Ukraine's Desire To Be Part Of A 'United Europe'

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's association agreement with the European Union must be just the start of a new relationship between the east and west

Twenty years into the post-communist era, the European Union faces two milestone questions – its financial viability and its ideological integrity.

Whereas the first is about the depth of the EU's pockets, the second is mainly about the depth of its convictions.

For example, the seriousness of its promise to build a united Europe in the full sense of the word.

Some 20 years ago, as the Soviet Union and the socialist camp crumbled - the EU's message to the rest of the continent was crystal clear: we stand by your side; we offer a helping hand with reforms, democracy and the market economy.

This message transformed our continent more quickly and profoundly than any of the wars, religious movements or crusades of the past.

Ignited by the promise of a prosperous and united Europe, whole parts of the continent leapt from being backward into modernity.

By the late 2000s, the union's message to the rest of Europe was growing slightly more ambiguous.

Yet, as the enlargement began to lose its drive in the west and central Europe, it never lost its attractiveness in the east.

Hence, the EU was faced with a number of dilemmas with regards to some aspiring candidate countries in the post-Soviet space: Ukraine being the biggest one, both in terms of sheer size and the gravity of the dilemma.

If one of these days, with all the doom-and-gloom surrounding the union's future, you would like to rekindle your faith in Europe - you should come to Ukraine.

There - you will discover an island of steadfast, unshakable belief in the European project.

The economic and political success of neighbouring Poland inspired the average Ukrainian into believing "if the Poles can do it, we can do it too".

This is the spirit and intrinsic idea on the streets of Kiev, Lviv and Donetsk.

As the association agreement with the EU is zealously finalised in Kiev and Brussels, we approach a defining moment that offers a whole array of new opportunities.

The union will make a direct impact on one of Europe's biggest territories, while Ukraine will have the opportunity to fulfill its dream of getting closer to the EU.

Let's not repeat the mistake of those who view Ukraine as a country divided into a Russia-leaning east and EU-leaning west.

In reality, the division runs between those who believe their country's rapprochement with the union means a severe breakup with Russia and the moderates who believe they can combine EU-integration with a successful Ukraine-Russia partnership.

Today, it is the moderates that are in power.

A year ago, they dropped Ukraine's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation aspirations – partly, because the idea was far from popular with voters and partly because they did not want to antagonise Russia.

But no amount of pressure on Russia's part will make Ukraine's government drop its EU aspirations.

The reason is simple: its voters want to be friends with Russia, but do not want to live like in Russia.

They want to live like their European neighbours and are ready to do whatever it takes in order to achieve this goal - be it with the EU's help or on their own dime.

Aware of the magnitude of Ukraine's homework, the government has rolled up its sleeves to accelerate EU-oriented reforms.

It has brought the country to the point where it's not only willing, but also ready to make the first palpable step towards the union in the form of a far-reaching association agreement - providing, inter alia, for a deep and comprehensive free trade area.

The implications of this step are numerous – economic, geopolitical, ideological, cultural and so on.

Most of them are of clear benefit to both the EU and Ukraine.

On the one hand, the union finally takes a clear stand towards the biggest country situated wholly in Europe.

On the other, it does so without taking too much of a political or financial commitment – simply because the EU cannot afford it these days.

For Ukraine, it will end the stigma of being a country that talks the talk but does not walk the walk.

For many years, Ukraine declared its European ambitions but failed to reinforce them with the necessary reforms.

Against this backdrop, the advent of the Yanukovych government came as a real game-changer.

Finally Ukraine began to pass the right laws, implement the necessary reforms and bring forward the negotiation process with the EU.

All this makes the association with Ukraine a right step at the right moment – both as an acknowledgment of what has been done and as encouragement to do more.

Whether you're critical of Ukraine's problems or sympathetic to its achievements, signing the AA/DCFTA is the only way to go.

Because once you commit to something, you can be held accountable.

While accessing the DCFTA Ukraine does not mean joining the club or becoming an EU candidate, it is still stepping into the elevator which is heading up, to a "united Europe".

But, if after all the work that has been done and in the face of the pressure Ukraine is exposed to from the east, the country is refused this elevator ride - that would make the very existence of a united Europe questionable.

At least in the full meaning of the word.

Source: Public Service Europe