Ukraine: What the EU can do

Maidan in Kiew

We should not forget what exactly provoked the mass protests that eventually led to the fall of the old regime in Kiev: it was the then President Yanukovych’s sudden decision not to sign the Association Agreement with the EU. Ten years after the ‘Orange revolution’, the dramatic change of events in February 2014 have given Ukraine and Europe a second chance.

Most important now is that the international community responds speedily and clearly to what amounts to a Russian occupation of the Crimea and the additional threat of Russian troops being stationed in Ukraine “until the social and political order has been re established.” This flagrant breech of the UN Charter cannot be accepted. European governments will have to make it absolutely clear to the Russian leadership that military intervention in Ukraine will exact a high economic and political price.

Europe is in no way powerless in the face of Russian actions. Fifty percent of Russian foreign trade is with the EU, 75 percent of foreign investment comes from the EU and a good portion of the Russian elite’s wealth is invested in Europe. The EU is Gazprom’s most important customer. There is enormous potential in these areas to put pressure on the Russian leadership. It is not about burning bridges but asking Russia for a renunciation of violence, the basis of European peace.

Independent of the current military threat, the new Ukrainian government faces enormous challenges. It will have to overcome the Ukrainian public’s deep mistrust of the political class with a transparent policy of reform; it must be absolutely clear on the desolate state of the nation’s finances and tackle political and economic problems. The EU should thus support reform efforts in these areas. Without EU assistance all governments in Kiev are doomed to failure. Above all we need to send the people of the Ukraine a long overdue signal that a democratic Ukraine is welcome in the EU. The project of a united Europe does not end at today’s eastern border of the Union.

If one can think beyond the current situation, a democratic and prosperous Ukraine is also in Russia’s best interest. Those, who, in deference to the Russian position, deny Ukraine a future in Europe, risk a long-term problem on the Union’s eastern border. It is one thing to take into account Russia’s legitimate economic and political interests but quite another to accept Ukraine as for ever part of Russia’s sphere of influence.

Ten EU Priorities for Ukraine

The EU will have to engage politically and financially in Ukraine. The promised signing of the EU Association Agreement will greatly improve the situation. For a successful democratic transformation and economic consolidation the EU should:

  1. Ensure a fair Ukrainian presidential election:
    despatch long-term observers from the OSCE, the Council of Europe and European Parliament; provide financial support for local election observers.
  2. Strengthen political institutions:
    give guidance on the effective distribution of power and an independent constitutional court; reinforce the parliament as a centre of transparent political decision making; provide financial help to civil society and free media.
  3. Promote national unity:
    advise the Ukrainian parliament on inclusive language legislation; promote equality of all ethnic groups, including the Crimean Tartars; a policy of zero tolerance of chauvinistic and anti Semitic remarks from parliamentarians or members of the executive.
  4. Bring the justice system, the police and prisons up to the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights:
    provide independent observers for the impending court cases against members of the Yanukovych government.
  5. Understand that energy security in Ukraine is part of overall European energy security:
    in its energy negotiations with Russia the EU must pursue long term security of supply for all; at the same time we must help Ukraine diversify its energy sources and reduce its reliance on supplies from Russia. This implies:
  • A programme of improved energy efficiency for industry and buildings
  • Preparations for the provision of a “reverse flow” to ensure supply in the case of a Russian boycott
  • Reduction of leakages in the transport network and storage of gas
  • Adoption of the obligations required by the European energy community: liberalisation and unbundling of the Ukrainian energy sector
  • Support for renewable energy pilot projects.
  1. Prevent national bankruptcy and promote economic modernisation: Ukraine needs immediate financial assistance to head off national insolvency. This needs to go hand in hand with economic and administrative reforms to ensure that these funds are not misappropriated. To this end the assets (cash, companies, property) of Ukrainian politicians, civil servants and oligarchs in the EU should be examined and where appropriate returned to the Ukrainian government.

    Medium and long-term structural reforms need to be put in place but shock therapy has to be avoided at all costs. Ukrainian civil society should be included in the monitoring process to put a stop to corruption.

    A particular challenge is the modernisation of the mining and heavy industry sectors in the south and east of the country. It is doubtful they will be able to maintain their current size and for this reason one needs to press ahead with economic diversification in these regions, with the EU providing a special fund for small and medium enterprises.
  2. Negotiate with Russia: Open trilateral discussions with Russia on the practical questions arising from the completion of the EU-Ukrainian Association and Free Trade agreements:
  • Promotion of cross border trade between Russia and Ukraine
  • Agreement to tri partite cooperation on energy projects; formation of a joint venture to modernise Ukraine’s pipeline network
  • A secure legal footing for Russian companies in Ukraine
  • Maintenance of free movement of people between the two countries
  1. Facilitate free travel: the EU should speedily negotiate with the new government to remove the visa requirement for Ukrainian citizens. Until such agreement has been reached, visa fees should be waived and additional EU consulates opened in the various regions.
  2. Promote the EU as a partner for Ukraine: establish EU information offices in various regions, particularly in the south and east; provide more information about the Association and Free Trade Agreements in both Russian and Ukrainian.
  3. Provide immediate assistance to improve health care: the dramatic decline and widespread corruption in the health sector are some of the worst daily experiences endured by the Ukrainians. An immediate programme to improve health care would, in a very short time, demonstrate clearly the EU’s solidarity with the population.

Translation from German: Green European Journal