The Brief – Euromaidan post-mortem

Council President Donald Tusk is in Ukraine to mark the fifth anniversary of Euromaidan, more precisely of the fierce fighting on 18-20 February 2014 in which 77 activists were killed.  Others consider 22 February, when Yanukovich fled to Russia, the culmination of Euromaidan. The Russians still call the events a coup d’état.

But how did the events start? According to my journalistic notes, the root of the problem stems from November 2008, when we first heard the talk of the “Eastern Partnership”.

This EU initiative appeared as a response to the Mediterranean Union, an initiative that Nicolas Sarkozy launched on the occasion of the French EU Presidency, in the second half of 2008. Poland and Sweden countered with an initiative in favour of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Thus, the Eastern Partnership was launched under the Czech EU Presidency, on 7 May 2009. The initiative foresaw the possibility for the conclusion of association agreements and free trade deals, similar to those which the EU had already offered the Western Balkans.

The difference was that the Western Balkans had been promised EU membership once they met Brussels’ requirements, while the Eastern Partnership countries received no such promise.

Ukraine’s prime minister at that time was Yulia Tymoshenko. She was supposedly pro-EU, but her conflict with then-President Viktor Yushchenko actually damaged those relations.

In late 2010, Viktor Yanukovych won the presidential election. Though he was considered a pro-Russian leader, it was under Yanukovych that the association agreement was agreed and initialised.

On 7 May 2012, Vladimir Putin became president again. Shortly before that, as prime minister, he first mentioned plans to create a Eurasian Union, on the basis of the customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus. It was founded on 1 July 2011, and my impression is that no one in the EU took these plans seriously.

The turning point came when Yanukovych said Ukraine wants to be a member of both the Moscow-founded customs union and to sign an association agreement with the EU. Then a Brussels official said the EU association agreement is not compatible with the customs union. It’s either-or, the anonymous official said.

This was in December 2012. He was working under the then Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle.

Initially, no one paid much attention to these words. No one in EU institutions realised that this was a de facto declaration of war. Any further statements by Brussels that the signing of an association agreement with Ukraine was not directed against Russia did not sound serious.

The next developments culminated in the refusal of then-President Yanukovych to sign an association agreement during the summit in Vilnius on 28-29 November last year.

In March 2014, Pierre Vimont, the then number two in the European External Action Service, said the EU was “pushed to the wall by Cold War reflexes”. He also said that the choice between the Association Agreement and the Customs Union was not as “inescapable” as initially thought.

Ironically, I have later seen countries capable of having good relations both with the EU and with Russia.

Tusk did well by going to Kyiv to bring some flowers in memory of the fallen. However, people continue dying in Donbas. This war could have been avoided. The Barroso Commission really messed up.

The Roundup

by Alexandra Brzozowski

The hottest news from The Capitals this morning: Labour exodus gives Corbyn a headache, Polish-Israeli spat and reform delays in Greece.

EU’s antitrust guru Margrethe Vestager is the clear favourite to succeed Commission boss Juncker, according to the results of a Europe-wide online survey unveiled in collaboration with EURACTIV today.

US lawmakers sought to reassure worried European allies of Washington’s continued commitment to transatlantic ties and NATO during a visit to Brussels.

Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, a UK’s Parliament report slams the tech giant on data protection and disinformation.

Brexit takes its toll: Japanese carmaker Honda confirmed that it will shutter its Swindon factory in 2022, where 3,500 workers ply their trade. Ireland, too, expresses ‘frustration’ at the ongoing Brexit uncertainty.

EU banking watchdog investigates Estonia and Denmark failed to enforce EU rules that would have prevented one of the largest-ever money-laundering scandals affecting Danske Bank.

Overpopulation of migrant reception centres on the island of Samos has reached the point of no return, with the local community and local authorities left overwhelmed and demanding assistance from the Greek government.

Poland’s opposition parties joined forces in a “European Coalition” in order to challenge the ruling ultra-conservative Law and Justice ruling party.

An Italian far-right party is aiming to change the national constitution as a means to reduce the influence of EU law over national legislation.

Meanwhile, Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini has tried to placate Sardinian farmers ahead of regional elections this week.

Mass rallies are planned in Paris and other French cities to denounce a flare-up of anti-Semitic acts which culminated in a violent tirade against a prominent writer during “yellow vest” anti-government protests last weekend.

New rules for heavy vehicle CO2 emissions came across the line in Brussels, rounding off the current generation of climate laws.

While Germany is urged to stand firm on coal phase-out, the country’s environmental organisations, on the other hand, are ‘very disappointed’ with the new ERDF Regulation.

Look out for…

Parliament’s environment committee votes on climate strategy. Visits of officials from Slovenia, (President Borut Pahor), Serbia (PM Ana Brnabić), North Macedonia (Deputy PM Bujar Osmani).

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

 

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