BRUSSELS, June 18, 2013 /PRNewswire/ --
Former European Commission President Romano Prodi said he hoped the European Union and Ukraine would sign an important partnership and free trade accord at an EU summit to be held in Vilnius in November. The deal could double current trade with Ukraine to more than €80 billion, he forecast.
"The signing of an Association Agreement and Free Trade pact this year is a strategic opportunity for the European Union," said Prodi, who was speaking at a conference here that also featured a European Commission official and MPs from Ukraine.
Prodi called Ukraine "the original cradle of Russia" and said the deal between the EU and Ukraine would help build a "bridge" between Russia and the EU. He added that Ukraine was much better prepared for a partnership with the EU today than many of the former Soviet Republics that became EU members back in 2004.
Prodi said Russia had opposed Ukraine joining NATO, but that Ukraine had proved a reliable partner to NATO. In the same spirit, he said, Ukraine's Observer Status in the Moscow-led Customs Union was compatible with the signing of an Association Agreement with the EU that would also create major economic opportunities.
Prodi estimated that current annual trade between the EU and Ukraine of around €40 billion could more than double "in a comparatively short period of time" once the Agreement was signed. He added that the free flow of peoples and elimination of visa restrictions would also represent an important step forward.
In economic terms, Prodi spoke of Ukraine's "great traditions" in science, space, aeronautics, pharmaceuticals and mechanical engineering" and called Ukraine "a branch of the bigger industrial base of the former Soviet Union that had nurtured highly educated and highly skilled people."
He said Ukraine had "the strongest civil society of any former Soviet Republic". He also expressed the hope that the case of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko would be solved "in due time," which, analysts say, means ahead of the EU summit in Vilnius.
Andreas Papadopoulos, an official at the European Commission's economic and financial affairs directorate (DG ECFIN), said the Association Agreement would foster more economic reforms in Ukraine in the future. He noted that the free trade agreement, known as the DCFTA, would be "an anchor to Ukraine's close integration" with the EU and would create a "more explicit" roadmap to the adoption of EU norms.
At the Brussels conference, Yuri Miroshnichenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament from the ruling Party of Regions, also argued that Ukraine was today in a better position than some of the new EU members were in 2004 when they joined.
He pointed out that Ukraine should not be seen solely through the lens of the legal travails of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was convicted on abuse of office charges for signing an unauthorized $10 billion gas contract with Russia in 2009. "Instead, we should see Ukraine's sweeping judicial reforms and its reforms of the prosecutorial system as evidence that we want to conform to European values and norms," he added.
Natalia Agafonova, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament from the opposition party UDAR of Vitaly Klitschko, also said that finding a solution to the Tymoshenko case was important, but acknowledged that the Opposition and Government are united in their desire to sign the Association Agreement in Vilnius.
SOURCE Ukraine Monitor