A EU Action Plan for Ukraine

Posted in Europe | 17-Feb-14 | Author: Benedict Poettering and Dr Hubertus Hoffmann

If, out of frustration and presumption, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs only has a swear word left to say regarding the position of the EU in Ukraine, alarm bells should be ringing in America and Europe. Such lapses indicate chaotic crisis management and do not do justice to the seriousness of the situation. This is not good politics for the people of either Ukraine or Europe, and does not appear very professional.

Co-author Benedict Poettering (right), the Deputy Federal Chairman of the Junge Union Deutschlands, the youth organisation of the governing CDU/CSU party, and Vice-President of the Youth of the European People’s Party (YEEP), demanded a peaceful resolution of the delicate situation and the signing of the association agreement between the EU and Ukraine at the famous Maidan Square in Kiev, January 31, 2014.

Still, there has been no coherent and convincing master plan for Ukraine in Washington, Brussels or other European capitals. Furthermore, a much needed American-European joint approach is still missing. A consistent policy still needs to be developed, even though Ukraine has been on the agenda for decades. Simply doing things for the sake of doing things does not lead anywhere. The previous approaches seem unclear and are, rather, a continuation of an obviously ineffective Ukraine policy.

In the course of this, a lot is at stake for Europe. In the case of a civil war, the EU would be flooded with political refugees. An intervention by Moscow could then not be ruled out and could lead to an ice-cold confrontation – also on the Eastern boarder of the European Union.

Therefore, it is about time to discuss tangible ideas and detailed plans for a long-term action plan for the development of Ukraine from 2014 through 2024. Washington and Brussels, but also the Foreign Ministers of the European countries, are genuinely challenged by this. They need to deliver specific recommendations, and fast. Otherwise, they will leave the protesters out in the cold. Admonishing words and meetings are not sufficient anymore and appear embarrassing if no substance is contained within them.

The focus of the protests lies in unhappiness with the politics of President Viktor Yanukovych, the complete frustration of the people deriving from high inflation, corruption and unemployment. The country lacks the will and strength for the necessary and radical reforms. There is no outlook for its youth. Ukraine is stuck in a political and economic deadlock. Hence, protests are taking place throughout the country and on the Maidan in Kiev.

The ready-to-sign association agreement between the EU and Ukraine aims for stronger political and economic cooperation and rapprochement between Ukraine and the EU. It is about the implementation of EU political, administrative and economic regulations in Ukraine. In the economic domain, the issues of competition, customs, energy, intellectual property, public procurement, services and sustainable development are central. The agreement is in everyone's interest in Ukraine, even the strongly Russia-oriented groups in the eastern part of the country and all parties that aim to advance the country. Unfortunately, President Yanukovych bounces it in favour of a partnership with Russia.

This agreement would have made Ukraine stronger, which would in the long-term have reduced inflation, created jobs and curbed corruption. The country now needs the kind of wide-ranging and radical reforms that all political leaders have failed to recognize. The modernization of public services, the fostering of the rule of law, democracy and human rights are not serving the interests of the European Commission in Brussels, but directly serve the people of Ukraine. Hence, this agreement should be signed as soon as possible. The Ukrainians should agree to the association with the EU in a referendum that would be observed by the OSCE.

This is not directed against Russia, as this large country needs to modernize itself in the same direction. This is the only way that it can maintain its competitiveness and strengths against China and the Asian Tiger states. Currently, the country is ever further going downhill. Also, Russia needs reforms in the style of the EU and in the good tradition of Peter the Great in order to be strong.

In parallel, the EU should negotiate an agreement regarding close cooperation with Moscow. The willingness of President Putin is oftentimes doubted; however, he does not have many other choices. Without the needed reforms, he will leave a sinking ship behind and his legacy will fade. If he is successful with modernisation though, he will go down in history as 'Vladimir the Great.'

The rich economic elite, the important medium-sized businesses and the youth need reforms and thus also a development and trade partnership with the EU. The strategic target continues to be to avoid confrontation with the Kremlin, and instead to oversee its inclusion in a new partnership structure that helps the country.

If Ukraine decides in favor of an association agreement, the door for Russia needs to remain open. Within this association agreement, Ukraine should integrate the formula that Russia will be invited, as well to become a partner of the EU. This is not a utopian idea, but feasible. After two dire world wars and the assault of the Wehrmacht on Russia, leaving millions dead, the relationship between Germany and Russia today is stable and friendly. Also, the relations between the Russians and the nationally-focussed Ukrainians could and should follow this policy of détente and foster reconciliation and respect for one another.

Thus, within the next weeks the EU should put together two plans for the association of Ukraine and a partnership with Russia and negotiate both in parallel. Afterwards, Brussels needs to get Washington on board as well.

Following the harsh confrontation, a phase of reconciliation needs to follow. The Russian-Orthodox cultural identity of parts of the population needs to be protected and this is only aligned with the allegations of the Council of Europe and the UN Charter, as well as the experiences of Germany with its former archenemies of France and Poland. Ukraine should be a stable and open bridge between Russia and Western Europe.

The EU and the IMF need to present a detailed catalogue for reforms and also to secure funding for the upcoming five to ten years. So far, a lot has seemed too vague. The EU cannot advance an association while leaving open the funding of its implementation. This was the main mistake of the approach up till now, because Ukraine is effectively bankrupt. There are at least 15 billion dollars missing for the upcoming 12 months alone. That is why Yanukovych grabbed the thick financial lifebelt from Moscow: Putin's commitment of 12 billion dollars, of which eight billion have already been paid.

Without the insertion of money, the EU will not be able to enact effective policies towards Ukraine and its approach will seem neither viable nor convincing. That is why the financial requirements for the next ten years and the running costs need to be disclosed. One third of this support could be covered by the US and two thirds could be taken over by the EU. Will this be 30 or even 50 billion dollars? In any case it will be very expensive, ultimately also for Russia.

Nevertheless, this gigantic sum will flow into the Black Sea without a solid foundation of radical reforms. Central to this is the strengthening of the Parliament towards the executive power of the President through a constitutional revision. The countering of corruption could be enhanced by drawing on examples from all over the world. The administration should orient itself on the EU's model student of Estonia and its effective and budget-friendly e-government. We need a specific catalogue of reforms of a lot of measures with price tags and timelines. The funding of projects needs to be ensured through the EU and the US, so that money cannot seep away again into a cesspool.

Quick re-elections seem to be unavoidable. But even these require the basis of new reform politics, as a mere change at the top is not sufficient.

A Ukraine 3.0 with good relations with East and West and a stable and healthy foundation is feasible. Let us now, in concrete terms, take the necessary steps and stop merely talking. Let us be optimistic. Let us refrain from insults and get to work. Let us get Russia on board, along with the culturally-rooted Ukrainians in the east of the country. Let us begin a policy of reconciliation, like that pursued by Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl. All of this belongs together in order for us to create stability for the Ukrainians, Russians and us EU-Europeans.