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Europe's Groucho Problem

Groucho Marx once famously quipped that he did not want to join any club that would have him as a member. But in today's European Union, Groucho need not apply. The Union now does not want to accept anybody who applies for membership, because the countries queuing up to join are too big or too poor, or both.

On May 1, the EU formally admits ten new members, eight from central Europe. All are far poorer than the EU average. Bulgaria, Romania, and possibly Croatia are supposed to join in 2007. By the end of this year, the EU is to decide whether to open membership talks with Turkey - a country that is not only poor and big, but Muslim. If the EU is to talk about membership with Turkey, there is no legitimate reason for keeping out my country, Ukraine?

Current EU thinking, however, holds that Ukraine should be placed in the same framework as countries in North Africa and the Middle East. The EU's "Wider Europe" strategy does call for closer ties to Ukraine, and for allowing us increased access to the EU's "single market." But it does not view Ukraine as a candidate for EU membership, at least not in the foreseeable future.

One reason for this is that the EU does not want to pick a fight with Russia, which still sees us as its close ally, natural business partner, and as members of an enlarging Russian-led economic zone. Indeed, last week Ukraine's parliament ratified a treaty creating "a single economic space" with Russia. But this supposed free-trade zone seems more like a recipe to enrich oligarchs and stifle competition, not promote trade.