Ukraine: Some Things Are Never Left Unfinished

The integration with Ukraine and Turkey is a barometer that will show whether the Old Continent will prove to be a vigorous and important player in the 21st century. The finale of the Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA) agreement, which is currently negotiated with the USA and Canada, will also show how well the European Union grasps its interests and priorities.

The European Communities, which in 1992 became the European Union by the terms of the Maastricht Treaty, owe its long-term and ongoing success to the fact that the Community always aimed at resolution of conflicts by creating win-win situations between its members and has always been open to other countries. Common Europe has always embodied the dream of liberty and prosperity, neighbourly relationships and respect among its members as independent subjects; a dream possible to fulfil for the countries escaping authoritarian rule, internal economy slumps or dependence on other, imperialist countries. This open attitude was never without the candidate countries’ respect for the liberal democracy, rule of law and market economy; it created favourable conditions to consolidating the whole East-Central Europe into a region of liberty and relative affluence. The opening up of markets has brought tangible benefits to countries of the “old EU” – a fact often forgotten. This open attitude has been felt not only outside the Community, but also among the EU citizens. If the European Union assumes a closed attitude simultaneously maintaining insignificant military potential – which is likely – and undergoing predicted demographic trends, it will become a region of lesser importance in the 21st century. A Community which is no longer a dream for others becomes less attractive to its most immediate neighbours.

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It is the EU open attitude, and not unification of its detailed regulations between all its members, that may revitalise its powers and boost its international standing. In the time of crisis, obsessive harmonisation of internal regulations might cause the EU erosion, of which the prospect of Great Britain leaving the EU is the best example. Statist rescue plans for the Southern countries will not provide permanent solutions. Meanwhile, the EU should influence the whole region, opening up new markets and solving geopolitical problems. That is why the integration with Ukraine and Turkey is a barometer that will show whether the Old Continent will prove to be a vigorous and important player in the 21st century. The finale of the Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA) agreement, which is currently negotiated with the USA and Canada, will also show how well the European Union grasps its interests and priorities.

Key moment

The second half on 2013 will be a key moment in the relations between the European Union and Ukraine, having far-reaching geopolitical and economic consequences. The signing of the Association Agreement between the two parties at the EU summit in Vilnius in November 2013 will probably mark a milestone in the integration process between Kiev and Brussels. It seems that Vladimr Putin has realised the gravity of the situation judging by his more dynamic policy towards Ukraine, one sign of which was the commemoration of the 1025 anniversary of the baptism of Kievan Rus. Russia is trying to establish a new dialogue, in which two orthodox countries should unite for historical and ideological reasons. Putin alludes to prospective common economic interests which would facilitate joint international competition of Russia and Ukraine. And of course the gestures of friendship and unity are closely followed by making Ukraine realise its dependence on Russian gas provision and Moscow’s “hard line” position, which has been accentuated by Russian ban on Ukrainian export products. The Economist[1] quotes experts from the British Chatham House think tank, who claim that signing the Association Agreement by Ukraine will thwart Russian dreams of playing big in Ukraine. I’m not certain whether such opinions are not too optimistic, nevertheless, they do reflect how conscious Russia is of the seriousness of the process and that is why it goes out of the way to impede signing the agreement. Russians, better than Western research centres, appreciate the strong – especially in eastern Ukraine – sentiments towards Russia, the USSR and the language and cultural domination in Ukraine. Contrary to what Western commentators might make of it, joint celebration of the baptism might prove of great importance.

Western influences are also missing from Ukrainian cultural and commercial sphere. Visiting provincial Ukrainian towns shows how few Western corporations, brands or boutiques have their branches there compared to the EU metropolises. It is also the language that gives Russia an advantaged position to compete in terms of culture. There are by far too few English-speakers in Ukraine, and the tendency is stronger the closer one gets to the eastern border. As a result Ukrainian pubs or restaurants play Ukrainian rather than Western music more often; and a general interest in Western culture in not great either. It seems that Western gestures of solidarity with Ukraine, especially at the time of the Orange Revolution, were not followed by cultural and commercial initiatives – very often underestimated, but incredibly essential, especially in the east of Ukraine and on Crimea. The relatively scarce presence of Polish brands and products in Ukraine is also surprising; the Atlantic boutique in Lviv main promenade is the only notable exception, but still not enough. After all, the brand of beer that the locals drink is culturally, and as a result politically, significant. Polish beer brands in Ukraine are few and far between, while Russian products face no obstacles in market penetration.

At the same time, there are forces which aim to spoil Polish-Ukrainian relations and weaken Polish sentiments towards Ukrainians; and that, after all those years of Poland propelling the EU motivation to cooperate with Kiev. It is not a coincidence that the issue of Volhynia is “revived” in Poland exactly in the year of signing the agreement. There is no better ploy than recurring to the tragic history to destroy the EU relationship with Ukraine, which is crucial for Poland. It was a clear attempt aimed at Ukrainians to start two dialogues: “Poles will label you «genocide perpetrators» and there will be no end to the conflict, and Russians – the people who you share history, common roots and religion with – are trying to become one community with you”. It is amazing how some Polish politicians are trying to play against the Polish raison d’Etat. Will our political elites ever understand that the future and Polish real intresets far outweigh historical disagreements?

Russia was aiming for a similar effect embarrassing Polish high ranking officials on account of signing the memorandum agreement on the construction of Yamal II gas pipeline. Fortunately, PM Donald Tusk reacted promptly and dismissed the Treasury Minister, Mikołaj Budzanowski, and suspended further cooperation on the pipeline. Yet, Russians achieved the desired effect of showing Ukraine how Poland is scheming behind their back in a historic moment – in the year when the Association Agreement agreement is to be signed – another blow that has shaken the bridge of weak neighbourly cooperation. The pattern according to which Polish state officials, who are clueless about international gamesmanship, are chosen remains a mystery.

The whole situation is further affected by the crisis in Europe. Unfortunately, most Western European decision-makers do not see the Association Agreement as a priority, let alone being serious about full integration. Eurocrats have got their hands elbow-deep in the financial crisis and creating the banking union or implementing ineffective rescue mechanisms for heavily indebted countries. Engrossed in their own plight, they are blind to the fact that opening up Ukrainian economy may provide the much needed stimulus to the EU growth, which would be more effective than new and costly rescue measures to the countries in the grip of recession. Also, the EU seems to be somewhat fatigued after the enlargement with Eastern Europe countries. And of course there’s the tragic situation of Julia Tymoszenko, which provides excellent alibi for Western – and Polish – politicians. The fact that Viktor Yanukovych has jailed the former PM Yulia Tymoshenko means the rule of law has not been instituted in Ukraine yet. The Union should use all its tools to exert pressure on Yanukovyh to release Tymoshenko and not fall hostage to this case to the detriment of its own interests. If the Association Agreement is signed, Ukraine will slowly orbit towards Western standards. I’ll allow myself to make a controversial statement – the agreement must be signed regardless of how Tymoshenko case is resolved. The most diplomatic solution would be for Yanukovych to send Julia Tymoshenko to undergo treatment in Germany, which both sides would benefit from. And if the EU walks away from signing the agreement, Ukraine will be left in Moscow sphere of influence, which, combined with crisis in the West, will lead to a political turning point.

Ukraine, with a population of 45 million, is potentially a huge economic market; a country never marked by Islamic fundamentalism; Ukraine’s permanent entry into the West European sphere of influence would cement a long-lasting geopolitical stabilisation bringing long-term peace in the region. The legendary doctrine by Jerzy Giedroyc – which made Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Byelorussian sovereignty a sine qua non condition for the independence of Warsaw and East Central Europe – now has to be considered a fact. As the editor-in-chief of Parisian Kultura magazine argued, Russian domination of these countries makes Polish vulnerable to subjugation. All Russian imperialist moves have been possible after it dominated Ukrainian potential.

Vigorous Europe

Engulfed by crisis, Europe acts as if the world has ceased to exist, which is highly unreasonable even considering that such a time requires greater focus on domestic affairs. The world out there will soon knock at Europe’s door, and negligence and delay might bring irreversible consequences for the EU. Political experts over the Atlantic seem to grasp the meaning of the situation; e.g., Zbigniew Brzeziński in his Strategic Vision[2] very aptly describes the EU interests, and points to Ukraine and Turkey.

European leaders can also sense that Europe needs a different model, which is seen in the Italian PM Enrico Letta’s “New Model Europe”[3] published by Project Syndicate. But a common new goal is clearly missing, and putting a spin of the EU reality, just like in the above mentioned article, in which the PM talks about innovation boost and digital economy in Europe, which is meant to be conjured up by European officials, is still wishful thinking and unrealistic faith in statist capabilities of state bureaucracy. “Fiscal consolidation”, “banking union” – these are new programme slogans and I am not saying they are unnecessary, but they shouldn’t use up the meaning of the European Union that we can grasp.

It is immensely important how Europeans perceive the Union. Today, the so-called North European countries see the Union as a mechanism to drain their money to pay for the taxes of the irresponsible South European countries. For Greeks and Cypriots, the EU has the unflinching face of Chancellor Angela Merkel who imposes impossible austerity measures and deprives them of their welfare state. Yet, others see the EU as an officious institution which regulates even bananas of specific curvature that can be imported to the Union. Am I being too radical? I hope so. We have lost common European language. Wouldn’t we feel better knowing that the EU has made Ukraine independent and gave millions of their neighbours a chance to develop? Wouldn’t we build a better future with an institution that shows the direction for unstable Near East – by accepting the first Muslim country: Turkey – and proves that the clash of civilisations is not historically inevitable, by helping Ankara and Istanbul to change so as to prevent the rise of confessional state, which thousands of young Turks have recently protested against? Why not have a Union that gives hope, not the one which resembles a strict police officer or unyielding clerk? Perhaps it would be better if the Southern countries came back to their national currencies after devaluation rather than struggle to remain in the eurozone? (This is an issue which Stefan Kawalec and Ernest Pytlarczyk wrote about in Liberte![4]) I cannot tell. But if current rescue mechanisms fail, we need to start looking for alternatives.

Open European Union is possible; the Community can still get back on the right track providing it realises that it is impossible and unnecessary to unify so many spheres of the EU member states. The differences between them even today are too big. And if the EU wants to maintain an open attitude, the so-called Europe of “multiple speeds” is desirable. Polish obsession with “multiple speeds” is connected with its apprehension that it will be outrun by the “real” EU, which according to the theory’s supporters will affect Polish geopolitical and economic situation. However, the European Union of one speed, understood as an all-harmonising construct – even somehow including Poland – will no longer be a united Europe. It will be a group of rich Northern countries. Ukraine is here without any prospects. One-speed Europe in the long-run will mean that Poland will border in the east with Putin’s empire and its dependent satellite countries: Ukraine and Belarus.

European unity, however, should be expressed by constantly wider competences of directly and democratically elected EU governing institutions. It is much more important than having common currency in all member states.

The right goal, the wrong way

A worrying trend of intergovernmental bodies dominating the democratic/ community ones set in even before the crisis. It started with the Lisbon Treaty, which was meant to tighten integration, but in fact changed its direction by transferring its essence from the European Parliament and Commission onto the European Council, i.e., the representatives of member states’ governments. The crisis only precipitated this process, in which the EU relies in its key decisions on the leaders of the states, the strongest ones, of course. On the one hand, the EU keeps harmonising its regulations, EU laws or banking law – very often affecting people’s lives absurdly; one recent example is the ban on menthol and slim cigarettes in the EU. The Union will soon be a superpower in terms of bureaucracy, but will limp in other spheres, which require immediate steps towards federation. Suffice to look at the defence policy or foreign policy, best exemplified by Baroness Catherine Ashton. At the same time, strategic decisions, so important now because of greater integration and the eurozone, are now taken at the intergovernmental level reducing the EU to the level of an international organisation, which negotiates agreements between capitals, but is helpless to prevent feuds between peoples. This “intergovernmental” Union is the reason for so many unprecedented tensions in the history of the Communities. Let us imagine what would happen if it were us – Poles -instead of Greece that Angela Merkel, the German leader, forced to extreme cuts comparable in value to pensions of our grandparents compelled us to make large numbers of public servants and public sector employees redundant etc. I dread to imagine the historically conditioned cry: “Germans are hurting us!” and all other political consequences. Of course, Berlin was right in its steps towards Greece, and fair, as it provided large financial means of its own to rescue Europe’s most irresponsible economy. Reforming welfare state model is necessary from historical perspective, but we need to bear in mind the democratic mandate for this and the consequences of its social perception. Such actions need to be taken by the European government (the future European Commission) elected in a clear way by the European Parliament, which in turn would enjoy its mandate from democratic election. European nationalist sentiments cannot be underestimated. It is much better to accept harsh reforms from a multinational e.g. Christian Democracy European government rather than from a stronger country which is has no option but to force the reforms. If the crisis continues, this intergovernmental model of EU governance, combined with poor integration, will break under the rock-solid force of growing nationalism. Perhaps it would be a good idea to temporarily or permanently phase out some regulations and concentrate the efforts on fostering democracy. What we need is a real federation where the government is formed by the democratically elected legislative, and not intergovernmental “federation” in which technocratic Brusselian bureaucracy imposes unbearable regulations on all aspects of our lives. And such a model takes a long time to build; it won’t appear overnight, and the present Europe, which is no longer about win-win situations, may not hold out long enough. Relying on the subsidiarity rule and maintaining its open attitude towards other countries (but also considering differences between member states), the EU must come to terms with the fact that it will not be homogeneous, and striving for absolute unification in all spheres through Brusselian regulations makes no sense.

The European Union strategic goals now should be: ensuring and extending the free trade area and free flow of persons between the member states, because it has the biggest impact on economic development and increasing affluence; additionally, fostering European peace within a stable zone, whose borders are constantly extended to include new countries of the region. Ukraine is the key to ensuring geopolitical stability on EU’s eastern frontier. Ukraine is a big economic opportunity for Western businesses. Ukraine in the EU means security for Europe and putting an end to Russia’s imperialistic ambitions, and finally – as Zbigniew Brzeziński puts it – also an opportunity for a “normal” partnership relationship between Europe and Russia – as a country on the right tract towards democracy. The priority is clear.


[2]  Z. Brzeziński „Strategiczna wizja: Ameryka a kryzy globalnej potęgi”, transl. K. Skonieczny, Kraków 2013.