BRUSSELS The European Commission is to clear the way on Wednesday for Ukraine to sign trade and political agreements with the European Union, while stressing no deals are likely without further democratic reforms, diplomats said on Tuesday.
Ukraine hopes to sign the deals at a summit in Vilnius in November. But Brussels has made it conditional on Kiev passing a number of legal reforms and addressing Western criticism of its justice and electoral systems.
Foreign ministers of several EU countries gave Kiev a critical report last month on its efforts to deepen ties with the bloc and said the jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko remained a serious obstacle.
A senior EU diplomat told Reuters that Wednesday's decision by the executive European Commission is a necessary formality to allow the agreements to proceed, but stressed it was not a vote of confidence in Kiev's progress. EU capitals have the final say.
"This is not a signal that Ukraine has completed all its homework," the diplomat said. "On the contrary, it is a signal that Ukraine needs to step up its efforts."
Ukraine says it has made significant progress in meeting EU conditions on democratic reforms to qualify for the deals that could open up a huge market for Ukrainian exports.
President Viktor Yanukovich has said, however, that he cannot order Tymoshenko's release because she also faces trial on tax evasion and embezzlement charges and is under investigation in a murder case. She has denied all charges against her.
(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak and Francesco Guarascio; editing by Ron Askew)