Central Europe Activ

Ukraine and the EU

Ukraine wants inThe debate on Ukraine’s possible EU and NATO entry has not really begun. It is high time.

The signandsight.com has devoted some coverage to the issue with the discussion of Richard Wagner’s provocative Why Ukraine has no place in the EU. Against Martin Pollack’s criticism I think Wagner’s main is the lack of substantive European elements in Ukraine’s identity:

The Ukrainian national identity is shaped in the image of the victim. Since independence this has concentrated on the trauma of the famine in the early thirties, when the failure of Stalin’s forced collectivisation programme, cost millions of lives. Ukraine declared this horrific event genocide. It is no coincidence that the name Holodomor so closely resembles the term Holocaust.

It is not clear if Ukraine wants to join the EU or not. I think Ukraine is a relatively new polity and nation-state, where much in the state of building a national identity and the state itself. Some of its political forces identify themselves with Europe, while others with a Slavic identity and a focus on Moscow. Anyway, this is a vast country with a formidable economy and army.

The EU had so far candidates that knew what they wanted. This is not the case with Ukraine. Would not it be better, if the EU knew first what it wanted from Ukraine and than it would try to influence Ukraine in the context of a well-defined European interest?

CC Image: tgraham.


Ukrainian public opinion on EU (courtesy the8thcircle.com)

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  1. A strong “No!” to your closing question.

    The Ukraine has to decide by itself whether it finds the EU so attracting that it is ready to undergo the numerous and (under the current political situation) very difficult reforms in all parts of the country.

    Expecting that the EU would lobby for its enlargement is illusionary. The contrary is the case: Since the EU is already facing quite some problems with the integration of countries that were willing to join and more or less ready to undergo a process of steep reforms, there it seems almost impossible to me that it would start lobbying for the accession of a country that is not even sure whether it wants to join.

  2. Wagner’s claims require a separate treatment to which I ought to return shortly. Here, let me just note that it is weak on facts and rather misleading. For example, the implication that the name of “Holodomor” (an artificial famine in Ukraine during 1932-33) was on purpose designed to be similar to the “Holocaust” is nonsense.

    Holodomor’s etymology is roughly speaking “holod” (hunger) and “mor” (death), i.e. death by hunger

    Holocaust’s etymology is “holos” (completely) and “kaustos” (burnt).

    The former is based on the Ukrainian language. The latter is absed on Greek. Any resemblance is accidental, not intentional.

    Now, regarding Daniel’s post. To my understanding of Ukrainian domestic politics, all the major political parties are supportive of the goal to join the European Union. (This is not the same on NATO; here, there exists a clear split).

    It is also very clear that Ukraine, as a government and as a majority of its people, admire what the EU stands for, what it has achieved and how it has helped other former communist states to modernize and integrate, but most importantly it is very clear that Ukraine wants to join the EU. Heck, it would join today if it were invited (like Romania and Bulgaria). Of course, it is not ready yet, but rest assured that the EU membership is something that everyone can agree on, Orange or not.

  3. Vitaliy – I think Wagner’s article is just a provocation. On the other hand at least for the casual observer it looked as if separation of Ukraine into two entities would be a real possibility? That is what I mean when I wrote that this state and nationhood is still in the forming. Do you think that the people of Eastern Ukraine would be as easy with an EU accession as the people in Kiev or Lemberg?

    Julien Frisch – I do not understand what is the European interest in saying ‘no’ without any consideration. And even a ‘no’ could have some substance. Norway and Switzerland are neighbors, too, and they are not just ‘not members’.

  4. @Daniel

    I am not saying that the EU is saying “no” (although formally it does so right now) and should say “no”.

    What I am saying is that I cannot imagine an active lobbying for enlargement by the EU (although personally I would be in favour), especially not in the case of Ukraine which is quite big country with quite big differences between east and west and quite some geopolitical dimension with regard to Russia.

    In other words: I think the EU should open a clear membership perspective for the Ukraine, but the political and social realities both in the EU and in the Ukraine won’t let us see a European Union actively approaching to this big eastern neighbour.

    It is a pity, but it is true.

  5. I am not decided either on the ‘no’ or the ‘yes’ side. But I think it is not good that it is actually applicants and not the EU that draws its borders.

  6. For me, the possible boarders of the European Union are largely drawn by the membership in the Council of Europe.

    Whether a country wants to “upgrade” from CoE to EU can only be decide by the country itself. Whether it meets the necessary (Copenhagen) criteria is then decided by the Union.

  7. I am skeptical regarding any separatist movements in Ukraine in the near future. The closest that this possibility has come so far was in mid-1990s with Crimea. At this point, this situation has stabilized, although it may become a hot issue again depending on how the central government handles it.

    Even the secession threats made after the Orange revolution by some oblasts in the East, like Donetsk and Luhansk, are no longer a credible threat, because now the Party of Regions which captures a majority of votes in that part of the country knows that its interests will be protected no matter who is in power.

    There was a fear in the Donbass area that a new Orange government (in early 2005) was going to ignore the East’s interests. This was unfounded.

    In fact in 2006, the voters sent back Yanukovych and his Blue and White coalition back in government. This I think helped assuage the “east” voters’ concerns about being ignored. Since they feel they are part of the larger whole and have a huge influence on the politics of the country, secession is unlikely.

    IDENTITY. I think you’re right regarding the national identity formation. It’s there and yet it is not. All Ukrainians share something (largely because of homogenization under the Soviet Union), and yet each geographical region has its distinct flavor due to different historical influences. On this subject, I highly recommend an edited volume by Arel and Ruble “Rebounding Identities: The Politics of Identity in Russia and Ukraine.”

    Finally regarding your question: “Do you think that the people of Eastern Ukraine would be as easy with an EU accession as the people in Kiev or Lemberg?”

    The short answer is a qualified “yes.” Without a doubt west and center of the country are much more clear on wanting to join the EU. The east and south however while have slightly higher “oppose” views, are more ambivalent than “negative” in their disposition toward the EU. I have some recent statistical data, which I’ll need to translate, but it directly answers your question. I’ll post it shortly.

  8. I think it is lucky in a way that Ukraine is still in search for identity, that leaves a degree of freedom – if it identifies itself as a European country, it will be a European country. Here’s a review and summary of Vitaliy’s book recommendation.

  9. Ukraine absolutely wants to join the EU. The people resoundly accept European values and the economic and social freedoms that membership would entail. The EU would benifit as well from a large, educated, Christian workforce to offset declining populations and the rise of muslim communities that are finding itegration either difficult or undesireable. Politically Ukraine coudl act as the link between the West and an increasingly aggressive Russia. Of course there are drawbacks in Ukraine having a very poor infastructure, workforce that would likely flock to the more affluent West in droves and a government that while obeys the constitution and has healthy debates, is still evolving and at times unstable.

    NATO is another matter and has caused a sharp divide in the country which I believe is becoming less East vs. West rather than Old vs. New generation. Russian heavy handidness towards Ukraine is welcome. The more Russia threatens annexation of Ukrainian territories (crimea), threatens aiming missiles at Kyiv and cutting off gas at politically motivated times, the more all Ukrainians will see that NATO membership and especially EU membership will be not only benificial but necessary to national sovereignty.

  10. The EU would benifit as well from a large, educated, Christian workforce to offset declining populations and the rise of muslim communities that are finding itegration either difficult or undesireable.

    That is quite a strange reasoning for enlargement…

  11. The Wagner article is pure bunk. Ukraine’s purpose in identifying and dealing with a huge massacre of people is not to identify itself as a victim, but to deal with its history, just as other European countries, and just as Russia refuses to do. In other words, under the Soviet system, much of history was re-written to suit the writers, but not to reflect the facts.

    Germany and other countries in Europe have dealt with their dark moments in history, such as the Inguisition of Nazism. Russia views Ukraine as its servant or vassal, and Russia still refuses to deal with the misery that it caused.

    As far as wanting to join the European Union, the Schengen Zone has created many problems at the border of Ukraine. As one young lady in Ukraine put it, “we have been behind a curtain of one sort or another for a long time – we just want to join the rest of the world.”

    The purported division between East and West is based on the interests of oligarchs in Ukraine – and lack of information, and/or misinformation generated by oligarch-controlled media, especially in Eastern Ukraine.

    That is changing. Germany is Ukraine’s second-largest trading partner. Germany gets 80% of its gas supplies through pipelines located in Ukraine. I think there’s a lot to be said for Ukraine joining the European Union.

    As noted in previous comments, the problem comes from oligarchs firmly in control of the government for their own benefit, and not for the benefit of the people, who refuse to implement reforms necessary for joining the EU.

    That, too, is changing. More slowly than many people would like, but it is changing.

  12. elmer – I think Wagner’s article is good because it started a debate. Otherwise his argument is difficult to follow even for a citizen of one of the successors of the Habsburg Empire :)

    Smetana – Although many people would not agree with me, I think it has been a good program for Central European countries to join NATO first. Here is my argument – maybe not applicable to Ukraine, comments are welcome.

    Julien – it is not an argument against, either, is it?

    Vitaliy – thank you for the data!

  13. @ Daniel:

    In fact, it is an argument against. A European Union that wanted to “counterbalance” its Muslim population with “well-educated Christian labour” through enlargement would make of the EU a massively degenerated political project not worth to pursue. Building enlargement upon such an idea would be against everything the EU is about.

    (May I, in this context, mention that 2008 is the “European Year of Intercultural Dialogue“.)

  14. In tomorrows issue of the German national newspaper “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” there is an article by Konrad Schuller on exactly this topic. I’ll present a translation:

    Return to the occident
    Within the Ukraine, approaching to the EU is more popular than the approach to NATO

    [First part on Russian pressure]

    [Second part on NATO accession. The country is split on this issue, which, if politically manipulated, could lead to uprising especially in the south and east]

    “This is different with the EU. From Galicia to the Donez basin there is unity about the goal of accession. The steel works barons of Donezk are looking for European markets. The traditionalist from Lviv are longing for the return to the occident. And different to NATO nobody could [politically] misuse the approach. Even Moscow would be satisfied.

    By the way, Ukraine would bring quite some things into the EU: an economy that recently has been growing 7.5% per year in average; future resources like coal and steal as well as immeasurable distances of fertile farmland. Because of it its geographical position the country could build a strategic bridge to the energy reserves of Central Asia. And it has definitely chosen the western way. Despite its chaotic laddishness the young Ukranian democracy is vital and free of violence.

    Nevertheless, an accession would still be problematic. Ukraine is a huge country split by cultural tensions and with a deadbeat infrastructure, massive corruption and an operetta-like quarrelling political class. Even the imagination to integrate the huge farmlands into the European agricultural policy is a nightmare. The EU herself is struggling with its reform pains. Citizens are expressing their globalised fears and alienation in angry referenda, and the elites do not show much affection to get even more problems on board.

    Yet, what is clear in the end is that there is almost no other possibility than to lead Ukraine at the border to accession into the Union. The country is not like Switzerland that you can leave on its own in the valleys of the Alps. It is the object of external demands that have already shown their destructive effects in the neighbourhood, and also within the Ukraine there are endeavours to appeal to the internal frictions. The choice in Kiev is not: Europe or neutrality but Europe or a situation like on the Balkans. If the democratic Ukraine will not become a success story with European support, it could one day become a hot spot due to internal tensions and external manipulation. The European perspective for Kiev is thus by far not the worst of all alternatives.”

  15. Julien, I can well imagine a political scenario where Turkey and Ukraine will be in competition for accession to the Union (and I can even imagine a compromise of both and neither/or) and in that case you can expect this kind of arguments. I am not sure that the majority of the European citizens will find Smetana’s argument a counter-argument. May I remind you to the Christianity debate in the Convent?

  16. Smetana was referring to our present minorities, not to a possible accession of Turkey. And such an argument concerning our fellow citizens (“Muslim communities”) would never work for the accession of Ukraine.

    Turkey will always be tackled apart, not least because some doubt that geographically and politically it even belongs to Europe (although one of the earliest members of the Council of Europe), a critique Ukraine will not face.

    And concerning the Convention: The results of the debates have shown that a general reference to our “common cultural heritage” that includes all three monotheistic religions as well as atheist/agnostic orientations led by enlightenment is much more consensual than a sole reference to Christianity. Not to forget that since the Convention the European Union has developed and debates about cultural diversity and better integration have become more common than the rather ignorant discussions until the beginning of the 2000th.

  17. Well, the result you are referring to did no go down well in the three referendums so far. So I am not that convinced about the consensus you are referring to. I think you can make only a valid comparison between the integration of first or second generation Turkish and Ukrainian immigrants to the EU. I understand your emotions but I think Smetana’s argument is not invalid. I still believe that it would be good if we knew the interest of the Union before we made a policy. What Ms. Merkel proposed a few days ago is good for the time being but it a bit short of a strategy. That also goes back to my earlier remark that I think it is good to start with a military alliance. In fact, I cannot believe in a stronger political or economical alliance if the other country is allied with a strategic rival.

  18. My argument is not so much about my emotions, although I have some :-).

    That is why I was referring to the Year of Intercultural Dialogue: The EU institutions which are crucial for enlargement won’t use once the argument brought forward by Smetana, because the EU has seen an evolution in terms of integration and diversity policies, which make those arguments less and less valid.

    What I agree with is that being a christian country is of advantage for accession compared to Turkey, but this will in no way constitute an active reason for accession, it just is a political factor easing member states politicians to sell the story to those in fear of people from Eastern Europe once accession is on the agenda.

    In the case of NATO, I am not sure how this story will develop. Personally, I am not a big fan of NATO, because it is – and here I agree with the Russians – a relict from the Cold War. I would prefer the European Union to incorporate the tasks of NATO and institutionalise a broader cooperation beyond its borders, because separating military and political power is not appropriate these days. Because of this position, EU membership perspective would also incorporate the military security for Ukraine. But I am aware that this is not very realistic, so I have to keep my momentary position of indecisiveness.

    Oh yes, before I forget it:

    As someone living in Germany these days I have to say: Ms Merkel tends to be short of a strategy from time to time as many of her colleagues from different political parties in Germany. :-) The country is importing too much gas from Russia, and that makes it kind of hart to take independent decisions…

  19. Julien – I linked earlier my views on NATO. Whatever Russians or Western Europeans think about it, NATO is a success story in Central Europe: membership is usually endorsed by vast majorities of the electorate, and people do feel more secure within. But again, I am not sure if this is applicable to Ukraine. I agree with you that military and political alliance goes hand in hand, but I have higher hopes with our strategic alliance with the US and I am also more pragmatic. I would not change my working military security for an untested one.

    I had an essay published in Hungarian that was wildly criticized in the Hungarian press and blogosphere, and it was against a certain type of Islamophobia. But I also do not share the views of those people who play down the role of Christianity in Europe or even the EU. We have a Catholic icon on our flag. Although Europe is the continent where religion has the least role in the world, I think the power of faith is too much underestimated.

    If you think about the meaning of the words ‘integration’ ‘unity’ and ‘identity’ you have to acknowledge that these are inter-related concepts. I think faith is a very important part of private and social identities.

  20. I am afraid that, from a practical point of view, the level to which the present Ukraine can claim a Central European heritage is beside the point. So are the huge regional differences in attitudes toward the EU within the country.

    The issue, I am afraid, is the relationship between the EU and Russia. The ever more assertive and less democratic ex-superpower has not given up on re-conquering the Ukraine or at least the Eastern and Southern part of it (where the majority has minimal allegience to the new state). If the EU admitted the Ukraine that would be the sort of declaration war on Russia that we (I am Hungarian), alas, cannot afford at this point. I am sure every policymaker in Bruxelles is acutely aware of this.

    My sad suggestion: let us, for now, stop the pointless chatter and concentrate on the Balkans and Turkey where we can go ahead at our chosen pace. That is our decision. Admitting the Ukraine is hardly an option now.

  21. Balazs, Ukraine becoming an EU member will not be perceived as a declaration of war or even as a hostile gesture in Russia (NATO is a different story). Russia on numerous occasions has made it clear that closer relations between the EU and Ukraine do not worry Moscow. Given this, the situation is far from pointless chatter.

    At the same time, it does not mean that the EU membership is a currently an option (no one here says it is), but it cannot be dismissed based on the above rationale.

    And yes, Brussels should not let the problems with the Lisbon Treaty to affect its efforts in the Balkans and Turkey.

  22. Vitaliy – I think it is very artificial to treat EU and NATO accession as different stories. Though we may come to different conclusions, I think Julien was right earlier that it is not conceivable that a country has different political, economic and military allies. I do not think that the NATO would be neutral in the case of a military invasion of an EU member that is not NATO member. With Russia’s declarations I would be much more cautious, I more or less agree with Balazs’s opinion on that.

    Balazs – I think it is a bad European habit that strategic aims are not spelled out and we muddle through strategic decisions. I agree with you that the Balkans enlargement should be a top priority, I would also give a priority, like the Czech would-be presidency claims to resolve frozen conflicts such as Transdnistria, Cyprus and Kosovo near the EU boundaries, than move on to Turkey. But I think it would be much better if the European interest would be spelled out in the case of Ukraine.

    I think an EU membership is for Ukraine is not on the agenda yet. But it would be good to know if we want to put it on the agenda later or we would like to find another long-term relationship with Ukraine. I believe that this issue was not honestly solved in the case of Turkey and it causes a lot of harm to the EU.

  23. I agree: a country’s economic, political and military relationships are likely to be aligned with the same “power.” And IF Ukraine were an EU member but not a NATO member and IF Russia invaded Ukraine, I too think that there would be a response from NATO states that are also EU members (although legally they would not be obliged to do so). But again these are all IFs.

    What I still object to is the suggestion that were the EU to offer a membership to Ukraine, it would equal a “sort of declaration of war” on Russia. My objection is based on what Russia has stated so far. Moscow has been very clear about the EU and the NATO issues: 1. It is ok with EU-Ukraine deal; 2. It is not ok with NATO-Ukraine deal.

    Here is Putin quoted in the Russian Pravda (http://english.pravda.ru/main/18/88/354/14729_ukraine.html):

    “Vladimir Putin told Spanish journalists that if Ukraine is accepted to the EU, as it desires, Russia will be happy. “Indeed, Russia and Ukraine have close relations in economy and cooperate in the industrial sphere. So, incorporation of the Ukrainian economy into the EU economy is likely to have a positive result for Russia as well,” Vladimir Putin said…

    …Russia had always been negative towards NATO expansion, as it would not neutralize present-day menaces. At the same time, Russia always welcomes EU enlargement.”

    Also, I agree with you that articulating EU interests vis-a-vis Ukraine is something that should be done, but perhaps the reason this has not happened yet is because the EU does not want to commit itself to one position that may make it difficult for the EU to change its stance later.

  24. Dear Vitaliy,

    I accept that I cannot underpin my claim that Russia would consider the EU offering membership to the Ukraine “a sort of declaration of war” (my weasely term if there ever was one). The proof, in my mind, is circumstantial at best. It rests on the closeness of EU- and NATO-membership and what has started in Georgia in the meantime :-(. My interpretation of Putin’s words you quote is this: they have a million ways to make sure, using covert measures through the domestic politics Ukraine, to stop it from being accepted by a Europe none to eager to take in another big and poor country to start with…

  25. Agree. That thought also crossed my mind. With the prospect of the EU far off, Putin shows little resistance at this point, but it can always change later.

    I’m not sure though that Putin can manipulate the EU issue in Ukraine’s domestic politics, because it just does not have nearly as polarizing effect as NATO does. All three major political blocs (Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, Yanukovych) are fine with the EU idea.

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