Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Kiev Has a Case for the EU

The Wall Street Journal - September 6th 2002

EU enlargement to 25 members is scheduled for 2004. But what should be the moves after that? Once the Balkan states have made it in, how does the EU broach the delicate but essential debate as to who else fits in and who doesn't, and what the union's long-term and final boundaries are?

Having recently spent some of my summer recess in Ukraine, I am a firm convert to its legitimate claim to be in the club. No one can doubt the strategic role this country of 48 million highly educated Europeans plays as a bridge between Western Europe and Russia.

Ukraine shares a long common history with its neighbor with the same ambivalence which characterizes the Irish Republic-U.K. relationship. The West was somewhat surprised by Kiev's declaration of independence from Russia 10 years ago and is still formulating its attitudes towards Ukraine - although it is the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid. After enlargement, Ukraine's total trade with the EU may overtake that which it has with Russia. At present, the two countries are coordinating their applications to join WTO.

Too much attention in the international media has been devoted to the occasional outrage or tragedy, like the unsolved murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, the Lviv airshow accident or the military accidentally shooting down a civilian airliner. Then there is the aftermath of Chernobyl (now closed but still smoldering under its sarcophagus); intellectual piracy; rising levels of HIV infection; organized crime and high level political corruption and cronyism.

It sounds terrible. Yet all of these undesirable activities are also prevalent in other Central and Eastern European candidate countries -which are nevertheless recognized as legitimate candidate members. Moreover, once candidate countries are inside the EU, applications for asylum from their citizens will be banned, removing the often cited incentive to come to richer EU countries merely to claim generous social security benefits. Only job seekers will be eligible to cross borders.

Given Europe's looming demographic problems, in fact, a pool of skilled Eastern Europeans, including the Ukrainians, will be a bonus. Once such countries are inside the EU, Europol (the EU police body) will have a remit to monitor and investigate cross-border people trafficking, which currently is in the hands of national governments or often corrupt police forces.

Of course, for Ukraine much remains to be done to qualify for the EU, particularly on structural reforms to the economy and exposing corruption. However, insufficient recognition is given to Ukrainian efforts to build - without any previous tradition - a democratic society and encourage a free press. While the press is still too submissive to vested interests and denied editorial freedom by owners; again, in many ways the situation is comparable to that in other EU candidate countries.

The West forgets that Ukraine is a newly independent country which has never existed in its current boundaries and yet it has had an excellent record in its treatment of national minorities. The country is struggling with a mentality gap between the older generation - more instinctively pro-Russian, with ingrained habits from the Soviet days of authoritarianism and secrecy - and the younger generation, who are Westernized and less attached to Russia.

The Catholic, Uniate, western half of Ukraine was part of Poland and Czechoslovakia until WWII and deeply resents being abandoned by western Europe, where they feel they naturally belong. They envy the fact that those two countries will shortly be part of the EU. After enlargement, Ukraine will fall on the wrong side of the new EU external Schengen perimeter, with all the difficulties this will pose to trade and free passage.

Favorable mention is rarely made of Ukraine's unilateral renunciation of its legacy nuclear arsenal, its current healthy economic growth rate of 6% (albeit from a low base), its rising foreign exchange reserves and recent bumper grain harvests. It has been cooperative on foreign affairs issues, particularly in the Balkans, with a remarkably successful joint Ukraine-Polish Brigade in its mission with the U.N.'s KFOR in the U.S.-led sector.

The Kiev government, albeit after U.S. threats of sanctions, has cracked down on intellectual piracy so effectively that the International Federation of Phonographic Industries has now closed its monitoring office in Kiev. Ukraine's new prosecutor general has begun investigating high-level corruption cases, and the independent commission set up by the president has exposed widespread Air Force organizational failures, accounting for the airshow disaster in Lviv.

The government is cooperating in the U.S-led global war on terrorism by improving security at Ukrainian nuclear plants, and it is investigating allegations by the U.S. of sensitive military technology being sold to Iraq. The parliament, or Rada, recently outlawed the sex-slave trade and a new, dedicated police unit has begun making arrests.

Unlike the European Parliament after the July 2002 EU-Ukraine summit meeting, however, the European Commission and Council have failed to recognize Ukraine's long term ambitions to accede to the EU. They seem instead to be encouraging a new Iron Curtain at Ukraine's western borders. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has proposed a novel "neighboring country policy" by including Ukraine unfairly with the failing state of Moldova and repressive Belarus (from whence three dissidents recently fled to the haven of Ukraine!).

The problem in Ukraine - in the absence of strong Westernizing influences which may reemerge if former Prime Minister Viktor Yuschenko is elected president in 2004 - is that given the Russian "near abroad" policy it is hard to shake-off heavily supported vested interests. These are particularly prominent in the parliament, where we see an unholy alliance between big business oligarchs and Petro Symonenko's pro-Russian Communists.

The recent rapprochement between the West and Russia is unlikely to improve Ukraine's chances of European integration. The EU may be more likely now to disregard Ukraine's interests in order to please Russia -which is placing enormous pressure on President Leonid Kuchma's government to join its own EuroAsian Economic Community.

During my recent time in Ukraine, a number of people I spoke to stated that the Kuchmagate scandal, in which a former intelligence officer produced tapes allegedly implicating the president in the murder of the journalist Mr. Gongadze, was in fact orchestrated by pro-Russian factions or even Russian secret services who doctored genuine recordings of adverse statements by the president until they sounded like apparent criminal instructions. The undisputed beneficiary of the scandal was Moscow. Western direct capital investment in Ukraine dried up as a result of the political unrest generated. Russia then scooped up assets on the cheap, including large chunks of Ukraine's gas transit industry.

With luck, President Kuchma will have to stand down in 2004, thus making way for a reformist candidate. The new president will need to further consolidate a "functioning market economy" and satisfy the Copenhagen criteria on good governance, democracy and human rights, so that a Europe Agreement and Associate membership status becomes a reality.

Many of us believe that if Turkey is allowed to be a candidate for the European Union, with all the geographical and cultural controversy that will pose, then surely Ukraine has the same or perhaps an even greater right to a roadmap for its long-term goal of EU membership.