Ukraine deserves to be embraced
European Voice - February 24th 2005
This week President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg in his quest to demonstrate his government’s commitment to reform and democracy and its determination to pursue a course of European integration. Ukraine’s Orange Revolution took the world by surprise as people-power fighting for freedom and democracy prevailed against powerful ingrained interests within the post-Soviet authoritarian establishment.
Regrettably, the EU and NATO in recent years have been insufficiently encouraging to Ukraine in terms of its long-term Euro-Atlantic aspirations, which led then prime minister Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Vladimir Putin to wrongly conclude that there would be little robust defence of Ukrainian democracy and sovereignty if they effectively tried to bring Ukraine back under Russian control by whatever means, as was recently the case over Azerbaijan.
Commissioner Olli Rehn, in charge of enlargement, stated recently that the EU couldn’t close its doors to future enlargement, which is extended under Article 49 of the treaties to all countries with a European vocation and common democratic values. Then, for unexplained reasons, Ukraine is labelled a ‘neighbour of Europe’ with no prospects for EU membership, only closer integration with the EU. The European Council’s decision to offer a ten-point plan, largely cosmetic under the European Neighbourhood Policy Action plan, effectively confirms this negative position.
It is noteworthy that the Orange Revolution occurred without any EU carrots being held out to change Ukraine’s system of government. That contrasts markedly with Turkey and the western Balkans, which are being offered not only eventual membership but also large pre-accession financial aid – politically a difficult-to-sustain position for the Council and the Commission in the long run.
Ukraine also takes the view that it has been unfairly bunched together with northern African countries that have no prospects of EU membership.
Given the level of expectations now generated by the revolution, President Yushchenko will face enormous challenges in delivering on these and therefore maximum financial and political EU assistance must be provided to this fledgling European democracy. Currently the Commisson’s TACIS programme gives Ukraine only €100 million annually, half of which is for the nuclear safety and decommissioning programme. Extending a PHARE-type programme as currently enjoyed by other potential candidates in the western Balkans would be a good start.
Yushchenko, as well as having to mend fences with the country’s Russian-speaking east and south, will also be struggling to fight widespread corruption, and modernise the economy. He has appointed a new government headed by Yuliya Tymoshenko, much to the anger of Moscow whose military prosecutor has posted an arrest warrant against her. Nevertheless she has been told by Russia she can travel there without fear of arrest. She is determined to reverse the climate of crony capitalism.
Pressure will also be maintained for rapid admission to the World Trade Organization and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The promised EU assistance must also involve market economy status being granted by the Commission (something Russia was granted for political reasons in 2002). On foreign policy, helping solve the Transdniester problem, a breakaway territory of Moldova which is a haven for criminal activity, would make a huge impression on all the Brussels EU institutions. This would also demonstrate Ukraine’s independence from Russia, which sustains this breakaway territory. This frozen conflict will pose serious security problems to the EU when in 2007 our borders extend to Moldova.
I and four other MEPs have recommended President Yushchenko on behalf of the people of Ukraine for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his outstanding personal courage and the remarkable restraint by the Ukrainian people in bringing about totally peacefully a democratic revolution in their deeply divided country.
Charles Tannock MEP