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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Seeks Deeper Ties With Ukraine

BRUSSELS -- The European Union agreed Monday to begin negotiations for closer across-the-board ties with Ukraine but -- in a setback for Britain and Poland -- held off on any promise of future EU membership.

At a foreign ministers meeting, Britain and Poland asked that the mandate to open negotiations for an "enhanced relationship" -- leading to eventual free trade with Kiev -- refer to future membership. But France and others keen on slowing future expansion blocked that, officials said.

In a compromise, the ministers issued a separate declaration acknowledging "Ukraine's European aspirations." They added: "A new enhanced agreement shall not prejudge any possible future developments in EU-Ukraine relations."

Ukraine is one of 13 members of an EU "neighborhood" program of broad economic aid and eventual free trade that specifically excludes future membership. The others are Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Tunisia and -- to the east -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova.

The program offers easy access to the vast EU market of 455 million consumers in exchange for economic and political reforms designed to keep the EU's fringes secure and stable. The foreign ministers boosted funding for 2007 to 2013 to 12 billion euros ($15.6 billion), up 32 percent from 2000 to 2006. This includes an offer of 1 billion euros to the most reform-minded neighbors.

The arms-length nature of the aid program has long irked Ukraine, which in the past has expressed an interest in joining the EU.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said she hoped to begin negotiations for an enhanced cooperation to "build on our existing agreements [and] pave the way toward a free trade area."

Central to the enhanced relationship, she said, would be cooperation in energy. Ukraine is both a supplier of energy to the EU and an important transit nation for gas and oil from Russia.