Assessing Ukraine’s Prospects for Joining the EU

Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable VI:
“Ukraine’s Transition to an Established National Identity”

Assessing Ukraine’s Prospects for Joining the EU

Steven Pifer

Remarks by Ambassador Steven Pifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and former envoy of the United States to Ukraine, delivered during Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable VI: “Ukraine’s Transition to an Established National Identity” Panel: Assessing Ukraine’s Prospects for Joining the European Union Washington, D.C, Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Starting Premises

I would like to begin my talk on Ukraine and the European Union with three starting premises.

FIRST, joining the EU is a sensible policy for Ukraine. A Ukraine that fully reflects Europe’s democratic values, has a market economy, and is fully integrated into Europe will be better positioned to satisfy the Ukrainian people’s aspirations and provide a stable and prosperous future.

SECOND, I believe that having Ukraine as a member is in the EU’s interest. The European Union should want a stable, prosperous member on its eastern flank. That said, I’m not sure that many in the EU see it in these terms. The EU has tended to take a very cautious line on Ukraine; there is, for example, no “open door” language as NATO has. The EU’s strategic view of Ukraine has been somewhat myopic.

THIRD, Ukraine in the EU is fully consistent with the U.S. Government’s vision of a Europe that is whole, free and increasingly integrated. But it is not easy for the USG to press this point, as EU members regard this as an internal question.

Not the Best Time to Pursue Membership

Let me note that now is a difficult time for Ukraine to be pursuing membership, for reasons that are entirely beyond Kyiv’s control.

FIRST, the EU is still digesting its 2004 expansion wave, when it took in ten new member-states. That has posed more issues and challenges than many in the EU had supposed, and there is little appetite right now for talk of another wave of enlargement.

SECOND, the EU is facing something of a crisis following the French and Dutch rejections of the European Constitution. Historically, when the EU focuses on an internal problem, it has a harder time taking a coherent view regarding external issues.

What Should Ukraine Do?

This does not mean that Ukraine should give up on membership. It just means that Kyiv must formulate an approach toward the EU that takes account of this context. This means that Ukraine needs to pursue a patient, long-term strategy. Entry into the EU will be a 15-year project, so the Ukrainian government should not set unrealistically short timelines.

A key point to remember is that Ukraine’s path to EU does not lie through Brussels or through the capitals of the member states. It lies through Ukraine and effecting the kinds of democratic and economic reforms that will make clear that Ukraine has embraced Europe’s values.

One speaker said yesterday (day one of the roundtable) that the Orange Revolution had demonstrated that the Ukrainian people have embraced democracy. That is partly true.

What Ukraine must show now is that it has institutionalized democratic institutions, that the Orange Revolution’s democratic principles are now embodied in Ukrainian political practice.

A key benchmark in this regard will be a free and fair process leading up to the March 2006 Rada elections. The goal should be an OSCE assessment that 2006 election process was free, fair and fully consistent with OSCE standards – with no qualifiers. This would be huge signal to the EU and the West that politics in Ukraine have changed in a fundamental way.

A second focus should be economic reform. This means enabling and empowering small and medium enterprises, creating a good climate for investment, and getting into the World Trade Organization as soon as possible. Early entry into the WTO will facilitate conclusion of a free trade arrangement with the EU and, possibly, market economy status.

Progress on democratic and market economy reforms will be strongest point that Ukraine can make regarding its eligibility for the EU.

Kyiv should also focus on implementation of the EU-Ukraine action plan. Foreign Minister Tarasyuk said the week of September 19 that Ukraine had met 40% of its commitments; the Ukrainian government should aim to demonstrate it has met all its undertakings as soon as possible. That will help overcome the perception in Brussels that Ukraine is more talk than action.

Some Tactics for Engaging EU

As the Ukrainian government engages the EU, it faces several tactical choices about the best way to do so.

FIRST, Kyiv needs to decide how “loudly” to press its campaign for EU membership. One course would be for the Ukrainian government, as it implements reforms, to keep hammering publicly on its intention to join the EU. This will keep that message front and center in the minds of the target audience in the EU.

An alternative course would be to cut back on the rhetoric and let reforms do the talking – demonstrate by real actions Ukraine’s determination to become a full member of Europe. There may be some value in this course now, given the EU’s preoccupation with internal issues such as absorbing its new members and its constitution.

Does Ukraine want to keep asking the membership question now when it knows that it will get the wrong answer?

The Ukrainian government needs to think this one out carefully.

SECOND, Kyiv needs to consider how to use Poland, the Baltic states and others in Central/Eastern Europe, i.e., “new” Europe to help its case with the EU. They can be a real asset for Ukraine. Each of those countries pursued a difficult reform path to become eligible for EU membership, and they can provide Ukraine good advice.

Moreover, most of them wish to see Ukraine firmly anchored to, and ultimately in, the EU, and they can support Ukraine in EU councils.

But the Ukrainian government must be careful as it engages “new” Europe not to needlessly alienate “old” Europe. In drawing closer to the EU, Kyiv needs the support not just of Riga and Warsaw, but also of Paris and Berlin.

THIRD, Ukraine should look for ways to “Europeanize” its foreign and security policies, to align itself with the EU. One example is to work closely with the EU as Ukraine tries to inject new momentum into resolving the Transnistrian problem in Moldova.

FOURTH, Great Britain currently holds the EU presidency, and the British government in the past has favored a “broader” view of Europe. Kyiv should consider whether this might present an opportunity to secure more welcoming language for Ukraine at the December EU-Ukraine summit.

And FIFTH, Ukraine should actively engage the European Parliament in addition to the European Commission and individual member-states. The European Parliament has shown itself more sympathetic to Ukraine; its January 2005 resolution called upon the Commission to create a European perspective for Ukraine, including the possibility of EU membership.

The Ukrainian mission in Brussels should have an office charged with parliamentary liaison, with outreach to members of the European Parliament, and with promoting contacts between them and Rada members.

In Conclusion

I would like to close with three thoughts.

FIRST, if Ukraine is serious about EU membership, it is imperative that Kyiv take the democratic and economic reform actions that will make clear that Ukraine is following Poland and the Baltic states in joining Europe.

SECOND, Kyiv needs to keep in mind that the EU is not in the most receptive mood now regarding Ukrainian membership. So Ukraine needs to look to a long-term effort and design a subtle diplomatic approach to have the greatest impact in the long run.

THIRD, if Ukraine implements reforms in a focused way and pursues smart diplomacy, the result can – and, I hope
, will – be a gradual and positive evolution in the EU view toward one that is more welcoming of Ukraine.

Thank you.