Closer Ties Between Ukraine and EU: “A Rare Opportunity to Unite Bold Dreams and Careful Statesmanship”

The Financial Times has a compelling piece by Romano Prodi, the two-time former prime minister of Italy and former president of the European Commission, discussing Ukraine’s upcoming Association Agreement with the European Union. It is careful and balanced essay, and is worth reading as a general primer by someone experienced in the art of growing the European Union to the East.

The overarching theme of Prodi’s argument is that Europe has as much to gain from Ukraine as Ukraine from Europe — a point lost in much of the commentary on Ukraine’s relationship with the supernational bloc. His is an argument marrying Realpolitik and idealism, of a Europe that is able to set aside old enmities with Russia even as it grows to the East. Former Soviet Republics “are now bulwarks of Europe, with the Baltics, for example, showing remarkable resilience during the economic downturn, and Poland a pillar of European diplomacy” — and Ukraine can be a bridge between Europe on the one hand and Russia on the other.

Prodi is therefore arguing that the dichotomy between Russia and Europe, faced by so many in the former Soviet Union, can be artificial. Lest he be accused of mere idealism, he has a cogent argument:

It is vital that we keep this in mind, because the very factors that make Ukraine such a valuable partner for Europe are also pulling it toward Russia. Kiev recently agreed to observer status in the Moscow-backed customs union of former soviet republics. We understand that Kiev is the cradle of Russian civilization, and the ties between the two countries are forged of history, faith, and peoples. Ukraine boasts a significant Russian population, and Ukrainians are torn between European and Russian futures.

Yet this is exactly the moment to build stronger links between Ukraine and Europe. Kiev wants a European future, and its ties of blood, history, creed, and modern treaties are the materials from which a bridge between Europe and Russia can be built to endure. Ukraine can be a channel for European values and ties that will work to decrease mutual suspicion and build a more lasting peace.

Yet even this is not the most compelling argument in the essay. Instead, it is the argument — spoken by one with experience of the effect of European Union membership on the Soviet Union’s ravaged orphans — that:

We must remember that European membership and ties are not merely seals of approval for work towards adopting European values; they are a means of encouraging further progress on those values, restraining anti-democratic impulses and promoting the best behaviour by governments and leaders. Ukrainians demand European laws and European norms. To formalise a partnership with Ukraine is to reward and strengthen these aspirations.

These excerpts do not do justice to the piece, and those interested in Ukraine’s future with Europe would be well-advised to read it. Even where one disagrees, there is much food for thought here — for those in Kyiv, Brussels, and just perhaps, Moscow.

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