Ukraine and the political disintegration of Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of PLC.

The EU isn't sure of its own political future, while Ukraine has no foreign policy strategy at all. However disappointing this may be, in these circumstances both Brussels and Kyiv have no other choice than to "imitate" that they are maintaining relations, agues Viktor Tkachuk.


Viktor Tkachuk is the director-general of the Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy “People First”. He is a former MP, deputy secretary of the National Security and Defence Council and advisor to three presidents.

"Europe faces the greatest challenge of its development in the new century. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently put it, the present crisis which the euro is now facing is the greatest test for Europe since signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957.

Beyond any doubt, the financial and economic crisis has brought disorder into the unity of political positions and arrangements of the EU countries. A bright example of this is the European Parliament's denouncement of the decision of the EU Foreign Affairs Council to change the rules in re-introducing internal borders within the Schengen area.

MEPs accused each other of betraying fundamental European values. Mechanisms of EU political institutions fail more and more often, up to taking the disputes to the European Court of Justice. The ‘EU-27’ looks like a Babel tower – big, but fragile.

What recipes are EU leaders going to use to escape the crisis? One of the most advertised recipes – the German one – implies a strict financial discipline and fulfilment of the EU ‘fiscal pact’. The Czech Republic and the United Kingdom decided not to sign it. The remaining countries accepted this medicine, and Ireland even conducted a referendum, with a majority of the population approving it.

But it will be extremely difficult to impose sanctions against profligate countries and to make the national governments legally accountable for their budgetary policy. For example, how is the Brussels bureaucracy supposed to explain citizens of the EU countries that actions of their governments aimed at preserving the level of pensions and salaries of state employees are proscribed? 

To reach the efficiency of economy and budgetary discipline of all members of the EU, a certain degree of unity in political positions is necessary. Commenting on the issue, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann bluntly admitted that the eurozone has no future without the fiscal union. 

And he has a point. The EU is at crossroads.   

The first alternative, promoted by Germany, is the creation of the fiscal union, transferring a massive part of national sovereignty to supranational European structures on issues such as drafting budgets, control of expenses, revenue receipts and financial assistance from Brussels. Merkel calls this approach "more Europe".

The second alternative, promoted by France and a majority of the EU states, relies on maintaining independent national policies in the budgetary sphere with limited mutual financial responsibility. This approach considerably complicates the future of the eurozone and the euro currency itself.

It also foresees the idea that the biggest debtors in the EU should rescue themselves on their own on a large scale if they would not follow the strict financial and political demands from key financial EU institutions. It increases risks of disintegration of the whole EU. But meanwhile, the political elites in the majority of the countries reject this alternative, neglecting the growing risks for the future of all Europe.

And when in crisis, populations prefer populists over pragmatists. Populism pushes the unitary Europe closer and closer to the political and economic chasm.

The situation being what it is, the thesis of the German philosopher Oswald Spengler, the author of "The Decline of the West", starts to look relevant again.

"When dying, the culture turns into civilisation" he wrote in 1918. But maybe the death of the political culture in Europe is coming now? And which civilisation will appear in its place? Obviously, it will be more cosmopolitan, pragmatic and also globally focused. But national myths and the spirit of the people in Europe will lose ground extremely slowly and this threatens to overextend the crisis period in the EU for an uncertain time. 

So Merkel has it right, but for her the problem of elections in the fall of 2013 is becoming a bigger headache. Will she be able to push forward the building of politically unitary United States of Europe on the basis of the budgetary pact and rigid financial discipline? Will she be able to introduce sanctions for all those who don't play by the rules?

It is highly probable that Greece, Spain and, especially, the majority of EU member states from Eastern Europe won't enter such a project. As a consequence, what would be left for them is the "rescue yourself" principle. But on the other hand, it will be extremely difficult to realise the German plan due to reticence of France and UK in the first place.

This means that the future of the EU will most likely look like a long crisis, with the disintegration of political institutions, with latent financial wars and with the shifting of the main burden of the crisis on Europe’s population.  

In such conditions it is not a surprise if the current state of relations between the European Union and Ukraine looks as bad as it is. The Ukrainian authorities understand the depth of the EU crisis and perceive the unpreparedness of Europe, be it for stronger actions against the higher Ukrainian political establishment, be it towards really deep integration.

The "two-speed" process of integration inside Europe has also spread on its models of integration with its eastern neighbours, including Ukraine. Statements of First Vice-Premier of Ukraine Valeriy Khoroshkovskyi about the membership in the EU as the strategic target of Ukraine simply acknowledge the mutual acceptance to imitate real integration. 

It is disappointing that official Brussels plays the same game as the Ukrainian government, imitating the real development of the relations, but this is largely due to the Union’s absence of strategy of integration with EU eastern neighbours. In particular, the roadmap developed by the European Commission for the Eastern partnership summit in 2013 isn't capable of essentially deepening the level of Ukraine-EU relations because of the absence of consensus in terms of the general future of Ukraine.

Europe isn't sure of its own political future at this point either. Ukraine has no foreign policy strategy at all. How can we build practical plans of transforming Ukraine into a part of unitary Europe in such a situation? 

The Ukrainian people won't be silent witnesses to Ukraine-EU relations either. Now that Ukraine is ready to become a full member of the United States of Europe, but on the other hand Ukraine isn't willing to take part in the big European disintegration."