From the Washington Post:
It’s a momentous choice. Ukraine has the chance to opt for a road that in theory would extend European values of transparency and the rule of law far to the east. Or it can join Russia in a financial and cultural zone that is increasingly defining itself as separate from the West and not answerable to Western norms. As a nation of 46 million, Ukraine would be a significant addition to Putin’s Eurasian Union.
The Russian MP said the Ukraine-EU agreement would create a single-sided dependence of Ukraine on the EU as Ukraine will not be able to influence the development of EU directives, but would nevertheless automatically accept them as obligations.
“No one offers Ukraine to become a EU member, it is an attempt to tie this country to the European Union for a small price and with little effort, to make this country into an economic appendix. Ukraine is going to lose very seriously from these agreements,” Pushkov explained.
“We are practically talking here about establishing a semi-colonial dependence,” the parliamentarian emphasized.
Ukraine formally gave the go-ahead on Wednesday for landmark trade deals to be signed with the European Union, disregarding pressure from Moscow for Kiev to halt its westward course.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said the agreements, that should be signed at a November summit in Lithuania, raised the prospect of “a European quality of life” for the ex-Soviet republic. But he kept silent over the imprisonment of his predecessor, Yulia Tymoshenko, whose release European envoys have been trying to secure in the run-up to the Vilnius meeting.
The 28-member EU, while pursuing the agreements with Ukraine including participation in a free trade zone, has condemned her trial for abuse-of-office and seven-year jail sentence as politically motivated, and her continued confinement still threatens prospects of a signing in Vilnius.
…Russia fears a flood of competitive goods on the Russian market if Ukraine joins an EU free trade zone. It has warned Kiev of retaliatory action and said it will forfeit special partner status if it signs up with the EU.
The pressure has injected new tension into Moscow’s relationship with Ukraine, which has pleaded unsuccessfully for cheaper Russian gas to help its hard-pressed economy.
Azarov said on Wednesday: “Our state is changing radically - and that brings relief to some and concern to others …”
When it signs an association agreement with the European Union in November, Moldova is hoping to draw the pro-Russian breakaway province of Transnistria in its wake — a situation that has prompted fears of a fresh outbreak of violence on the banks of the Dniester.
New European Union member Croatia backtracked in its first row with the bloc’s executive Commission on Wednesday, agreeing to fully apply the EU extradition law after Brussels raised the prospect of sanctions.
The European Commission warned Croatia on Monday it could face legal action, including a possible loss of EU funds, because a few days before its July 1 accession Zagreb changed its laws to prevent the extradition of suspects of crimes committed before 2002, when EU rules were changed.
The government said the aim was to protect veterans from Croatia’s 1991-95 independence war from facing potential prosecutions elsewhere in the EU. Several EU member states have the same 2002 time limit, including Austria and Italy.
But facing threats of punitive measures raised by the EU’s justice chief Viviane Reding, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and Justice Minister Orsat Miljenic this week sent conciliatory letters to Reding and Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Fortunately it seems unlikely that anyone would want to extradite any Austrians or Italians for crimes committed prior to 2002.
With a consignment of goods stuck at customs, Jadranka Boban Pejic, who runs an organic food company, soon found out that she needed to grease the wheels of Croatia’s creaky bureaucracy. So, she said, she reluctantly agreed to a little side deal to speed things up: about groceries worth 130 euros for the customs officer’s wife.
The episode this year seems like a small thing, but it was just one of many hurdles her company, Biovega, has faced, problems symptomatic of the pervasive corruption and labyrinthine bureaucracy that, Ms. Pejic said, make Croatia ill-prepared for membership of the European Union, which it joined in July.
“Corruption is on every level,” Ms. Pejic said. “Even if your attitude is ethical, sometimes you have no choice.” Croatians, she said, are not ready for the Union’s blizzard of new rules and regulations. “We didn’t have time for preparation, and right now it’s chaos,” she said.
A lot more at the source.
Bulgarian protesters block parliament, scuffle with police
Hundreds of protesters built barricades around Bulgaria’s parliament, effectively trapping over 100 lawmakers, ministers, and journalists in the building for more than seven hours on Tuesday following a brief scuffle with police.
Protesters pulled out sidewalk tiles and piled garbage bins to cut off roads to Bulgaria’s parliament, shouting “Mafia!” and “Resign!” and “Red Garbage!”, to keep the deputies under blockade until the Socialist-led government steps down.
An earlier attempt to get deputies out of the parliament with a bus led to a scuffle with police. It was aborted after protesters threw bottles and other objects at the bus, while others sat in front of it.
Thousands of Bulgarians have been protesting almost daily in Sofia since last month following a government decision to name a powerful media magnate as security chief, which many see as an example of private interests controlling state institutions.
The government’s withdrawal of the appointment failed to quell public discontent in the European Union’s poorest country, which also is one of the bloc’s most corrupt.
(More at source.)
In a possible sign that political tensions are easing in Ukraine, President Viktor F. Yanukovich pardoned the country’s second-most-prominent political prisoner on Sunday, but his intentions concerning his biggest rival, who is also in custody, remained unclear.
The pardoned prisoner, Yuri V. Lutsenko, is a former interior minister whose arrest in December 2010 on charges that he had abused his office raised concerns in the European Union and the United States that Ukraine’s democracy was at risk. Those worries were heightened the following year when the police arrested Mr. Yanukovich’s biggest rival, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and the leader of the political opposition.
Mr. Yanukovich also freed several lower-profile figures on Sunday, including a former ecology minister, Georgy Filipchuk. But about a dozen other opposition figures remain in prison.
The pardon decree, published by Ukraine’s government, laid out a host of factors that went into the decision, including the prisoners’ former service to the state, their family affairs and their behavior while in prison.
The statement did not mention a campaign mounted by the European Union to win the release of prisoners in exchange for an agreement on broadened trade relations that includes provisions on human rights and the rule of law.
(There’s more at the source.)
Small Baltic state Latvia decided on Monday to apply to join the euro zone next year, a sign of the faith in the currency which still exists in eastern Europe after three years which have threatened the project.
Small and limber economies, Latvia and Lithuania should slide more easily into the currency bloc than larger states like Poland and the Czech Republic and have remained keener on joining throughout the banking and debt crises.
Many Latvians’ mortgage loans are in euros meaning a switch would decrease currency risk and most see the currency as a lesser long-term risk than the lat. They are also keen to entrench their links with western Europe to keep former imperial master Russia at arms length.
But while the country’s leadership is keen on the project, polls show much of the population are worried that a currency switch will drive prices higher and take control of the economy out of Latvian hands.
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has told Der Spiegel magazine that Germany would not allow Romania or Bulgaria to join the European open-border Schengen zone. EU ministers meet on Thursday to discuss the issue.
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told this week’s Spiegel magazine that Germany would not currently allow Romania or Bulgaria to join the open-border Schengen Area. Often called the Schengen zone, the area incorporates 22 EU member states and four European non-EU members.
Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, are obliged to join the area - but the process has been delayed pending the completion of other obligations like tackling corruption and organized crime.
EU interior and justice ministers meet in Brussels on Thursday with this issue on the agenda.
"Should Romania and Bulgaria insist upon a vote [at the meeting], then the proposal will fail by virtue of a German veto," Friedrich told Spiegel. " Even the possibility of partial approval - for arrival by air, or seaports - is off the table."
(More at the source.)