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Yushchenko to Push EU Case in Germany

DW staff / AFP (nda)March 8, 2005

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko began his first official visit to Germany on Tuesday hoping to push the former Soviet republic's case for eventual EU membership.

President Yushchenko hopes to find a sympathetic ear in GermanyImage: AP

On the first day of his 48-hour visit to Germany, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko held talks with German President Horst Köhler and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

The highlight of his visit, however, comes on Wednesday when he will have discussions with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder before making a speech to the lower house of parliament, a rare honor granted in the past to US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The invitation to address the Bundestag is an indication of the German government's determination to give the reformist liberal a firm boost as a statesman, setting the tone for strong bilateral ties in the future.

But Yushchenko's advisors are concerned that a scandal over illegal immigration in Germany involving Ukrainians will cast a shadow over his attempts to bring his country closer to the European Union, a report in Tuesday's Süddeutsche Zeitung said.

Visa scandal threatens to tarnish visit

A parliamentary committee has begun investigating claims from the opposition that hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from the former Soviet bloc -- especially Ukraine -- were allowed to enter Germany between 2000 and 2003 after tourist visa criteria were relaxed. The main opposition Christian Democratic Union says the revised system was exploited by organized crime groups and encouraged prostitution.

Aussenminister Joschka Fischer
Joschka Fischer.Image: AP

In an interview with Die Welt newspaper on the eve of his visit, Yushchenko said he was concerned that all Ukrainians would be tarred with the same brush.

"I would really regret it if, as a result, Germans saw all Ukrainians in a bad light," he said. "I am thankful to Foreign Minister Fischer that he made it clear that not all the Ukrainian citizens in Germany are unlawful."

Ukraine's pariah past the fault of old regime

Yushchenko said the root of the visa scandal was the poor job prospects in Ukraine which had led around five million of his compatriots to seek employment abroad.

"The fault lies with the old regime, which made it impossible to make a decent living and to have future prospects," he said

Wahlen in der Ukraine Viktor Juschtschenko Anhänger
Image: AP

Yushchenko added the only way forward now for the former pariah state was membership of the European Union, a key demand of the "Orange Revolution" which forced out the pro-Russian regime in December.

"This country of 48 million people which is industrially strong, which builds the most modern ships and rockets which are used all around the world, and a country which has important raw materials, would be a plus for Europe," he told Die Welt. "And Ukraine can help guarantee security and the democratization of the region."

East-West balancing act comes to Germany

Ukraine's new leadership has been performing a delicate balancing act since it came to power after the re-run ballot in December, trying to reach out to the West without giving Russia the impression it has been snubbed.

Gerhard Schröder und Wladirmir Putin in Gottorf
Image: AP

And the furor over the first Ukrainian presidential election, which gave victory to the pro-Russia candidate Viktor Yanukovich but was marred by widespread reports of irregularities, was a severe test for Schröder's close relationship with Putin.

Schröder telephoned Putin twice during the crisis to encourage him to support a re-run. Putin had openly backed Yanukovich in the first election.