Ukraine has a right to EU membership
Speech to Ukraine-EU Conference - 28th November 2002
EU enlargement to 25 members is about to be confirmed at the December Copenhagen summit with Bulgaria and Romania in all probability to follow in 2007. Barring Referenda rejections in the candidate states, which looks a possibility only in Malta, Latvia and Poland, this process is now all but a foregone conclusion. 7 new NATO members have now been welcomed at the Prague summit. But what should the moves be after that? Once the Balkan states have made it in, how does the EU broach the delicate but essential debate as to who else fits in and who doesn't, and what the union's long-term and final boundaries are?
Having recently returned from Ukraine, I, unlike President Prodi who appears to have made another of his frequent gaffes, am a firm convert to its legitimate claim to be in the club. Currently it is going through a very difficult period with large scale political protests this autumn against President Kuchma, a change in Prime Minister to strongman Viktor Yanukovich in order to bolster President Kuchma's weakened leadership, allegations of illegal exports of the Kolchuga radar system to Iraq being sanctioned by President Kuchma and a cold shouldering of the President at the Prague NATO summit by the cynical use of the French language. On the Economic front Ukraine is running privatization receipts of only about one-tenth of the 2002 budget target, creating a fiscal financing gap with tax revenues also running below target, resulting in a recent downgrade by S&P of its Bond ratings. Nevertheless no one can doubt the strategic role this country of 48 million highly educated Europeans plays as a bridge between Western Europe and Russia. Sadly over 6 million of them work abroad in these hard economic times.
During my travels I also spent 3 days in Moscow and was pleasantly surprised at the relaxed attitude expressed by senior Russian politicians towards Ukraine's European integrational aspirations. Ukraine shares a long common history with its Russian neighbour with the same ambivalence which characterizes the Irish Republic-U.K. relationship. The West was somewhat surprised by Kiev's declaration of independence from Russia 10 years ago and is still formulating its attitudes towards Ukraine - for instance it was the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid until the recent suspension of $ 54 million after the Kolchuga Radar allegations.
After enlargement, Ukraine's total trade with the EU is predicted to overtake that which it currently has with Russia. At present, the two countries are coordinating their applications to join WTO, and Russia has been declared a functioning market economy and continues to benefit from the high global oil price, which therefore indirectly also benefits Ukraine.
Too much attention in the international media has been devoted to the occasional outrage or tragedy, yet some or all of these undesirable activities are also prevalent in other Central and Eastern European candidate countries and the former Yugoslav Republics -which are nevertheless recognized as legitimate candidate members or eventual potential ones. Freedom House for instance classifies Romania like Ukraine as a transitional democracy with a market economy, and its economic reforms and the rule of law are alleged to have deteriorated in Romania between 1998-2002.
Of course, for Ukraine much remains to be done to qualify for the EU, particularly on structural reforms to the economy and exposing corruption. However, insufficient recognition is given to Ukrainian efforts to build - without any previous tradition - a democratic society and encourage a free press which is still too submissive to vested interests and denied editorial freedom by owners.
The West forgets that Ukraine is a newly independent country which has never existed in its current boundaries and yet it has had an excellent record in its treatment of national minorities particularly the 300 000 strong Tartars who have returned to the Crimea. The country is struggling with a mentality gap between the older generation - more instinctively pro-Russian, with ingrained habits from the Soviet days of authoritarianism and secrecy - and the younger generation, who are more westernized and less attached to Russia. For some of Ukraine's elite they pay only lip service to Euro-Atlantic integration secretly fearing that EU membership would actually damage through competition and transparency their oligarchic interests, which was proven by when they got rid of reformist Prime Minister Viktor Yushenko.
The Catholic, Uniate, western half of Ukraine was part of Poland and Czechoslovakia until WWII and deeply resents being abandoned by western Europe, where they feel they naturally belong. They envy the fact that those two countries will shortly be part of the EU. After enlargement, Ukraine will fall on the wrong side of the new EU external Schengen perimeter, with all the difficulties this will pose to trade and free passage.
Favourable mention is rarely made of; Ukraine's unilateral renunciation of its legacy nuclear arsenal and its programme of destroying X-22 Cruise missiles and Tu-22 heavy bombers, its current healthy economic growth rate of 6% (albeit from a low base), its rising foreign exchange reserves and recent bumper grain harvests. This followed the 1999 Presidential decree break-up of the collective farms and is happening in spite of the difficulties posed by the tax authorities which refuse to VAT zero rate the grain exports.
Ukraine has been cooperative on foreign affairs issues, particularly in the Balkans, with a remarkably successful joint Ukraine-Polish Brigade and in spite of a massive underspend on its military budget. I welcome the vote today in the Rada approving measures to combat money-laundering and terrorism. The government is cooperating in the U.S-led global war on terrorism by improving security at Ukrainian nuclear plants, and it is investigating allegations, revealed in the Milishenko tapes, by the U.S. of sensitive military technology being sold to Iraq and has welcomed UN Inspectors to visit. The parliament, or Rada, recently outlawed the sex-slave trade and a new, dedicated police unit has begun making arrests. New Prime Minister Yanukovych has pledged to continue economic reforms and voiced support for the transition to a parliamentary system of government.
Unlike the European Parliament after the July 2002 EU-Ukraine summit meeting, however, the European Commission and Council have failed to recognize Ukraine's long term ambitions to accede to the EU. As have NATO at the recent Prague summit. They seem instead to be encouraging a new Iron Curtain at Ukraine's western borders. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has proposed a novel "neighbouring country policy" by including Ukraine unfairly with the failing state of Moldova and repressive Belarus.
The problem in Ukraine - in the absence of strong Westernizing influences which may reemerge if former Prime Minister Viktor Yuschenko is elected president in 2004 - is that given the Russian "near abroad" policy it is hard to shake-off heavily supported vested interests. These are particularly prominent in the parliament, where we see an unholy alliance between big business oligarchs and Petro Symonenko's pro-Russian Communists.
The recent rapprochement between the West and Russia is unlikely to improve Ukraine's chances of European integration. The EU may be more likely now to disregard Ukraine's interests in order to please Russia as a common ally in the war on global islamicist terrorism - which is placing enormous pressure on President Leonid Kuchma's government to join its own EuroAsian Economic Community. The Western view that Kuchma is bad and Ukraine good and all else is on hold whilst he is in power currently prevails.
The most recent isolation of Kuchma over Kolchuga by the USA has even led to Ukraine seeking strong alliances economically with Communist China which Kuchma visited recently. The Chairman of the Foreign affairs Committee of the Rada Dmytro Tabachnyk has even suggested that a Euro-Atlantic orientation for Ukraine could be replaced by the Tashkent Block or even the 3rd world as Belarus did in 1994.
This threat is mercifully somewhat unlikely as only the extreme left supports Ukrainian membership of the proposed Russian-Belarus Union, with none of the centrist blocks giving support, which anyway even President Putin has rejected on the Union model proposed by the maverick President Lukashenka. In part of course Kuchma's line of "to Europe with Russia" is already a reality.
With luck, President Kuchma will have to stand down in 2004, thus making way for a reformist candidate. The new president will need to further consolidate a "functioning market economy" and satisfy the Copenhagen criteria on good governance, democracy and human rights, so that a Europe Agreement and Associate membership status becomes a reality.
Many of us believe that if Turkey is allowed to be a candidate for the European Union, with all the geographical and cultural controversy that will pose, then surely Ukraine has the same or perhaps an even greater right to a roadmap for its long-term goal of EU membership.