Pluses & Minuses of Ukraine Membership in the EU for Ukraine

Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable VIII:
"Ukraine-EU Relations"

Pondering the Pluses & Minuses of Ukraine Membership in the EU for Ukraine

Audrius Bruzga

Remarks by Audrius Bruzga, Ambassador of Lithuania to the United States, delivered during Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable VIII: “Ukraine-EU Relations” Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Washington DC, October 17, 2007.

Mr. Chairman,

To begin with, may I thank the Center for US – Ukrainian Relations for the kind invitation to address this Forum. You have put together an impressive programme with dozens of outstanding speakers and offered a variety of angles to look at Ukraine. No wonder. Ukraine deserves it. It is a fascinating country going right now through a difficult transition. It needs encouragement and support. It needs attention and focus.

My advice to fellow Ukrainians at this stage is this: enjoy this attention while it lasts. When you become – mind, not if, but when – members of the European Union, you will become a stable, prosperous and boring country. No longer in the spotlight. That I can tell from our own experience: when Lithuania was singing its way through the revolution in 1990s, we were much talked about. Nowadays, the best you can do to get into the picture at all is to get into the European Union Family Photo twice a year.

Anyway, most of what I am going to say is based on my country‘s fresh experience as a new member of the EU. In many ways it should be relevant also for Ukraine.

EU membership myths

As a kick-off, let me mention a few most widely held preconceptions which were used by the anti-EU lobby to scare the people off from joining the EU. All of them proved to be false:

  • National economy will succumb before the EU competition pressures. It did not. Actually, it is undergoing a sustainable growth and a steady rise in exports inside the EU.
  • People will flee the country in the pursuit of better employment and living conditions. It did happen to a certain extent, but fears were far greater.
  • The reverse process – Europeans coming en masse and buying-out all of our beautiful land and immovable property – turned out to be absolute nonsense.
  • Smaller nations will lose their national identity inside this melting pot of the European Union – quite the opposite. There is a growing need now to show and celebrate our cultural diversity. If anything, Europeans are becoming more like Americans through the advancement of American pop culture.
  • National sovereignty will be lost for ever in exchange for the hostile and clumsy Brussels beurocracy. Not that anybody noticed a difference.

What is actually happening now is that the people in Lithuania are making the best of the rewards and benefits which came with the EU membership: robust economic growth, unrestricted access to the single European market, enhanced voice in foreign policy matters, political stability and last, but not least, financial assistance in the form of structural funds and direct payments to the farmers.

Having said that I think it is appropriate to say, that public expectations of EU membership rewards in the case of Ukraine, when it comes to this, will probably look less tangible than they are today. Structural funds will have dried out, Common agricultural policy will be up for revision, and the new financial perspective will set forth new priorities, unknown as yet.

In any case, EU membership for Ukraine is far more important than this. Let me mention at least a few points ‚why‘.

Strategic shift towards the West. Ukraine for far too long has been ‚sitting on the fence‘, trying to balance between Russia and EU. Accession to the EU would remove this ambiguity. The newly acquired sense of purpose and direction will ease and ‚grease‘ transition to an open society and free market. It will be so much easier to get over with the post-soviet legacy than it is now.

Conditionality. The EU uses carrots instead of sticks in achieving its objectives. Applicant countries have to implement reforms and introduce them into their national legal systems and do that in a timely and orderly manner. Conditionality or benchmarking proved to be a good vehicle to push applicants up the ladder. There is nothing humiliating in it. This is a good way to ensure steady progress. We know very well how powerful the forces of resistance and inertia could be.

I can tell you, that those areas in Lithuanian economy, which were not regulated by the acquis communitaire, like Health Care and Education where left un-reformed or poorly reformed and they continue to struggle now, because the urge to change has lost a momentum.

For Ukraine, as any other aspirant country, guided pre-accession reforms are needed on their own merits. It is a win-win situation.


EU membership will call for transparency in the energy business. Adjustment to World energy prices will be the result of it. Negotiated lower energy prices are only a matter of time and transition. Higher prices will stimulate more efficient consumption and will speed up introduction of modern technologies and renewable sources of energy. Diversification of energy supplies, alternative pipelines will introduce competition and hopefully they will reduce tensions and anxiety.

One such alternative route, Nabuco gas pipeline has been talked about extensively. It has also been supported by the European Union. Yet another one, the Odesa-Brody-Plock-Gdansk pipeline to transport crude oil across the Ukraine, gained prominence just recently. The political agreement among the contracting parties, including Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine to build one was reached and signed last week in Vilnius. If completed Ukraine would get one more outlet to Europe, one more instrument in her tool-box.

My expectations are that by the time Ukraine qualifies for membership, European Union would have worked out a common and coherent Energy Policy and sticks to it. Common policy should be based on the principles, mentioned earlier, i.e., transparency, efficiency, diversification but most importantly – solidarity. Solidarity among EU members is precious. I think it will also be close to Ukraine once it is in the Club.

Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is one area where Ukraine can perform especially well and can benefit from it. Already now Ukraine is active. In the framework of CFSP she can participate with troops and offer a significant input to the EU peacekeeping operations, the much needed airlift and contribute in other ways, thus raising her profile and prestige.

Closer to Ukraine‘s borders, there is the Transnistria conflict to be resolved. Not long ago President Yushchenko came with a settlement plan and later called for the EU Border Assistance Mission (BAM) to be deployed in the area. I believe Ukraine together with the EU, USA and the parties in dispute has an excellent chance to offer a timely resolution to the conflict.

European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). We in Lithuania know that Ukraine might feel disappointed, perhaps frustrated with the ENP status. It may not reflect the measure of ambition of our Ukrainian friends, it might, however, be a valuable instrument in the pursuit of the ultimate EU membership. Have faith in this policy. It will inevitably bring you closer to the EU through the advancement of such important and very practical tools as free trade or visa facilitation.

The new Enhanced Cooperation agreement between EU and Ukraine once negotiated and signed, will be yet another significant step, some say, a leap, towards greater economic integration and compatibility. You may also look
at it, as some sort of pre-accession strategy. We‘ve been through that, we know it’s painful, it takes time, but in the end it delivers. We Lithuanians will continue to stand by and support in every way we can.

EU – Ukraine Action Plan

Lithuania has a standing agreement with Ukraine to cooperate in implementing EU-Ukraine Action Plan. Common projects on Public Tender, Social Security and Labor, Customs, Sanitary have been drawn to assist our Ukrainian colleagues to upgrade their public services. Respective Ministries of Justice and Agriculture, Tax Inspectorates and Insurance Supervision Boards are working out similar cooperation patterns.

Ukraine has a lot of homework to do. For its own sake. After it is done future challenges will not be insurmountable.

Thank you.