Europe is in danger of throwing away years of progress, untold man hours and mustered political will, and even a part of the European project’s future. It is doing all of this by suddenly endangering the Association Agreement it is to sign with Ukraine less than two weeks from now out of indifference and a misplaced sense of its own interests.
Many news reports are focusing on former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who broke Ukraine’s laws governing her power as prime minister in order to sign a ruinous contract with Russia for natural gas (her former Orange Revolution partner Viktor Yushchenko has alleged she did this to position herself for her ultimately failed presidential run). Many believe that today’s decision by Ukraine’s parliament to reject bills for her release have dealt a crippling blow to Ukraine’s chances to sign the Association Agreement.
Yet this is to miss the problem for the blonde braids. Tymoshenko is largely a concern for German domestic audiences, which is why Angela Merkel has been so diligent on the convicted felon’s behalf. Rather, the problem is one that is also near and dear to much of the German populace — the fear of bringing in another economically troubled nation to the eurozone.
Ukraine faces a host of problems, most of which stem from its decision to point to the west. Its export-heavy economy has not fully recovered from the global recession that began over a decade ago, both hurting the country’s coffers and making it harder for its industry to compete with European countries’ if the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement is signed with the Association Agreement. Russia has offered Ukraine economic concessions for signing with the Eurasian Customs Union, and the threat of a trade war if it does not. And of course, the natural gas deal Tymoshenko negotiated has crippled the Ukrainian economy, forcing Kyiv to adopt subsidies for households and industry in the hard winters.
In combination, Ukraine needs the economic expertise Europe can provide to negotiate the short-term pain of economic integration; but more immediately, it needs cash to survive what will be a cold winter economically and literally. The EU has pledged a mere billion euros in this effort, which is a bare fraction of what is needed, and IMF funds are still on standby, conditioned on … not providing subsidies for households and industry to survive the winter.
More aid — ten billion euros perhaps — and economic expertise can bring Ukraine a long a great deal faster than any words about Tymoshenko.
In this, Europe is defying the very purpose of Europe by making Ukraine beg to complete its swing westward. Despite highflown rhetoric, the point of the European Union is not to bring European-style parliamentary democracy and regulation heavy free-trade-zones to the Continent. It is to end grinding, vicious, catastrophic wars that leave the Continent a smoking ruin. The entire project began as an effort between West Germany and France to trade, on the belief that trade brings peoples together; and when everyone realized that trading democracies go to war very infrequently, the means somehow became the end.
Tens of millions died on the Great European Plain between 1914 and 1945, dead because of ideology, dead because of national pride, dead because East and West had grown very bad at speaking to each other and trading with each other. The goal of the European project is to stop this once and for all.
Yet for a cost of a mere ten or twenty billion euros — a bare fraction of the eurozone’s economic might, even now — they are throwing it away.
This game has played out many times since the 2004 expansion of the European Union, which saw so many former Eastern Bloc nations come into the fold. Georgia and Ukraine were lost to NATO due to Western dithering and the Russian invasion of Georgia (and Western dithering in the face of that aggression). The remainder of the former Soviet Union, many of whom (a majority of whom in Ukraine) want to be part of the European project have been left in the cold, as Russia slowly expands to reclaim its empire.
If Ukraine is not part of Europe, it will be part of Russia, and the dream of bringing peace and democracy to the Great European Plain will sleep, perhaps to die.
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