Blog AnalysisEU diplomacy

Some lessons from the Ukrainian crisis

Defining our neighborhood, not a simple question of removing barriers (© NGV /B2)
Defining our neighborhood, not a simple question of removing barriers (© NGV /B2)

(BRUSSELS2) The “Kiev revolt” will be on the agenda this Monday at the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, during lunch (lunch in French, dinner in Belgian). The “rot” tactic played by the regime – however, does not bode well. And everyone can fear that after the Sochi games – and the relative Olympic truce – the repression will resume its course, in a more intensive manner. Will Europeans have time to also think about the long term of their relations with Ukraine and beyond? We hope so. Because the European Union can no longer move forward blindfolded on its “association” policy or on the “borders” of Europe, which it seems necessary to revisit or redefine.

Revisiting the neighborhood policy

“Revisiting” does not mean abandoning neighborhood policy. We must re-examine this policy from a new angle: that of an enlargement of Europe which is about to be completed and of a Russian neighbor which has reaffirmed its desire for political presence, in a resounding manner in 2008 with the forceful passage of the Georgian border. 1991 is a long way away today... The time of a Russia weakened by the end of the former USSR must be seen as a page in history that is turning.

An association agreement is not neutral

Even if the Europeans deny it, signing an association agreement with a country is not “neutral”. This means a profound opening of one economy to another, certain structural reforms and a certain commitment to governance and Human Rights, which has real political and economic significance. This also means a backlash on other agreements that the country concerned could sign with its other neighbors. It is therefore not a simple agreement to import cars or dairy products. It is an act of importance both for the inhabitants of the country concerned, those of surrounding countries and Europeans more generally.

The East is not the South

Having a “neighborhood” policy based on the same “calibers” between the East and the South means forgetting certain geopolitical data.

In the South, we are faced with a multitude of countries which are very little linked together, except by a feeling of belonging to an Arab community (for some), or are in latent hostility and have completed their decolonization process. For these countries, it is also quite clear that an association agreement (Turkey aside) does not mean a first step towards integration into the European Union. Because a primary condition is missing: being on European territory.

In the East, there are countries that are certainly today independent but which have not yet completed their “decolonization” of their former overlord, Russian. On the one hand, there is this permanent “shadow” of Moscow. A Russian giant who can neither be ignored nor despised. On the other hand, these countries are, more or less, on European territory and have an intrinsic “vocation” to enter the European Union, at least as the political definition of enlargement stands. And they believe it. It's not association that Ukrainians are aiming for, it's being part of Europe. Especially since they are very close to certain countries with which they share the same history: Ukraine with Lithuania and Poland and Moldova with Romania. We must not minimize these links, this history and this common psychology which are not just the coincidence of geography. An association agreement therefore appears for these border countries as a simple necessary step towards integration into the European Union. Even if a country like Ukraine only resembles a state of law in name…

Open your eyes to the links between Russia and its neighbors

By promising an association agreement, by wanting to negotiate it “two” with kyiv and by not involving Moscow, Europe played and still plays with fire. Even if political theory dictates that each state is independent, it is a geographical, political and historical reality: Ukraine has strong links with Russia. Unless we go back to a time when this territory was part of… Poland, negotiating today an “association” agreement with kyiv in a certain way requires the agreement of Moscow. Negotiate “against or without Moscow”, as the head of German diplomacy, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, recently reminded us at the Munich security conference, does not seem possible in real life.

A difference in approach

Europeans do not want (and cannot) engage in a new Cold War conflict with their Russian neighbor. Moscow, which is leading a “true global approach” in this area, the one that the Europeans boast about but which they are unable to implement. The Kremlin has the upper hand over the legal and political instrument, as well as over the main economic elements (gas in particular). Faced with him, Europeans appear divided. Putin knows this and can play on his divisions.

The neighborhood needs a real policy, Europe needs stability

We must find “something else” which is both stronger and more useful for the countries on its border, which does not sound like a provocation or a detachment for regional powers, and which organizes the European perimeter not as countries “associated” in a unitary way with Europe but organizes them according to regional logics. Europe needs, above all, stability at its borders. What is happening in Ukraine could usher in a serious period of instability in an important country in our neighborhood which covers almost the entire eastern border of Europe: from the Baltic countries to Romania. Realistically, both Brussels and Moscow have no interest in the Ukrainian “powder keg” exploding uncontrolled. And Russia is, to some extent, an “objective” ally of European construction (even if we do not really always share the same values). It therefore seems necessary to open a Brussels-Moscow-kyiv dialogue.

Demarcate Europe

A blur on the borders to be clarified

This affair highlights the vagueness that reigns today over the limits of Europe. This vagueness – useful – in the past – turns out to be harmful today, inside and out. When Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle indicates that the question of Ukraine's accession to the EU will have to be asked for a moment, he reignites a powder keg, both inside and outside. of the EU. (Füle said in Munich: “If we are serious about helping Ukraine's transformation, we must consider serious instruments, including using the enlargement instrument »).

Internally, it generates a certain feeling of insecurity, a lack of ownership of what Europe is: at 27 yesterday, at 28 then 33 today, at 2000 tomorrow (with the Balkan countries) . Where will what increasingly looks like a headlong rush stop? Especially since most of the questions linked to enlargement have still not been resolved. The successive “constitutional” summits: in Nice in the early 2007s, as in Lisbon in 35, have not really resolved the problem of European governance, particularly on “how” to organize European structures at XNUMX.

From the outside, this gradual expansion can be viewed with concern. Like an attempt at appropriation. Starting with Russia, so jealous of its former empire, with leaders who still think in the “former Soviet Union” zone.

It is therefore clearly important to define the limit to the European Union. And quick. There is no need for a change in the Treaty, all that is needed is a reaffirmation of the criteria accompanied by a political declaration that the European Union has today reached (with the integration of the Balkans) its threshold of maturity. And that no decision on further “enlargement” outside of the negotiations already initiated or promised (Balkans, Norway, Iceland, Turkey) will be undertaken.

PS: A test! In politics, as in scientific research, it is sometimes necessary to think in “test” terms. So let’s do the “Moscow test”. Suppose the Kremlin changes its mind (within ten years for example) and asks to sign an association agreement and then negotiate accession to the European Union, committing to respect all the criteria indicated. Will it be possible without leading the European Union astray and threatening the balance, often difficult to find between European countries, to accept such an application?

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).