Association with Ukraine is not over, but Russia and Turkey need to be consulted.

When the course of history is influenced by the people, politicians must seize the opportunity to launch new and appealing projects. Protesters in Kiev in November/December 2013, waving EU flags, not only remind us of the Orange Revolution in 2004, but also of the end of the communist regime in Berlin in 1989. Will European political parties have the courage to respond to this historical outcry and think beyond the old dichotomy of enlargement / association? This is one of the challenges of the elections in May 2014.

Context: returning to ever more relevant ideas

This article is an update of an OpEd published in Le Monde on 11 November 2010 in the context of the summit that gathered France, Germany and Russia in Deauville.

Not long afterwards, Russian president Vladimir Putin talked about a ’European economic community‘, extending a hand which nobody thought of seizing.

Since then, the European Union has persisted with the idea of an ’Eastern Partnership‘ excluding Russia and hoping to bind Ukraine firmly to the West, without reflecting on its dual identity and on the continental implications.

Ukrainian President Yanukovich temporarily rejected the association agreement with the EU. He underestimated the EU’s capabilities to negotiate, as well as the eagerness of his own people for European integration. And he overestimated the possibility for a fair deal with Russia.

While refusing a Russian veto on the Euro-Ukrainian accords, it is time to develop a pan-European vision that will allow Kyiv to choose an approach to the West without having to disown its history and its Russian brother. Such a strategy would have a double benefit: it would save face for the association agreement and it would bring forward a better future for Turks and Russians. They are European, almost as much as the Ukrainians – and Russia is not merely the Kremlin; Turkey not just Ankara.

A continental vision: Greater Europe

The leaders of the large European countries need to re-launch a vision of a greater Europe without getting entangled in debates about EU enlargement.

Still, due to Western neglect, Turkey and Ukraine are at risk of aiming eastwards: the ex-Ottoman Empire for the former, Moscow for the latter. As for Russia, in relative decline and under Chinese pressure, it is rediscovering its pan-European vocation, either attempting a neo-Soviet customs union or a pan-European strategy, like before 1917.

Of course, the two Slavic countries could also get closer to the EU. The Russian president will probably abandon his post-imperial nationalism for some euro-realism. The Russian president will probably quit post-imperial nationalism in favour of a kind of Euro-realism. Already, Russia wishes to cooperate on its security and modernisation without abandoning its sovereignty. On the Western side, without enlarging NATO and the EU, let’s reciprocate this outstretched hand by offering Russia a ‘European horizon’.

Enlargement is nearing its end: let’s build something new for the 21st century

Regarding the institutional side of EU enlargement, this momentum will come to an end in a few years. The current approach will finish with some Nordic and Balkan states. There are too many ministers around the table, too many laws to negotiate and too many upheavals if heavily populated countries like Turkey are to join the EU. As a consequence, Turkish negotiations are dragging on. They should continue in any case, leaving the eventual membership outcome open.

The ‘privileged partnership’ proposed by Paris as an alternative to enlargement is empty. The Turks also distrust the Union for the Mediterranean, which they perceive as a dead end. Rather than long-term engagements, proud Turkey would prefer to either break up or set a wedding date.

To make the best of a situation of narrow-minded enlargement, a pan-European vision must be brought to the table. Only a ‘Europe with multiple speeds’ could possibly meet the aspirations of these people while reducing identity anxieties in the West. This Europe would have three concentric circles. The most integrated one, the euro zone, today has 17 members. The political group is the European Union at 28 members, soon to be more. The third circle remains to be defined.

Small practical steps to finalise the association, and possible more

According to Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, the EU’s founding fathers, integration proceeds in small steps, beginning with the economy. For Turkey, Ukraine and Russia, this requires establishing a pan-European market of 750 million citizens. Not only a customs union – which is already in place with Turkey – but also labour market freedom. To sum up, “all except the euro, foreign policy and defense”.

Let’s call this new big market the European Economic Community. The promise of the former EEC to Turkey in 1963 would finally be fulfilled… In order to focus on the implementation in line with the various “2020” agendas of Brussels, let me even speak of “EEC 2020” or “Europe 10”.

How can we move forward, then? Here are some practical steps to take in the coming months, that would not require a treaty change at this point, or political unanimity between all 28 member states and the partners:

  • Examining the compatibility of the association agreements EU-Ukraine with some aspects of the Russian customs union at the WTO;
  • Negotiating adjustments in the implementation (and not the clauses) of the association in order to have it signed in 2014, before the Ukrainian presidential elections in 2015. During the pre-electoral period, at the beginning of 2014, the Greek presidency could play out its orthodox and Slavophil connection;
  • Helping Ukraine finance itself – including through the IMF and the EIB – and to increase its energy autonomy;
  • Triggering calls for progress by Russian, Ukrainian and European economic leaders at existing conferences like Davos and the European Business Summit (EBS);
  • Encouraging visionary statements by political leaders. National politicians like Mrs. Merkel, Mr. Hollande, Putin, Yanukovich, Klichko, Yatsenyuk, and also EU politicians, like the European Commission presidential candidates.

A call to Mr. Hollande and Mrs. Merkel: retake the initiative!

On this last point, on top of the EU-Russia and EU-Ukraine summits, there is no reason not to organize an informal meeting “to lend each other an ear”. Issues could be tackled directly or it could be an opportunity to prepare the next G20 amongst Europeans: it is our world competitiveness that is at stake.

Since Brussels symbolises technocracy and stalemate, Paris’ Elysée or Berlin’s Kanzleramt would be much better locations.

Who will seize this historic opportunity to continue what the Deauville Summit started and respond to the Ukrainian people’s expectations?


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Read the original, French version of this post via this link.


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