BERLIN, Germany - European leaders gathering in Berlin for a conference entitled "Ukraine and Europe: Elections, Integration and Economic Prospects" warned that Sunday's parliamentary elections in Ukraine should not be pre-judged or seen "through the lens of the Tymoshenko case.
"We should not allow the Tymoshenko case to decide the future of our relations," said Guenter Verheugen, who served as European Commissioner for Enlargement from 1999 to 2004.
He noted that the conviction of the former Prime Minister - who was convicted last year for abuse of office for illegally signing a controversial $10 billion gas deal with Russia in 2009 without Cabinet approval - was being used as a "political instrument" in some EU countries to slow down the process of European integration.
"While the Tymoshenko case is front and centre, there have been real legal reforms, including a new criminal code," noted former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who is currently serving as co-head of the European Parliament's Monitoring Mission to Ukraine.
He pointed out that Ukraine has pluralistic politics, a functioning opposition and a regular change in leadership, with each of the last four presidents coming from different political parties.
"Ukraine needs Europe, and Europe needs Ukraine," Kwasniewski said at the conference, which was hosted by the German Council on Foreign Relations and Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations.
Romano Prodi, who as President of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004 oversaw much of Europe's enlargement process, stressed the importance to "open the door, export democracy, and encourage more trade."
He said the geo-strategic interest of the European Union in closer relations with Ukraine meant that a broader view of relations should be taken.
"Open the door," Prodi said. "The Tymoshenko case cannot hinder the future of the country, and deeper ties between Europe and Ukraine. You cannot stop history. And a free and fair election must presage this change."
Mevlut Cavusoglu, the former President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, stressed that the elections should be judged on their merits.
"The Tymoshenko case overshadows virtually everything, but it should not - the whole country should not be excluded from Europe merely because of Tymoshenko," he said.
He noted that the new electoral law being used in Sunday's election was drafted with the help of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and the OSCE and was supported by over 80% of parliamentarians from all political groups, including Yulia Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna party.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Konstantyn Gryshchenko said that thousands of international and domestic election observers - including a European Parliament delegation - will monitor voting and counting, and that the general public will also be able to monitor the polls via webcams placed at each of the 34,000 polling stations. He also stressed that all parties have equal access to media.
"Given the difficulty of implementing the various reforms, we really must want to be part of Europe," Gryshchenko said, noting the extensive reforms underway in Ukraine.
Johan Wadephul, a member of the German Bundestag (CDU), expressed confidence that the elections would be free and fair. Noting that the electoral system is similar to that in Germany, he said the elections will be a "litmus test."
Former Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer said that "if the elections are free and fair, then we have to ensure that the Association Agreement is signed and ratified successfully."
"Europe is dealing with itself at the moment, rather than its neighbours," Gusenbauer said, adding, "I say Ukraine should become part of the EU, although this won't happen overnight. We should not give up on Ukraine and leave it to Russia."
"We used to say that Ukraine has to make a choice, but this is not true," concluded Verheugen. "Ukraine has made its choice. It is us [the EU] who have to make a choice. We should say clearly that we want Ukraine to become a member of the EU as soon as it meets all necessary standards."