The phantom of the Eastern Partnership

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

Fast advantages from a proposed customs union with Russia will become an irresistible temptation for Ukrainian politicians in comparison with the uncertain prospects of the EU's 'Eastern Partnership' and Association Agreement, writes Viktor Tkachuk.

Viktor Tkachuk is general director of the Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy – "People First".

"Today, Ukraine and the European Union see the ultimate goal of development of their relations differently. The authorities and the people of Ukraine have different attitudes towards it.

But there is no unity on this question in the EU either. Reasons, motives, dreams, possibilities, bureaucratic procedures and political culture on the whole – everything interacts, creating hopelessness of the result.

Maybe Brussels officials also need it to justify the inconsistency in finding an effective model for relations. But will the loss of Ukraine be favourable to the political future of the EU? Instead of a Europeanisation of Ukraine, the Eurasian wind of change can blow from Kyiv to Brussels.

Legally Ukraine has decided – the European integration is fixed in the national law "About principles of internal and foreign policy", as of 1 July 2010. Article 11 of this law says that "providing integration of Ukraine into the European political, economic, legal space with the aim of getting membership in the European Union" is one of the main principles of the foreign policy.

It fixes an ultimate goal of the state foreign policy – official accession to the EU as to the international organisation which evolves to confederative state association.

Ukraine hasn't fixed such a thing at the legislative level in relation to any other international structure of the similar character.

But such an important question which has to do with the territorial sovereignty hasn’t been discussed as leading to a referendum yet; only fixing the decision of the parliament initiated by the administration of Yanukovych has taken place. De facto the head of the state who is in the European political isolation de jure is the real euro-integrator.

And what is the EU's input? First of all, the EU avoids acknowledging the prospect of Ukraine's membership. It is meticulously withdrawn from any bilateral documents between Kyiv and Brussels. It has repeatedly caused disputes, for example, a year ago before the Ukraine-EU summit.

The linear logic of the Eastern foreign policy of the EU lies in the idea that of "Eastern Partnership" which gives a chance to the countries that are members of the programme to sign and ratify the Association Agreement with the EU, and subsequently, to receive an admission to the membership acts as a quintessence of the "Neighbourhood Policy".

It acts as a tool of improvement of the situation at its Eastern borders (apart from Russia with which separate relations are developed). This programme declares maximum support of Eastern neighbours to European standards when it comes to economy, finances and politics.

The maximum support for the European basic values among the members of the Eastern Partnership is declared in it. What's interesting is that the EU has chosen financial support (instead of membership prospect) to be the main incentive in active introduction of reforms, although at an insignificant level.

Other neighbours of Ukraine, for example, Russia with the "Customs Union" project, offer Ukraine almost instant accession and fast advantages, for example, a gas price at less than $200 per thousand cubic metres (with the present price – $426).

Fast advantages from the Customs Union will become an irresistible temptation for the Ukrainian authorities with their primary orientation at the economic sphere in comparison with uncertain prospects of the "Eastern Partnership" and the Association Agreement.

In such conditions, postponement of the further realisation of the "Eastern Partnership" on the side of the EU looks as if it's unwillingness to develop relations with Ukraine or as a refusal to offer a more effective model of relations.

For this reason the "Eastern Partnership" summit in Lithuania in 2013 is doomed to be a formal and inefficient event, which won't bring Kyiv closer to the EU.

In Ukraine, where almost $1 billion per month flow to offshores, millions of euros from the EU won't be determinative. The Ukrainian authorities, who stand motionless between choosing the EU or Russia, Europe or Eurasia, can reject the offer from Brussels and go through a long bureaucratic way and then abandon eurointegration as a whole.

Visa barriers on the side of the EU will also form the perception of the EU among the population of Ukraine as well.

We have the result: the absence of a plan and loyalty to principles produce a risk of living back to back over next the dozens of years. The EU has to say something. Why? It behaves as a "big brother", the same way as Russia does. Only it speaks English." 

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