BRUSSELS The European Union's enlargement chief said on Tuesday he expects Ukraine to allow jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko to go to Germany for medical treatment before a November 28-29 meeting, removing an obstacle to an EU-Ukraine trade pact.
"I think we are not far away from that," European Commissioner Stefan Fuele told reporters when asked if Tymoshenko was close to being allowed to go to Germany.
"I definitely expect that to have happened before the Vilnius summit."
Tymoshenko, a bitter rival of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, was jailed for seven years in 2011 for abuse of office after what the European Union and Western governments said was a political trial.
EU governments have linked her release to the signing of an EU-Ukraine association and free trade agreement at a summit, scheduled for November 28-29 in Vilnius, Lithuania. The agreement could lead to a historic shift westwards for Ukraine, away from Russia, its old Soviet master.
The EU has demanded a series of democratic reforms by Kiev before the Vilnius summit, including ending politically motivated justice. "Seeing the progress on all other benchmarks, I think it would make only sense if the Ukrainians deliver on this remaining benchmark," Fuele said.
Tymoshenko suffers from spinal problems and has received treatment from specialists while under guard at a hospital in Ukraine. Germany has offered to take her for medical treatment and if she is released she is expected to travel there.
However, that still leaves open the question of whether she will be pardoned by Yanukovich. While he may accede to her leaving the country for treatment, there are doubts about whether he would issue a pardon to such a hardened rival.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Luke Baker)