia and Balkan states close links through a "neighbourhood policy".

The 10-point strategy proposes lower trade barriers between the EU and Ukraine and co-operation on immigration and foreign and security policy.

Mr Yushchenko's trip followed a one-day visit on Monday to Moscow, where he promised to maintain close relations with Russia. It was an effort to defuse tensions raised by Moscow's support for his rival Viktor Yanukovych.

Suggestions that Ukraine could apply for rapid EU membership were played down by officials in Brussels, who insisted that any bid for entry was a matter for the future.

EU divided

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said Ukraine had made a "strategic choice" for reform.

Outlining their proposals in a letter to be debated by EU foreign ministers next week, Mr Solana and Ms Ferrero-Waldner said Mr Yushchenko's inauguration "opens up new possibilities".

"The strategic choice of Ukraine, in favour of democracy and reform, has been welcomed by the EU - now we must find the right actions to support this choice," the letter reads.

Among the proposals are:

The BBC's Oana Lungescu in Brussels says that after lobbying intensely for democratic elections in Ukraine, the EU is divided over how to reward its efforts.

While new members want to send a clear signal that a membership bid would be welcome, France and Germany seem in no hurry to open the door to another big country.