Tag Archives: Ukraine

Ukraine, the EU and the colorful materialization of misunderstanding

Political reflections on ‘your little Europe in the Kyiv metropolis

Picture: Colorful houses, Comfort Town, Kyiv, Ukraine by Stephen Rush, photo taken on November 3, 2012

Picture: Colorful houses, Comfort Town, Kyiv, Ukraine by Stephen Rush, photo taken on November 3, 2012

David Lodder, 18 November 2016. Originally published on www.natolinblog.com.

Comfort Town is an overly colorful city within a city that promises its inhabitants ‘the real European experience’. In reality the fenced off neighborhood and its alleged 5000 happy families achieve the direct opposite of this goal. They reveal the misinterpretation of a European Union that seems both incredibly close and very far away.

 

What is it that supposedly makes this little oasis on the eastern bank of the Dnepr so European? A long description on the website of the residential complex crowns the non-functional red windmill in front of a bright yellow flat as the symbol of the European conception according to which the town was build. Viktor, a middle-aged resident enjoying the afternoon in the park, chose to move to Comfort Town because “it’s a residential complex of a closed type and of a European type”. A more profound explanation of its European’ character can be found among the many pictures, stories and interviews featured on the website. Safety, color, an easy life and child friendly utilities seem to be the most dominant elements. Olena Yermakova, a Ukrainian student at the College of Europe in Warsaw provides us with a more straightforward answer: “The Ukrainian perspective of ‘European’ comprises that which is not Soviet”. What makes Europe so desirable is not something concrete and tangible, it is determined by its contrast with the relics of a very recent past. Moving away from modern housing into the realm of political considerations, this includes ideas of democratic values, economic prosperity and progressive values.

These strong, often dichotomous perceptions of the EU reached their height during the Revolution of Dignity on the Maidan Square in 2014. The organizers of the protest utilized the European flag as a symbol of freedom and democratic liberty as opposed to the semi-authoritarian rule of Yanukovych. By contrast, in his ‘Ukraine Diaries[1]’ Andrej Kurkov explains how at the same time the anti-European Ukrainian Choice movement managed to persuade many Ukrainians that closer association with the European Union would lead to a universal conversion to homosexuality. Where the last claim is not difficult to debunk, the former seems more deeply rooted in both the convictions of many young Ukrainians as well as in the external communication strategy of the European Union itself. Notwithstanding the political and economic achievements of decades of European integration, to declare the project as an ultimate democratic success seems somehow premature. With record-low electoral participation, what many see as democratic back sliding in Poland and Hungary and increasing dissatisfaction with the unfairly distributed advantages brought about by European integration, it seems there is still quite some trouble in ‘paradise’.

Democratic disillusion

One could ask why defining a somewhat overly glorified goal to strive for should be criticized. The fact that it can motivate an otherwise politically less active community to work together to change the status-quo can only be applauded.  The danger lies in the disillusion that follows the confrontation with a reality that will never be able to live up to the ideal that inspired it. The Russian poet and dissident Joseph Brodsky accurately describes a similar quick succession feeling of high expectations and consequent disillusion among dissidents in the USSR: “Hopelessly cut off from the rest of the world, they thought that at least that world was like themselves; now they know that it is like the others, only better dressed”[2]. Even though the context might be different, there is an increasing risk that the young Ukrainians who turned their hopeful gaze to the West will cultivate a similar feeling of disillusion with the pace and depth of the European project.

The mutual idea of a somehow democratically superior European Union furthermore obstructs the lessons the European Union can learn from Ukraine. A practical and slightly ironic example of this is provided by Prof. Yaroslav Hrytsak from the Ukrainian Catholic University of Lviv, who explains that the Revolution has created an unprecedented level of political participation among the young Ukrainian population. In the process of protesting in favor of the European model of democracy they have, at least in terms of participation, easily surpassed their peers in that very same European Union.

It is hard to imagine Comfort Town in Amsterdam, Paris or Berlin; not because the people in these cities categorically despise color, but because of an increasing dissatisfaction with anything associated with ‘the European experience’. Comfort Town nonetheless has more in common with the European Union than meets the eye. Both started out in a relatively open and inclusive manner and ended up as communities fenced off from their neighbors. Both promise a set of European values that in reality rarely live up to the ideals that inspired them. This should not dissuade those living in these two communities to keep on striving for this European ideal. It should make us aware that its realization will require more than buying a house or signing an association agreement.

[1] Kurkov, Andrey. Ukraine Diaries: Dispatches from Kiev. Translated by Sam Taylor. Random House UK, 2015.

[2] Brodsky, Joseph. Less Than One: Selected Essays. 4.1.1987 edition. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1987.

 

 

David Lodder is currently a student of the College of Europe, Natolin Campus. 

Already 100 days for EU foreign policy under the leadership of Federica Mogherini. What has changed so far?

Infographic source: EEAS, http://eeas.europa.eu/top_stories/2015/infographic-100-days-mandate_en.htm

By Damien Helly

The style of EU Foreign and security policy has already changed: Europe’s face is younger, more energetic, and often appears firmer than it did a year ago. The stronger synergies between development and other external policies are expectedly less visible with a European agenda highly dominated by security crises. Yet the attitude is new: more self-assured and visible than Cathy Ashton, who reportedly hardly ever made public statements without preparation or a spokesperson by her side. Mogherini’s almost relaxed attitude – sometimes using her personal political charisma if not charm – and as her rather tough statements on the need for reforms in Ukraine during her press conference in Kyiv, contrast with her predecessor’s more discreet and measured tone. Mogherini does not hesitate to add a personal touch to her public statements – including on social media -which also seem to become more frequent and more assertive: Europe has found a voice. Continue reading

The launching of the second phase of the European Neighbourhood Policy (2014-2020) in a challenging regional context

The post below is a summary of a high level round-table organised by the Department of EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies, College of Europe, Bruges on 10 October 2014.

Professor Erwan Lannon, professor in the Department of EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies, opened the round-table with an overview of the main innovations of the new phase of the European Neighbourhood Policy and its regional context. He underlined that in the second phase of the ENP, elements such as conditionality, increased differentiation, mutual accountability and the promotion of political cooperation have been strengthened. Professor Lannon mentioned as well that the new priorities are currently being set out for the new European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) under the leadership of the new European Commission. He stressed that the growing instability in the EU’s neighbourhood showed that the revision of 2011 was not sufficient and required further changes. He also welcomed the regained focus on universal rather than EU values in the new financial instrument, and concluded that the recent events in the EU’s neighbourhood, in which international borders have been unilaterally modified, prove that the stakes for the EU are considerable.

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The first speaker to take the floor was Professor Fouad Ammor, Professor of International Relations and researcher at the University of Rabat. He started his presentation by drawing a general picture of the Maghreb, first at a regional level, and then at a country-specific level. He underlined that despite the multiple elements that unite the region – a common history, language, culture, and economic ties – the Maghreb region remains to this day one of the least integrated regions in the world, and this mainly due to political conflicts that date back to the Cold War. Professor Ammor then turned to consider the first phase of the ENP and its impact in the region. While the ENP could to some extent be considered the successor of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP), launched with the Barcelona Declaration in 1995,he argued that the ENP in fact constituted a “rupture” with past policy, the objectives of which were much less clear than those of the EMP.

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Professor Ammor went on to evaluate the ENP’s economic, political and geopolitical impact. He pointed out that, notwithstanding the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument’s contribution to the region in absolute terms, the breakdown of the figures per inhabitant and per country reveals a great disparity between the South and the East, with the latter being clearly favoured over the former. Moreover, the conclusion of Free Trade Areas between the Mediterranean Partner Countries and the EU has widened their trade deficits with the EU. From a political point of view, Professor Ammor welcomed the 2011 European Commission Communications on democratisation in the region, but regretted the insufficient follow-up, as well as the EU’s timid position on the regional conflicts and tendency to align with US positions. Finally, from a geopolitical perspective, he stressed once more that the EU should look beyond its immediate neighbourhood and consider the wider regional landscape.

Professor Ammor concluded his presentation by outlining what the Partner Countries expect of the EU: A stronger Europe speaking with a single voice, advancing coherent positions and pursuing clear strategies. He also underlined the need for a more inclusive Europe, and the rejection of the xenophobic movements fermenting in several member states. Finally, he also pledged for a more autonomous Europe vis-à-vis the United States, for a greater engagement of Europe in the regional conflicts and for a Europe that foresees problems and is able to anticipate solutions.

The second speaker was Salam Kawakibi, Deputy Director of the Arab Reform Initiative, who painted a picture of the challenges of the new context in the Middle East. Mr. Kawakibi began his intervention by criticising the oversimplified version that western media convey about the situation in the Middle East and went on to debunk some common myths.

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First, he noted that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), far from being a new phenomenon, has existed since 2004 and has been financially independent since 2007. We should, he argued, pay attention to other forces in the region than ISIS to account for the tearing down of the borders established by the Sykes-Picot Agreement in the early 20th century. The second oversimplification he tackled was on the Syrian Revolution. He stressed that when the revolution started in 2011 it was a peaceful movement. Only after four years of conflict, the usage of heavy weaponry, including chemical arms, and continuous prevarication by the international community did the armed opposition in Syria turn radical. The third issue he addressed were the connections between the Syrian government and the jihadists. Mr. Kawakibi drew attention to the fact that from 2003 to 2008, the Syrian secret services trained a number of jihadists to combat the US in Iraq, some of whom were also put into action against Israeli forces in the refugee camps in Lebanon in 2006. However, in 2008, when Syria began to shed its international pariah status with Bashar al-Assad’s visit to Paris, the government put an end to the programme. According to Mr. Kawakibi, this partially explains the decision of the terrorists to join the Syrian opposition which transformed the peaceful protest into a radical insurgency. As a fourth point, Mr. Kawakibi evoked the millions of internally displaced people in Syria and refugees living in camps outside the country, a humanitarian disaster which in his assessment lays the foundations for fermenting further extremism in the near future.

Then Mr. Kawakibi moved on to consider the role of regional actors. He first addressed the position of Turkey, underlining the importance of the Kurdish and Alevi minorities, and the fact that over two million Syrians are now taking refuge on Turkish territory. He also criticised the indecision of the EU, and in particular the behaviour of some of its Member States, such as Greece or Bulgaria, for not respecting their legal obligations towards immigrants and asylum-seekers. On the other hand, Mr. Kawakibi pointed out that the “true friends” of Syria were Russia and Iran. As regards Russia, he argued that Russia benefits from the EU’s disunity and that Moscow is now taking revenge for its decade-long marginalisation in the resolution of international differences.

In conclusion, Mr. Kawakibi expressed his scepticism about the possibility of a positive response from the EU, but expressed his faith in Europe’s civil society, appealing also directly to the students of the College of Europe. He concluded by drawing a parallel between the situation during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and the current situation in Syria. He shared his concern that as was the case then, when the international community rehabilitated Franco as an ally to combat communism, a similar situation could happen in the present by reintegrating al-Assad into the international concert to combat radical extremists.

The third and final speaker was Professor Roman Petrov, Jean Monnet Chair in EU Law at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” in Kiev, who spoke about the relations between the EU and its Eastern neighbours. He first acknowledged the positive contributions that the ENP, and its Eastern dimension, the Eastern Partnership (EaP), have brought to the region. Professor Petrov highlighted Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia as the best examples of approximation to the EU acquis through the conclusion of a new generation of association agreements, and the impact that these new agreements will have in the legal systems of the respective countries. Another positive element underlined by Professor Petrov are the visa facilitation agreements.

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Professor Petrov then moved on to outline some of the ENP and the Eastern Partnership’s main failures. According to him, the main flaw of the EaP was the fact that the EU did not consider what he defined as the “Russian factor” when designing the policy, which in the long run has become the main obstacle to the EU’s engagement in the region. The second main failure has been the EU’s inability to foster the so-called “good neighbourly relations”, set as an over-arching goal of the EaP, due mainly to the incapacity of the EU to provide the necessary security guarantees to the EaP countries. For Professor Petrov, this has turned the EU’s Eastern neighbourhood from a “ring of friends” into a “ring of fire”. In his concluding remarks, professor Petrov suggested how and where the ENP and EaP could be improved. Firstly, he stressed the importance of strengthening the principle of ‘good neighbourly relations’, and urged the Union to step up as a regional security provider. Secondly, he insisted on Russia’s necessary role in the region and the need to avoid isolating Moscow to be able to reach a resolution of the conflicts in the neighbourhood. Finally, he stressed the need for full implementation of the new association agreements, especially the DCFTAs, which he considered to be their core element.

The event was the last of a series of conferences and lectures on the ‘ENP in a Comparative Perspective’ organised by the Department of EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies in 2013-14 with the financial support of the European Commission. The initiative aims at a comparison of different co-operation schemes that the European Union has in place with partner countries in order to put the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) into context and to draw lessons from the experience of other third countries.

Ukraine and Georgia: Between the Wider Europe and the New Russian Geopolitics

UkraineUkraine and Georgia, two states between East and West, are of interest for the European Union, for Russia and for the United States. Kiev and Tbilisi have not written their future yet, but we could make some prospects according to the current geopolitics of the region. Will Ukraine and Georgia make advances towards the European integration or will they stay under the Russian influence? Continue reading