EU's geopolitical improvidence towards Turkey and Ukraine

By Maksym Khylko

European bureaucrats are clearly not keeping pace with the geopolitical dynamics of the modern world. While the U.S. and China are expanding their spheres of influence in the Pacific, and Russia is working to create a Eurasian bloc, the EU actually fell out of big geopolitical games, limiting the expansion of its own influence and being fully concentrated on the internal redistribution of political and economic powers. Ignoring the European aspirations and foreign policy ambitions of Turkey and Ukraine, the EU shows geopolitical improvidence, limiting its own ability to conduct more effective policy in the Middle East and former Soviet space.

While the two previous decades analysts had predicted enhancing of the EU role in global world processes, recent years showed loss of geopolitical initiative by Brussels. Even the Libyan campaign only temporarily gave occasion to talk ostensibly about extension of the EU's foreign policy activity. However, having initiated military actions against Qaddafi, the EU demonstrated inability to cope with the conduction of military operations without U.S. assistance and failure to maintain order in postwar Libya with the allied insurgents efforts. And the results of elections in post-revolutionary countries have shown the futility of the EU hopes to promote its standards of democracy in the region. Consequently, the maximum that the EU can obtain from its southern politics is the restoration of oil supply, which it had before the "Arab spring".

Probably the European Union could achieve much greater success in promoting its policy in North Africa and the Middle East if acted there in close coordination with its associate partner Turkey. This most powerful state in the region for many years has been a model of democratic and economic reforms in the Islamic world, and in the same it has been a reliable ally of the EU and the U.S. Therefore Ankara rightly could expect the support of its ambitions to regional leadership.

However, instead of the support, Ankara has received from France the political slap in the face – the law that introduces criminal penalties for the denial of genocide against the Armenians. The question here is not about recognition or nonrecognition of the fact of genocide, because France formally recognized it few years ago. Fresh reminder of this painful for the international image of Turkey event in a time when Ankara is competing with Tehran for the leadership in the region may be perceived as a stab in the back.

Previously having denied Ankara's request for the full membership in the EU (not officially but de-facto), and now ignoring its ambitions for regional leadership, the European bureaucrats discourageAnkara from cooperation, thereby making it clear to Turkey and other countries in the region that neither political reforms no economic progress will make the EU consider them as equal partners. This destroys significant incentive for these countries to changes according to European standards, and nourish the ground for mistrust of Islamic nations to Europe.

Therefore it is not surprising that after pondering much Turkey agreed to Russian proposition concerning the "South Stream", which is the main competitor for the EU gas transmission projects in the region.

A similar situation may be observed in the EU policy towards Ukraine. Drafted during years of negotiations Association Agreement with Ukraine still has not yet been initialed. It is obvious that no technical barriers (in particular it was stated that documents were not prepared technically for initialing) could prevent formal initialing ceremony at the Ukraine-EU summit in December 2012 if it was on the political will.

Statements about the problems with democracy and Ukrainian judicial system also can not mask true causes of Agreement's initialing postponing. Because now it is not the point of complete Ukraine's readiness for full EU membership, but only of the Association Agreement, one of the goals of which is encouraging further reforms and approximation of Ukrainian political, legal and economic systems to European standards. Prejudice of European bureaucrats' estimates of Ukrainian readiness for the Association Agreement is easily seen while recalling the loyalty of the EU when conclusion of the similar agreements with other countries in Central and Eastern Europe took place. Corresponding agreements with the EU served as a stimulus and guidance for reforms in Poland and other post-socialist countries. But the EU obstinately refuses to give Ukraine the same opportunity.

Arguments that the EU can't integrate Ukraine during the economic crisis are also unconvincing because no one speaks about urgent joining the European Union; the issue is just about the Association Agreement with the vague prospect of full membership in the long run. Therefore no additional economic costs of the EU are required.

Statements that by postponing of the Association Agreement the EU wants to persuade Ukrainian authorities to be more democratic and to stop the prosecution of opposition leaders also don't stand up to criticism. Already fairly well acquainted with the post-Soviet realities the EU officials can't but know that exactly their rejection of the Agreement initialing postpone democratic changes and reforms in Ukraine, including its judicial sphere. Therefore the intransigence on the issue of the Association Agreement only confirms that in fact European officials have not the slightest interest in the fate of Yulia Tymoshenko as well as they had in Ukrainian problems in 2009, when ex-prime minister under pressure from EU leaders was forced to sign those unfavorable gas contracts with Russia, for which she has been condemned.

Having done previously public statements about the priority of European integration, Ukrainian President ventured to encounter the cool reaction of Moscow. Given the sensitivity of Viktor Yanukovych electorate to relations with Russia, this step was not easy for him. But the EU traditionally "thanked" by leaving Ukraine alone with Russia and unresolved problems with the gas contracts, persistent proposals to give Moscow control over the gas transportation system and to join the Russian-led Eurasian Union.

Ignoring the European aspirations and foreign policy ambitions of Turkey and Ukraine, the EU shows geopolitical improvidence, limiting its own ability to conduct more effective policy in the Middle East and former Soviet Union space. Deepening partnership with Turkey and Ukraine would give Europe a sense of security on the south-eastern borders, direct access to the Caucasus, confidence in transport corridors reliability, uninterrupted supply of energy resources from Russia and Azerbaijan, closer ties with Central Asia. Not to mention the fact that Turkey and Ukraine are huge markets for European products and promising countries for investment.

Together with Turkey the EU would be able to effectively contribute to the democratization of Egypt and Syria, fight against extremism in the Middle East, search ways for Israeli-Palestinian settlement, establish a peaceful coexistence of Christian and Islamic worlds as a whole.

With associated Ukraine the EU could more effectively build relationship with Belarus, Moldova and Caucasus states, assisting them in democratic and economic transformation (this is not about "color" revolutions, but about European standards in political, economical and social spheres). In the future integration of Ukraine into the EU could be proceeded with the establishment of associated relations between the EU and Russia with its Eurasian Union, which if this project becomes successful will be an important link connecting Europe with the dynamic Asia-Pacific region. Moving of financial and economic life epicenter to this region is doubtless, therefore the search of mechanisms for participation in the new world order must be among the EU vital priorities.

Paris and Berlin as initiators of the EU's common foreign policy failed to offer effective pan-European geopolitical strategy: German foreign policy traditionally turned out to be too selfish while French one – too irrational. Integration of Turkey and Ukraine is left out of current plans of Berlin being busy with formation of controlled by him EU states kernel (in fact all the recent "economic" German initiatives in the EU line with this). Turkey and Ukraine are too large and stubborn to fit into this German-centric project.

France, being freed from the U.S. tutelage over Europe, found herself alone with a powerful Germany, in dependence on which increasingly fall most affected by the economic crisis EU countries. Since geopolitical ambitions of France during half-century have been tied to the fate of the European Union, Paris has nothing to do but perform a duet with Berlin and wait until the latter realizes that the imaginary benefits of its current German-centric initiatives are unlikely to compensate for the damage caused by destroying of existing balances in common European house, economic leader of which is Germany itself.

As for Turkey and Ukraine, it is important for them not to let emotions and insults affect the determination of long-term strategic priorities, among which further integration with the European Union should remain. However, there is no need to waste time while waiting for the EU's geopolitical enlightenment – Ankara and Kyiv can work together effectively in a number of regional initiatives.
Maksym Khylko, Research Fellow at Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University, PhD in Philosophy and MA in International Relations