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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The stand-off in Kiev shows the EU's greatest weakness – and its greatest strength

Our Director Mats Persson writes on his Telegraph blog:
A deal between the EU and Ukraine involving a "deep and comprehensive" free trade area, finally seems to have the hit the wall, after weeks trying to reach an agreement.

Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich is now looking increasingly likely to sign a deal to join the Russian backed customs union instead. As the Russian deal is a customs union it is incompatible with Ukraine signing an individual agreement with the EU. Any further negotiations with Ukraine will therefore need to be jointly negotiated with Russia – something unlikely to prove easy.

Kiev (or its President) has chosen Russian over EU integration.

Ukraine is a big country and market, with 45 million people and substantial resources. It’s also a geopolitical hot spot, it looks both east and west, parts speak Ukrainian and are historically linked to existing EU members, Lithuania, Hungary, Austria and Poland. Other parts speak Russian and historically look to Moscow.

There are two ways of looking at this:

The EU’s “soft power” foreign policy – luring countries in by offering them gradual access to or membership of the EU’s zone of stability and trade – has hit its limits. EU enlargement as a foreign policy tool – betting on others voluntarily imitating the EU – worked as long as it could offer a haven to post-dictatorship countries in the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, but without confronting the geopolitical orbit of hard power. With Ukraine, it has come up against precisely that in the form of Russia. Moscow offered its neighbour a binary choice: us or them. In a region still responding more to the whip than the carrot, the EU’s soft power proved highly limited. No amount of tweeting from constructivist-inclined EU foreign ministers will change that.

However, there’s a second way to look at it. The hundreds of thousands of pro-European protesters taking to Kiev’s streets show that, in fact, EU soft power is alive and well. Or at least, people in the EU’s neighbourhood still have a desire to join the club in some form. Therefore, and paradoxically, the stand-off between the EU and Russia over Ukraine simultaneously illustrates the EU’s greatest weakness and its greatest strength.

One final thought: I very much doubt that the protesters lining Kiev’s streets are voicing their support for the country joining the European Economic and Social Committee, or are particularly keen on plans to ban national flags (such as their own) from packs of meat, enforce quotas in boardrooms or prohibit refillable olive oil jugs in restaurants. They want to join a European club, broadly defined.

Those who press for more EU integration and increasingly want to make the EU an extension of the single currency should be aware that they’re also creating more hurdles for newcomers to join such a club. So far the “widening” of the EU has also led to “deepening”. With countries like Ukraine and Turkey in the game, that simply cannot continue. Scaling back the EU’s rulebook and allowing for differing levels of integration would lower the barrier to entry and therefore allow Europe to continue to use enlargement as a foreign policy tool.

The EU should want Ukraine and Turkey in but this won't happen as long as "ever closer union" is the mantra. A new flexible model of membership is needed. It is also one that may help to some existing members feel more at home in the club.


NK said...

The fact that so many people protested in Kiev shows that the EU socialism is slightly better than Russian.
Unfortunately that's just not good enough. And if I may ask: since our unelected govt is doing such a lame job, can we ask our powerful representatives in EUParl to adjust those euroclowns' pay to the level of Russian counterparts or possibly lower?
It is sad to see there are places on this world who want to join the EU.

Personally I couldn't care less if some new deadbeat country wants to join the EU. I would much rather want to see a discussion on why the people of any member country cannot stop these crazy attempts to get new members. Some of us simply do not want new members (ideally we'd like to exit, but we can't do that either).

Jim Kemeny said...

I would like to know how much the Eurocrats/commissioners are willing to spend to get a bankrupt country into the EU. This is our money they are talking about! I know of no investigation that has been done and that has shown - publicly - at least a range of outcomes. Still less any public debate among the member states in their own media. The Council (i.e. govt members of the EU) may well have their own agendas while its toothless parliament will give it the nod.

This is just not good enough. One autocratic set of countries trying to expand its power to bring into its neighbour which is vast in population and area as well as in debt can't and shouldn't be allowed to do this without thorough grass roots debate.

But then this is typical of how the top-heavy EU operates: it is frightening that such cavalier disregard for its own population - which incidentally is educated and otherwise informed - just makes a decision in blatant disregard of voters.

Jesper said...

People does seem to have different impressions regarding what the citizens in Ukraine want.

The interviews I've seen has been about these issues:
-rule of law

A trade deal with the EU or even a membership in the EU would not cause an improvement in any of those issues.

& expecting soft power to be useful here? Naive at best.
Who'd expect soft power to have any impact in a country where rule of law is weak?

Anonymous said...

What shocks me is that the people of the Ukraine want to surrender their sovereignty to the EU.

And yet a deal with Russia allows them to keep their sovereignty.

From experiencing how the EU works I would go for a deal with Russia.


Rik said...

The problem with Eastern Europe and especially former Sovjet countries is that one way or another they will have to start to have from their side a normal relationship with Russia.
This is not what these protesters want.

It is completely understandable that these countries or better large groups in these countries see a better future in the West, but it is unlikely to work the present way. This is a) pissing over Putin's shoes and hoping that he will be happy with it; and b) largely ignoring the legitimate demands of minorities and local Russians.

Longer term these countries will have to find a way to have proper relations with the EU and with Russia. Plus also have found a way to live with their own Russians and other minorities. Again logical after 89 that we see nationalism there but longer term that has a lot of disadvantages.

From there the EU should imho try to avoid conflict with Russia. And that is not what they are doing.
Imho much more important than the relation with the Ukraine definitely now the Iran file will start to play. The EU can simply not afford a disaster as they have selfcreated in Syria. Syria is relatively unimportant, Iran isnot.

Probably all caused by a lot of people in the US who missed the fact that the USSR doesnot exist anymore.
And we have seen where these confrontational policies lead to in Syria. You can not brush aside Putin's clients and think there will no no countermanoeuvre.
Russia is a worldpower it has to be taken seriously and can not simply without costs be pushed away what the US and Co tries to do in the larger ME.
If you start to p. off Russia they will counter with hard policies if necessary.

Next to the EU has to answer first a number of questions on the relations with its neighbours (also in relation with further integration).
What will the relation be with the small Balkans resp. Larger ones there, Ukrain, Russia, Turkey (as the most relevant).
If there is a possibility of memebership what would be the route?
What has all this for consequences re integration? The larger the less integrated is basically the standard rule. The more different same.

Anyway imho the small Balkans will have to be integrated in the EU only please not in the moronic way as with Bulgaria, Rumenia etc.
They are simply too close.
Imho they has better left the whole junkyard out to begin with but now 2/3 has already become a member things have changed.
Seen the problems the EU has at present getting closer to large countries like Turkey and the Ukraine seem a very bad idea. Even if only for 'management' reasons not to mention the lack of platform in especially the paying countries.

Anyway2 what has the EU to win with the Ukraine relations? Hard to see what is in it for the EU. Even more if the cons are taken intoi consideration.

jon livesey said...

I am afraid that Mats Persson's article is very superficial.

First of all, Ukraine is indeed a big country, but it is emphatically not a big market. It is 45 million citizens sharing a GDP smaller than that of Ireland.

It is an economy that needs a loan of E15bn from Russia - to start with. Anyone who imagines that Ukraine is a big opportunity for EU companies is simply not thinking. Ukraine is a money pit.

Second, do the demonstrations show that soft power is 'alive and well"? No, they just show that Stalin's and Kruschev's policies of giving Ukraine a large Russian minority is working as planned and splitting Ukraine between Western-leaning and Russian-leaning halves.

And there is an irrationality within the irrationality. So some protesters in Ukraine want to join the EU? So what? It is Ukraine wanting to join the EU that validates EU soft power, not a few hundred thousand protesters.

The truth here is that the EU have been completely owned here. Yanukovich was offered a thousand page association document, involving a lot of unwelcome reforms by the EU, and loans and investment by Putin.

So what should Yanukovitch have chosen? Politicians - with a few exceptions like Maggie - always choose what solves their problems now, not what might reform their countries over a period of decades.

The clowns in Brussels were totally incompetent not to have recognized this, and Mats Persson should not be making excuses for them.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with what Jim Kemeny states above...

This is just political short-termism - where is the Due Diligence process that the EU should be following to prevent another Greece or Portugal.

Allowing Ukraine into the EU is in effect just allowing another basket case to join. It will end up costing the EU member states more and more over time in bailouts and in the provision of services to the population as they all depart for new shores.

EU - Show us DUE DILIGENCE! Have you learnt nothing since 2008?


Rik said...

Great comment!

The EU simply hasnot got a clue how to deal when Putin is on the other side of the table (like with Syria btw). Soft power vs win at all costs, guess who is likely to come on top?
Or as Sun Tzu (and everybody else with even a remote knowledge of strategy): donot know yourself and donot know the enemy and you are guaranteed to get your backside kicked. In much more correct language of course.

Anonymous said...

Can we please avoid conflating the Ukrainian and Turkish cases?

The EU [Commission, Council of Ministers, Parliament] has over the last 15 years made it clear that Turkey is not a suitable candidate for membership under its present - increasingly islamist - government AND constitution.

By contrast the Ukraine is seen as a promising potential candidate, provided the corruption, nepotism and political oppression of the Yanukovytch administration can be reformed.

We should not be comparing a christian, European country with an islamic, Asiatic one.

Rik said...

On EU-Russia relations.

If you keep your eyes on the ball this is it. At the end of the day and looking at the bigger picture who cares about the Ukraine.

The EU has to determine what kind of relationship it wants with Russia. As I see it both look possible a more friendly cooperative one or a semi-coldwar one.

Whatever the explicit rhetoric on this all dossiers where the two meet look to point into the direction of confrontation so subsequently the semi cold war variety as realistically the only possible end result.

In this respect we have to realise that the ME and especially the Iran dossiers are the most relevant ones.
If things go wrong there the ME could be on fire again with high energy prices and devastating effects for European economies.
As long as Europe is depending on ME oil (or Gaz) it needs the region to be quiet. Stable is an illusion. Even if Israel signs a peace treaty there will be a lot other things to fight about. And in the ME problems are usually 'solved' with violence.
Until they have governments in most of the places that are comparable (not similar) with say Southern Europe or Northern East Europe, there will be trouble.
Anyway realistic is the the next 50 or so years not much will change there it will remain highly explosive. And realistic is as well that Europe needs the stuff. Either directly or indirectly to keep worldprices down.
Seen from a practical pov this is simply a given and doesnot really matter as long as the oil keeps flowing and they not all move to Europe when they feel the need to start shooting at each other.
The oil/energy file is the all important one. Not the Syria, or gay sportman going to the Olympics or the Ukraine ones.

Basically the Ukraine is only usefull longer term for the rest of Europe. As a supplier for educated workers if ever the workforce of the EU itself runs out and for agriculture if worldprices would go through the roof. And mailorder brides of course.
At present it is mainly: 'if they not all come over to us' and as transporter of Gas. Which will likely be also a problem when the cooperation, with the EU would be increased. Basically whatever scenario is followed somebody needs to pay for the Gas used by the Ukraine and if they donot do that themselves (and they have a tendency ti di that) you have either angry Russians or the EU should pick up that bill. Which would be considerably higher with increased cooperation stuff btw.
And for the usual EU human right pet projects.

Rik said...

Part2 (I know I am boring).

Get over the major dossiers.
1. Syria
Plain stupid to think that Putin would let them walk away with one of his clients. And become uncredible with the remaining ones in the process.
Russia playing hardball on this was a near certainty and they did.
No use to have started this all up for the EU as long as they cannot play hardball themselves.
Furthermore not a file to play hardball on. No stuff in that country, pipelines are an illusion (with an investment of 2 USD annually (2 empty Coke bottles one with Diesel one with light fuel or alcohol and the'problem is solved for another year). As long as the country is not totally (stress totally) pacified a pipeline is not going to work if the other side do not want it to work.
Anyway they took confrontation. Not even to mention how popular that war if started would have been with the Western electorates.

Ukraine. Similar stuff.

For both was it the use of starting a 'war' with Russia if the likely outcome is you get your backside kicked. And with nothing to gain.
Utterly poor policies.

Backing the wrong team. The West should nhave made clear that Mubarak's party could be in the elections. They are the only realistic alternative for the beards. By allowing them to be abolished it more or less created this situation and in effect caused a few 1000 Egyption lives (not that there are not plenty of them).
Much worse btw in Syria. This had endless civil war written all over it and guess what that is what we got.

Lybia. Is turning into a freehaven for beards of the violent kind with a huge drop in oil supply on top of that.

Kosovo. This is not a solution this is buying time. Least worse alternative possibly but no big success. You are keeping people of one tribe in the other country. All over the world this works hardly ever well certainly not when the conflict is already 1000 years or so old.
Anyway to keep the local idiots quiet likely they will have to be bought off by EU membership or mass subsidies. Unlikely the countries will make it themselves so the bill will one way or theother be the EUs.

Iran. If Russia supplies them with a proper airdefence system it is game over effectively.
Only alternative would be go nuclear first which is imho even more dangerous that letting them develop a bomb.
They are nearly certain trying to buy time. Which for them might work btw if they succeed in that.
The West need to keep the pressure on them. Pressure in the way that no more large delays will be allowed and should have been done years ago. The longer it takes the more time they have to do things. Sanctions are a minor issue.
This is a first step in a negotiation process that should already have been taken years ago.

Russia as said is critical. You cannot bomb nucleair facilites if the wind blows to neighbouring countries (incl Russia btw). One cannot bomb period if Iran get a proper airdefence system. One never gets the Sec Council behind you when Russia is not part of the team.

So from that perspective keeping Russia aboard iso trying to get them aboard at the last moment (EU and US standard policy it seems) can be essential. And making the relation difficult one irrelevant files (basically counterproductive files economically seen) seems ill advised.

Anyway Europe's East will have to get clear on its relation with Moskwa. Treating Russian or not main stream minorities as second rate is nott going to work.
You end up with a few more dysfunctionals in your team of which there are plenty already. And you are likely to rubbish your relation with your most powerful neighbour and your biggest energysupplier.
These states are likely to become a liability anyway, especially the Southern ones (hard to see it otherwise for those imho) they should not jeopardize the relation with the EUs largest neighbour and main energy supplier and likely make an important other energy dossier much more complicated to solve as it already is.

Edward Spalton said...

The incorporation of the Ukraine and the Balkans into "German Europe" was exactly the scenario advocated by Reichsminister Funk in his paper delivered at the seminar "European Economic Community" of 1942. The agricultural and raw material resources of these regions would make Europe unassailable and self sufficient apart from some specialist and tropical products.

Some things don't change very much.

The penetration of the Ukraine by German intelligence services and activist NGOs like the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung ( Vitali Klitschko's paymaster) is a distinctly unfriendly act to a sovereign country.

On a really practical point, Russia is unlikely to relinquish the main base for its Black Sea Fleet in Sebastopol voluntarily. The Crimea only became part of the Ukraine in 1954. At the time that was rather like shifting a county boundaryb- not an international border.

I hope the Ukraine succeeds in maintaining its independence and telling Germany in its present EU guise ne plus ultra.