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6 June, 2013 08:00   ▪  

Olga Shumylo-Tapiola: EU must avoid the “now-or-never” approach to Ukraine

“Instead of rushing toward agreement, the EU should allow Ukrainians to define their own pace of moving toward signing, which may well be after the summit,” Olga Shumylo-Tapiola, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, writes in her article published on the website of think-tank.

“Although the EU did not create the region’s problems, it did set unattainable goals and ignored the reality on the ground. But that does not mean the summit has to be a failure. Success should not be measured by the signing of agreements alone. Today the goal of the EaP seems to have shifted to saving the partner countries from their misery and keeping them away from Russia. And—thanks to the “help” of some EU member states—the entire EU looks desperate. While it is a noble task to help support the sovereignty of the EaP countries and to stop them from sliding into further chaos, the EU seems to be chasing after these countries despite negative developments on the ground. That was never the point of the initiative. The EU may not like or accept this image, but this is the reality,” Shumylo-Tapiola comments.

Expert thinks that in all cases where the EU has applied its more-for-more principle have prevailed economic or geopolitical interests rather than the reform motives.

“For instance, the EU needed energy resources from Azerbaijan, so even though Brussels mildly criticized the country for its poor democratic record, Baku still received promises of an Association Agreement and aid from the Europeans. Geopolitics seems to play a key role in the relationship with Ukraine. The EU continues to give aid to Ukraine even if the country does not reform. Some EU member states are also pushing to sign the agreement without Kyiv delivering on its promises just to keep Ukraine within the European orbit. This has been harmful for the EU and its image, and, most importantly, it has undermined the EU’s already-weak leverage over the region,” expert underlines.  

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Shumylo-Tapiola notes that EU has to change its more-for-more principle in relations with Eastern Partnership countries.

“Since most EaP governments are unlikely to democratize and reform their countries in the near future, the more-for-more principle should be changed into a two-track approach: for societies and for governments.

On Ukraine in particular, the EU must avoid the now-or-never approach. The promise of signing an agreement is the only real leverage Brussels has over Kyiv (unless the EU is ready for sanctions). Ukrainians are likely to enact a number of painful yet bearable measures before the summit but will leave the most painful untouched, hoping the EU will sign the agreement just so it can say it had a successful Vilnius Summit.

Instead of rushing toward agreement, the EU should allow Ukrainians to define their own pace of moving toward signing, which may well be after the summit. That will relieve some of the pressure on the EU, which will also get to avoid sidestepping its own values and losing credibility. Once Ukraine meets all the conditions, the EU should ensure that the agreement is signed quickly and that the document is ratified equally quickly by the European Parliament and national legislatures. The truth is that membership in the Eurasian customs union is politically and economically painful for the leadership and elite of participating countries. What’s more, the Association Agreement is a modernization tool, not a geopolitical weapon. The EU wields its transformative power most effectively when it encourages reforms in partner countries and maintains high standards within the union, not when it threatens others.

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These considerations are particularly significant when it comes to Ukraine. Signing an agreement with Ukraine even if the country does not deliver on all the outlined conditions will not bolster the EU’s credibility in the eyes of ordinary Ukrainians. It will also not put an end to negative trends in Ukrainian politics.

Signing the agreement if Ukraine meets all the necessary conditions will legally bind the country to the EU, yet that alone will not make Ukraine more European. The only way to counter Moscow’s offer is to change the mindset of the people—through open borders and formal and informal education,” analyst states. 


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