EU must give 'response' to Ukraine situation

Ukraine's response to a possible EU association agreement showcases the need for a more individual approach for the eastern partnership, says Pawel Robert Kowal.

By Pawel Robert Kowal

18 Dec 2013

The third summit of the eastern partnership was not a disaster. The initialling of the agreements with Tbilisi and Chisinau and the announcement of the abolition of visas for Moldovan citizens are tangible achievements of the partnership project. In the case of Ukraine it was not possible to reach a successful conclusion to association talks. After almost five years of operation, we know the weak points of the eastern partnership and what should be changed. The case of Ukraine has exposed the biggest problem of the eastern dimension of the European neighbourhood policy - a lack of an individual approach to each of its six countries.

One can look perversely at the results of the Vilnius summit - the lack of agreement with Ukraine brought about an unexpected mobilisation of Ukrainian society. Who would have thought that the third gathering in Maidan square in the history of Ukraine - the first in 1990 led to the resignation of the prime minister Vitaliy Masol, the second in 2004; a repetition of falsified presidential elections -would concern Ukraine's European choice. The Ukrainian revolution – how else can we describe a three-week occupation of the centre of the capital city -is already successful. Ukrainians have proven the fact that the legacy of the Soviet Union is not hereditary. Deceived by the authorities, organised under the slogans of the pro-European political opposition, they show their displeasure. Politicians have little participation in what is happening on the main square of Kiev. Students and youngsters are the most important part of Maidan and they are ready to show their independence and non-conformism, but also self-organisation and discipline. The events that we see are civil society in a nutshell. [pullquote]Those who once stood in the cold under EU flags will not be easily tempted by the Kremlin[/pullquote].

Now we cannot lose sight of Georgia and especially Moldova. These countries will soon be a touchstone for the effectiveness of EU policy, not only in the east, but foreign policy in general. The initialling of the association agreements with the EU by states recognised by Russia as 'near abroad' have to meet with protest from the Kremlin. Moscow has the tools to show its discontent, starting with economic measures. Without financial support from the EU, the pro-Europeans among the Moldovan authorities saying that one has to fight for a European perspective may be insufficient. Quickly, even before the end of this term of the European parliament, we should sign the initialised agreements and even implement them in selected parts. Moldova and Georgia will become an example that will mobilise other countries in the region to carry out reforms and it will show their societies that these pro-EU efforts are seen in Brussels.

Second, we need to keep our word on the abolition of visas for Moldova and make credible promises to Georgia and Ukraine, stating a possible date of visa abolition. We can start with issuing only long-term, multi-entry visas. With each country we have to develop a plan of response to possible pressure from the Kremlin, particularly in the economic sphere - a confidential task for diplomats - as well as to them to respond to these problems. The EU should also consider opening the common market for certain goods like wine and food products.

Maidan reminds EU elites that politicians are not the only group that can decide on their choice of neighbours in eastern Europe. Young people without the 'bite of communism' have become a specific partner. It's time for the EU's response.