The successful preparation of Euro 2012 will be a moral application for Ukrainian EU membership, the country'se deputy foreign affairs minister, Konstantin Yelisieiev, told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.
Yelisieiev said that his country was in favour of a "pragmatic approach" to European integration. He mentioned two main goals: achieving a visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens within the Schengen space, and creating a "deep and comprehensive free trade area" (FTA) with the EU.
Regarding the FTA, he said Ukraine was striving for "one of the most advanced" forms of such integration, leading in his words to the gradual integration of his country into the EU's internal market. He said that a customs union, as proposed by Russia (EURACTIV 22/02/10), was not on the agenda, as Ukraine's biggest neighbour is not a WTO member.
On the visa issue, Yelisieiev expressed optimism that his country would soon be given a "roadmap", similar to those held by Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, who have already achieved visa-free travel for their nationals (EURACTIV 01/12/09).
He also was categorical in saying that his country would be "the next country in this list" to lift the visa obstacle. As Russia is reportedly making the visa issue a top priority of its EU agenda as well, he said that each country should be judged according to its merits.
Throughout the interview, he repeated that his country welcomed cooperation between Russia and the EU.
"About Russia, I can say: the closer their relations with the EU, the better for Ukraine […] Good neighbouring, stable and predictable relations with Russia are an inalienable part of the European policy of Ukraine. The better the relations with Russia, the better for Ukraine's EU integration," the diplomat said.
Asked if Ukraine had set itself a target date for breaking the visa barrier, such as the Euro 2012 football championships, to be jointly hosted by Ukraine and Poland, he said that it would be counter-productive to set such deadlines.
But he added: "As for Euro 2012, for Ukraine this is an historic chance to modernise and to show to all Europeans that we are a country with a European heart, that we are the centre of Europe. To my mind, the successful preparation of Euro 2012 will be a moral application for Ukrainian EU membership."