Tag Archives: European Union

Waiting for a Change in Ukraine

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, right, with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych at the Commission headquarters in Brussels, March 1, 2010. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

Aleksandr Sologub has been waiting for over a decade for concrete progress in Ukraine’s effort to win some sort of acceptance by the European Union. For Sologub, who heads the Center for Social Partnership NGO in the western Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia, such a move would mean potential access to markets and standardization of now-haphazard regulations that could greatly benefit the mainly agricultural region where he is active in promoting entrepreneurship.

So it was in a tone of great disappointment but little surprise that Sologub discussed the December decision by EU leaders to postpone an agreement leading to free trade and improved political ties with Ukraine. Speaking on the sidelines of a CIPE-organized training seminar for business association leaders in Kyiv, Sologub echoed the sentiments of many of the participants. “Whatever else Ukraine may be, it is part of Europe. That is where its economic future is,” he said.

In announcing the decision, EU leaders made clear that the “association agreement” – which had been successfully negotiated – would be put on hold until Ukraine’s government demonstrated a willingness to uphold the rule of law and halt politically motivated prosecutions. The EU’s move had been expected, especially after the October conviction of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko on charges that she abused the powers of her office.

Tymoshenko, the principal rival of Ukraine’s current president Viktor Yanukovych, argues that the charges are politically motivated. Her conviction was condemned as unfair or politically motivated by leaders from Moscow to Brussels to Washington. Observers, including Sologub, expect no change in the legal status of Tymoshenko or other convicted opposition figures until this autumn’s parliamentary elections. “We are waiting for a change,” said Sologub. “I think that is what the EU is waiting for, too.”

Economically, the EU decision comes at an especially precarious time for Ukraine, as detailed in a recent presentation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Politically, Ukrainians are fairly evenly divided on whether it is preferable to be aligned with the EU or a Russian-led Customs Union that includes Kazakhstan and Belarus, as shown in a recent public opinion survey in Ukraine by the International Republican Institute. Those divisions fall largely along geographic lines, with people in western Ukraine – like Sologub – favoring the EU, and those in eastern Ukraine feeling a greater affinity with the Customs Union.

The upcoming election cycle, which promises to be just as rough and tumble as earlier contests held over Ukraine’s two decades of independence, may provide a forum for discussing the EU decision. With 450 seats up for grabs and parties likely to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, hopefully there will plenty of opportunity for real discussion about Ukraine’s economic future amid the political attacks.

For our freedom and yours

A woman waves a European Union flag in Warsaw. Poland has called for an increased commitment to democracy assistance in Europe. Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images

The Polish people have a saying: za naszą i waszą wolność – for our freedom and yours. The phrase dates back to the era when the Polish state had ceased to exist and its exiled soldiers took up the cause of independence movements throughout the world. Now that Poland has regained its independence and its freedom, it has become a leading voice for the spread of democracy throughout post-Communist Europe and beyond.

As it assumed the presidency of the Council of the European Union on July 1, Poland’s leaders called for the the creation of a European Endowment for Democracy – an organization which, like the US-based National Endowment for Democracy, would support democratic organizations and civil society. Other European countries should follow Poland’s lead and support the Endowment for one key reason: Europe needs it.

While the great majority of European countries are functioning democracies with well-established institutions, meaningful and competitive elections, and respect for rule of law, there remain several countries where democracy is weak, troubled, or even – in the case of Belarus – a complete façade. The countries of the Western Balkans all have aspirations of joining the EU, but must shore up aspects of democratic governance to do so. Bosnia and Kosovo in particular have deeply chaotic institutional arrangements resulting from the conflicts surrounding their independence that must be addressed to ensure their continued existence as functioning states, let alone EU members. Post-Soviet Europe faces a more existential democratic crisis – Belarus is a consolidated authoritarian state and there is no guarantee that Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia will not share that condition in the future.

In this uncertain atmosphere, European countries have done their part to support democratic development in the continent, but in a highly varied and uncoordinated manner. West European countries have tended to take a “development first” approach, hoping that increased living standards and integration with the rest of Europe will bring about a more participatory approach to governance. Newer EU members – chiefly the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia – have taken a more direct approach to democracy assistance, but, as a recent report from the Carnegie Endowment indicates, have each done so in their own way, focusing their efforts on a particular country or group of countries. Furthermore, most European countries lack independent development agencies, instead channeling aid through their foreign ministries and embassies abroad, thus subjugating democracy assistance to other policy goals.

A European Endowment for Democracy will provide an effective means of supporting democratic growth in Eastern Europe outside the bounds of the complex and sluggish European bureaucracy. There are several things the EU can do from the outset to help ensure the new Endowment is a success. First, the Endowment should be based not in Brussels but in one of the Central European countries that has lent strong support to this form of democracy assistance. Warsaw is an obvious choice, but other candidates such as Prague or Vilnius would also make sense. This would not only underscore the independent nature of the Endowment, but basing the organization in a post-communist country would act as a powerful symbol of the ability of Europeans to work together to bring about democratic change.

Second, the Endowment should be funded not from the central EU budget but by individual member states, at whatever amount each country finds appropriate. Again, this would emphasize the independent nature of the Endowment, while also adhering to the values of democracy and transparency it will proclaim. Furthermore, a system of voluntary contribution will increase buy-in among the countries that contribute the most to the Endowment, and encourage them to remain active in helping it succeed.

Finally, and most importantly, the Endowment should support not only NGOs outside of the EU but also organizations based within the EU that work closely with counterparts in countries requiring assistance. For years, NGOs such as the Stefan Batory Foundation in Poland and the Pontis Foundation in Slovakia have implemented democracy-focused projects abroad, often with support from the NED.

The European Endowment should adopt this system of triangulation between itself, EU NGOs, and recipient country NGOs. Doing so will carry many benefits, including a high level of effectiveness at relatively low cost while fostering a sense of identity and common democratic destiny among Europe’s oldest and newest democratic states.

Border-free Europe expands

As of 12:01 a.m. on Friday, December 21, the European Union expanded its borderless Schengen area to 9 countries that joined the EU in 2004, mostly from the former Soviet bloc. Intra-EU borders have been open to free trade and visa-free travel since the time leading up to the accession, but now the citizens of these new member countries can move across the EU without border controls.

The dismantling of border posts was largely ceremonial, but its historical implications are immense. Peaceful removing of border controls between, for instance, Poland and Germany is something that hardly anyone would have fathomed just a few decades back. 68 years ago bloody struggle raged over this frontier, and only 18 years ago the West and the East remained separated by the seemingly impenetrable wall. Certainly the political and cultural differences remain on both sides of the border. But what seemed like a pipe dream a generation or two ago is becoming reality today.

However, the expansion of the Schengen zone is about more than symbols. It shows something very practical as well: the benefits of economic and political openness outweighing the baggage of difficult history and destructive ideologies. The Cold War division of Europe clearly illustrated how institutions enabling economic and political freedom outperformed the systems that denied those freedoms. And the post-1989 transformation in Central Europe proved that reforms are possible even if they are not easy.