Ukraine and the EU: A vicious circle?

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

This article is part of our special report EU-Ukraine Relations.

Countries that managed to accede the EU did so "by observing a few simple guidelines," according to writes Tomas Valasek, director of foreign policy and defence at the Centre for European Reform: "cultivate friends among EU governments, be prepared to make painful sacrifices and, above all, show patience and good faith". But Ukraine "has broken every one of those principles over the past two years," his November paper claims.

Only two or three years ago, "the majority of EU governments were in favour of [Ukraine] joining [the European Union]. Today, EU governments have stopped caring," the analyst quotes one European Commission official dealing with the country as saying. 

"Ukraine's most recent own goal consisted of Kyiv apparently lying to Brussels about the situation in its gas sector. Kyiv (and Moscow) warned in May and June 2009 that gas levels in Ukrainian storage tanks were too low to guarantee uninterrupted supplies during the winter," Valasek notes. 

Only two or three years ago, "the majority of EU governments were in favour of [Ukraine] joining [the European Union]. Today, EU governments have stopped caring," the analyst quotes one European Commission official dealing with the country as saying. 

"Ukraine's most recent own goal consisted of Kyiv apparently lying to Brussels about the situation in its gas sector. Kyiv (and Moscow) warned in May and June 2009 that gas levels in Ukrainian storage tanks were too low to guarantee uninterrupted supplies during the winter," Valasek notes. 

"The feared gas shortage probably never existed" and "in creating a false alarm, Kyiv has shown complete disregard for its reputation in Europe," he claims. 

"No wonder: Ukraine has been in a political crisis for years. President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko are not on speaking terms. Both are vying for the presidency in the January 2010 elections, and have spent more time campaigning than governing," Valasek writes. 

"EU governments are right to be disillusioned with Ukraine. But the EU must also shoulder some of the blame for Ukraine's paralysis. With several EU governments calling for a stop to enlargement, more Ukrainians are giving up hope of ever being allowed to join," he states. 

"The EU and Ukraine are getting locked in a vicious circle: the EU gives up hope for change in Ukraine, and politicians in Kyiv use the lack of EU incentives as an excuse for not addressing the mess the country is in. The EU should be tough on Ukraine, but also offer more attractive rewards in case reforms start happening," the author writes. 

"The presidential elections present a chance to break the vicious circle. Tymoshenko, though currently polling second, stands a chance of winning in the run-off. She is more ambiguous than Yushchenko on EU membership but broadly in favour," he notes. 

"The EU should make it clear that if the new government reforms the energy sector, judiciary and constitutional law […] and completes a free-trade agreement with the EU […], the Union would respond forcefully by offering the much-desired membership perspective," Valasek concludes. 

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