The EU’s Eastern Partnership Ukraine policy fails to recognize the fact of a conflict situation in Ukraine. This failure exacerbates the deleterious results of the EU’s failure to define its goals there, as well as with respect to the Eastern Partnership in general, because this conflict situation in Ukraine has a long-term perspective. This perspective is one of long-term confrontation between two integration systems.
If Ukraine would “work”, then its success would remove the grounds from Russia to say that European Union integration does not work for Eastern Europe. It may be argued that Ukraine has a greater sense of direction today than does the EU. For Ukraine there is, at least today, no alternative to the European direction.
Historically, the Association Agreement (AA) was an instrument designed in and for peaceful times. The situation in Ukraine is now wartime or, if you wish, crisis time: but not peacetime. Profound reflection and quick action are needed to sustain a sense of growth and positive evaluation of a European direction among the Ukraine population. Up until now, the European Union has wanted something more substantial than Ukraine could possibly deliver.
The AAs with, for example, the Visegrad countries, entered into force with a view to their candidacy for membership of the EU. Those AAs therefore included many other programs for support, infrastructure subsidies to name only one. Ukraine has been unable until now to have the possibility for such support, because it is not acknowledged to be a candidate for membership even in any indefinite future.
Yet the DCFTA between the EU and Ukraine represents 80 per cent of the acquis communautaire. The European Union could provide Ukraine the same “screening” that new members once received as candidates, and if Brussels decided to provide this but call it something else (because it is unwilling to commit to eventual Ukrainian membership), then Ukraine would be unlikely to object.
Further: For the Eastern Partnership Ukraine is not the only member that is an observer of the Energy Community Treaty, which requires accepting the acquis and implementing it. There is no good reason why Ukraine should not enjoy a common energy trading policy with the EU, or even participate in the Energy Union talks. The timing of proposals for new mechanisms of assistance to Ukraine also requires consideration.
The impression in Europe is that the conflict in Ukraine is “frozen” or somehow de-escalated, but that is not the case. With 54,000 Russian troops inside and on the border of Ukraine, the new invasion is possible and threatened every day. The Ukrainian currency has been devalued three times in the last year.
This year the expectation is for a decline of seven to 10 per cent in Ukraine’s gross domestic product, mainly because of the destruction of physical economy in the East. However, in Ukraine itself, there will be those who argue that the decline is due to the European the European of the present government, and this tendency risks increasing in the future. The European Union fails to address the management of expectations (and not only in Ukraine).
Those expectations, like public opinion, are not uniform. But in Ukraine only 12 per cent, the lowest ever proportion of the population, supports integration with Russia, while 50 per cent support integration with the European Union. The rest are scattered among various tendencies, such as Euroskeptic, isolationist, or omni-cynical.
Civil society oversight of reforms is only one of the elements to elaborate. In Ukraine there are domestic and international for the autonomous control of reform, and these are compatible; but a clear plan and a clear conception of a plan are needed. Governance problems in Ukraine are not just out of control but also a result of insufficient governance capacity.
Learning the European culture of policy-making on the basis of dialogues among stakeholders and consultations of great breadth could be of great benefit to Ukraine. For this, the EU would have to commit to help.
Yet also, if one looks seriously at the situation on ground, then a final solution is not possible so long as the current Russian regime exists. It is for Europe to decide whether it wishes to be intimidated by the future; if it is, then the future as constructed and implemented by others will rule over the EU, disintegrate its autonomy, and vitiate its remaining prestige and soft power.