BRUSSELS — The European Union and Ukraine took the first step on March 30 toward the country's gradual integration in the bloc, beginning the process of concluding a new accord calling for the implementation of constitutional reforms, including an independent judicial system.
The bloc and Ukraine "initialed" the Association Agreement, officials said, despite some unease among EU nations over Ukraine's support for democracy, especially after Ukraine's top opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in jail on abuse of office charges condemned by the West as politically motivated.
The accord would bring Ukraine into the union's free-trade area which includes non-EU nations such as Norway and Switzerland.
"This will be a multiyear continuous process, gradually meeting EU requirements," an official said on condition of anonymity in line with standing rules. "This is a positive message to all pro-European forces in Ukraine."
Negotiations started in 2007. The text must still be the legally verified and then translated into the languages of the EU's 27 members and Croatia, which will join the bloc next year, before it is signed. Once that happens, probably this fall, it could take two to three years before it is ratified and implemented.
"The paradigm of our relations will change from cooperation, to political association and economic integration," Ukraine's Deputy Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said.
Some have suggested that the association accord should not be signed until Tymoshenko, who has also been charged with evading tens of million hryvna (several million dollars) in taxes while heading an energy company in the mid-1990s, is freed.
But Klimkin told reporters: "To put any sort of conditions on how quickly and effectively we will implement the agreement is not the right way."
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