What should lie at the foundation of Ukraine’s integration into a united Europe so that later on there isn’t an Ukrexit?
The history of how Europe was united is well-known, from its start as the European Common Market in 1957, to its current form as the European Union of 28 countries. Over time, the purely economic union moved beyond economic integration based on a common market for goods and services, to other areas of integration, such as European citizenship, a single currency, common foreign and security policy, and cooperation in justice and internal affairs.
In time, this deeper integration, which began more and more to look like a movement towards a federated state, took on a forced pace. In June 2004, the text of a European Union Constitution was formulated and in October it was supported by the heads of Government of all 25 members. However, the entire process suddenly ground to a halt when national referenda over the Constitution failed to carry in both France and the Netherlands in early 2005. The 2009 Lisbon Treaty was intended to replace the failed Constitution and eased the decision-making process in the EU: in a slew of cases, only a simple majority of member countries was now required to pass.
In the face of new challenges such as a debt crunch in the weaker economies and a growing inflow of migrants, often to the very countries who could least absorb them, contradictions began to surface within the EU and euroskepticism began to greet the very notion of further integration into the Union. From the dream of a common home for many countries, the EU began to seem more like a threat to what was unique, traditional and national. Euroskepticism, which was there all along, even as a united Europe was being formed, is about to reach its apex with Brexit, the withdrawal of one of its largest members.
In less than half a century, Great Britain has become a visible guide to how aspirations can change, from a difficult integration in the face of ongoing opposition from a France that was one of the key founding nations and was seen by Britain as an agent of American influence in the 1960s, to an equally complicated determination to leave the Union. But the UK is hardly the only EU member to be disillusioned: dissatisfaction can be seen to a greater or lesser extent in nearly all members of the European community. And it is growing in those countries that sense that belonging to the EU leads to more problems and restrictions than opportunities and advantages for their national aspirations.
A Parlameter 2018 survey on a hypothetical referendum over EU membership showed that support for leaving the EU ranges from 44% to 60% in another seven members—five of them countries that joined the Union not that long ago, with even greater enthusiasm than the British in the 1960s: Czechia, Slovakia, Cyprus, Bulgaria, and Croatia. What’s more, only 44% of Italians would vote to keep their country, one of the original founding members, within the Union. Meanwhile, staunch support for the EU, where 75% and more of the population would vote to remain, can be found in only six countries: Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, and Ireland. Among the post-soviet neophytes, only Poland, Lithuania and Estonia have a two-thirds majority of supporters.
And so, in the process of making membership in the European Union a national aspiration, Ukrainians should ask themselves some hard questions about what exactly they expect from membership in this community and what kinds of sacrifices they are prepared to make so that disenchantment and a sense of having somehow been deceived don’t set in later, the way the citizens of a whole slew of EU countries feel today. This is not to question Ukraine’s integral place in Western civilization or that the country should continue to develop in line with established western economic models. But a healthy dollop of euroskepticism needs to be developed among Ukrainians today, so that later they don’t find themselves wanting to leave the very community they aspire to join today.
Contradictory as it might sound, this kind of constructive euroskepticism is extremely important. If Ukraine continues to negotiate with the EU on the principle “whatever you say” and to demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to stand up for key national priorities, it will be just more grist for the mill not only of anti-EU sentiments, but anti-West voices criticizing the country’s geopolitical and civilization choices. In the face of the permanent threat represented by Russia, this is much more important than just membership in the EU.
Underlying a critical approach to the terms of integration with the European Union, Ukrainians need to place two components that are extremely critical to the country’s future: maintaining national identity and attaining economic success.
Where the straw that broke the EU camel’s back was a massive inflow of migrants for many EU members, for Ukraine the risk of being drawn into a modern-day massive resettlement of peoples in the process of integrating into the EU is an even worse threat. The country could end up with the same problems as other Central European countries that don’t want to see their own people, who have gone in search of a better fate further west, replaced by people from completely unrelated cultures in Asia or Africa. And so their leaderships are ever more openly resisting EU migration policies.
Still, the migration of Ukrainians to wealthier countries, most of them EU members at this point, and their replacement by foreigners from Asia and Africa is an even greater cultural and civilizational challenge. And so an important element of Ukrainian euroskepticism has to be the reservation that integration into the EU should happen in parallel with the decolonization and ukrainianization of Ukraine itself. Yet this is not at all guaranteed. For the EU and its current universalist and overly liberal policy could insist that it is perfectly acceptable to integrate Ukraine just like any other spin-off of the former USSR. For Ukraine, however, to turn into an alternative, more democratic, more liberal and more market-oriented or europeanized other Russia is not merely inconvenient, it is critically dangerous. What use will a eurointegrated Ukraine that is Russian-speaking or even bilingual but tending towards gradual russification as it becomes more urbanized and suburbanized be to Ukrainians? The ever-growing number of Ukrainians moving from villages and small towns, generally irreversibly, are the key reserve bearing Ukrainian linguistic and cultural identity. Meanwhile, the country’s Russian-speaking, europeanized but not ukrainianized cities are seeing an influx of migrants from Asian and African countries who are more likely to merge with the general mass that has been internationalized on a Russian cultural foundation that is foreign to Ukrainians. How is this better for Ukraine than being Little Russia in the Kremlin’s neoimperialist projects?
Nor do Ukrainians need their country to turn into an economic province of the EU, where it will remain just a territory that financial groups from Old Europe take advantage of, rather than another full-fledged EU member. For instance, Ukraine could be pushed to become economically specialized in line with the interests of other countries and find development blocked in those sectors that could compete with the metropole. The country experienced this kind of anti-Ukraine policy on the part of Russia for the entire nearly 30 years that the two countries have ostensibly been independent. For countries like Ukraine that were colonized in the past and have not completely undergone de-colonization, this problem is especially serious, because one form of dependence is simply replaced by another.
Changing one metropole for another cannot be the goal for Ukraine and its socio-economic policies should not simply prioritize a mechanical increase in GDP, average wages or budget revenues. It’s important that the quality of these indicators improve and a healthy socio-economic web be maintained through the growth of SMEs.
One condition for integrating into the EU should be maintaining the dominant position of Ukrainian businesses in key sectors of the domestic economy. The access of foreign suppliers to the domestic market, especially state procurements, should be accompanied by mutual and proportional access to markets and public procurements in EU countries. Importantly, Ukraine must maintain a position that growing household incomes, the creation of new jobs and preservation of existing ones that will lead to increasing capacity for the Ukrainian market to absorb European goods should not be based on the acquisition of key segments of the domestic economy by big business from the EU. That’s what happened in CEE countries. Access to and the acquisition of the banking and financial system by foreign financial institutions should also not be allowed.
As long as Ukraine’s EU partners don’t accept all these conditions, it makes no sense to continue to pedal in the integration process. On the contrary, Kyiv should consistently and persistently require that integration be accompanied by maintaining the country’s self-identity. After all, Ukraine can already increase its exports of goods to European markets. In 2018, exports of domestic goods to the EU reached a record high of over US $20.1bn. By comparison, in 2008, 2011, and 2013-14, the previous peak years, it was never higher than US $17-18bn.
The only issue is to have something worth exporting and that this something have a high added value. Raw materials and unfinished products continue to dominate Ukraine’s exports to this day, which limits the prospects for improving both the quantity and quality of the domestic economy as it stands. Ukraine’s consumer market is also fairly limited for European suppliers today. And so economic integration with the EU needs to be seen as an instrument for shaping a strong national economy, transforming the country into a powerful trade, commerce and investment partner.