East in the European Union Context

By Arthur Dunn

Annual Summits of the states of Central and Eastern Europe gather the leaders of the countries of the region, which has the potential of not only consolidating role, but also to help Europe to find its place in the world after crisis. Such meetings are the only consultation forum of regional character, uniting the states located between Baltic Sea, Black Sea and the Adriatic, by this independently of that whether they are NATO, European Union, Euro zone or not. That is why they represent important international events, for example, two years ago in Warsaw, where 20 heads of the states were present. The US President Barak Obama was an honorable guest. 


On June 12th-13th the 18th Summit took place in Bratislava. The leaders of Austria, Slovakia, Moldova, Lithuania, Serbia, Montenegro Albania, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland, Latvia, Croatia, Romania, Estonia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Ukraine. It was held under the aegis “Growth Strategy for the Sake of Post-Crisis Recovery” and was devoted mainly to economic issues.  Except for that, the participants discussed a wide range of topical political, social and security issues.


Naturally, each of the states participating in the Summit related to it its plans and hopes. It is expedient, however, to focus on two biggest countries, which by this are in a different position.


Thus Ukraine still only intends to find its place into modern political and economic layouts within European continent. It is expected that the current year can become critical within its relations with the European Union. In relation to ambiguity of real intention of the current Ukrainian leadership in the matter of the choice of foreign political course the participation of Viktor Yanukovych in the Summit incited increased interest. 


As know, the last year Ukraine should have welcomed the previous Summit, but it was cancelled. Officially – “due to impossibility of the number of the European States’ heads”, the real reason was the sensational case of the ex Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko. 


Boycott of the Yalta Summit was a logical proof of worsening of relations between Kiev and west countries. Nevertheless, on May 15th the European Commission approved the draft of the EU Council decision on conclusion with Ukraine the association treaty. The given document contains a political component, as well as it provides the establishment of the free trade area Ukraine-EU. It is planned that it shall be signed in November during the “Eastern Partnership” Summit in Vilnius.


But by this the EU expects from Kiev the accomplishment of a number of conditions, which includes court reform, improvement of legislation and solution of the problem of “selective” justice. 


Official Kiev has repeatedly stated that the conditions shall be accomplished. However, recently Ukraine unexpectedly has signed a Memorandum on Deeper Interaction with the Eurasian Economic Commission (EAEC), as a result of which it has obtained the status of an observer at the Customs Union, and in prospect, in the Eurasian Economic Union (EurAsEc).


This step induced expressed concern in European politicians and complicated the dialogue. Viktor Yanukovych had to hurry to assure the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso that the new model of cooperation between Ukraine and EurAsEc does not contradict the membership of the country in the WTO and the strategic course for Euro-integration. And later he repeatedly stated, that deepening of the relations of Kiev with the states of the Customs Union does not cancel the vector of European development of Ukraine, defined by the law “On principles of Domestic and Foreign Policy”.


At first sight, the memorandum indeed gives little to Kiev. It says, that it “is not an international treaty and does not create rights and obligations, regulated by the international law”. Ukraine can’t be just granted a possibility (under the invitation of the Council Chairman or the Board or with the consent of all members of the EAEC Council) to send its representative for open sessions. But this representative shall have no influence on decision-making, even if it relates to economic interests of Ukraine. As the Russian Prime Minister said ironically the envoy of Kiev shall be able only “smelling the air” during the sessions to which he shall be invited. 


At the same time there is a point of the following content: “Ukraine declares the intentions to observe the principles, fixed in documents, forming legal framework of the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space, and to avoid actions and declarations against the interests of the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space”. 


Exactly this provision incited perplexity of European party, as well as it can’t be excluded that for example, the action against the interests of the Customs Union, can be Euro-integration of Ukraine, comprising the establishment of the free trade area with the EU.


On this background its cooperation with Central Asian states has gained increased topicality. And the meeting of the Presidents in Bratislava represented a nice occasion for Ukraine to prove its Euro-integrational choice and to enlist the support of the whole group of European states.


It should be said, that in words everything was just excellent. In his address during plenary session of the summit, devoted to the “Strategy of Growth for Post-Crisis Recovery”, Yanukovych specified the view of Ukraine regarding priority directions of cooperation of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe region, as well of acute issues of European integration of Ukraine.


According to his claim the faith of Ukrainian people in united Europe and the wish to become once its full-right part is firm. The European Union remains the sample of political, economic and social benefit. And continuation of the process of the EU expansion which would provide the inclusion of Ukraine into a common European political and economic space, is a significant tool to overcome the existing crisis. 


By this it was noted that due to prolonged crisis Europeans treat really painfully the possibility of the EU expansion. Yanukovych tried to refute these concerns. Moreover, he expressed assurance that accession of the domestic market of Ukraine, its production and agricultural capacities to European economic area shall significantly positively influence the common European economic situation and shall contribute into the process of Europe coming out of the crisis. It was worded in a openly epatage manner, like “Europe won’t do without Ukraine”.


According to Yanukovych and during bilateral talks with European colleagues in the frames of the Summit, the central issue was given to Euro-integration of Ukraine. He proudly reported that there was no negative attitude towards such intentions and heard  no remarks on non-accomplishment of the EU criteria, although he acknowledged that till November “the home task and specific work should be done”.


Analyzing the field for common work, Ukrainian leader talked a lot about common project in the sphere of economy and investments. Among them the priority ones included strengthening of energy security, transport infrastructure development, extension of educational, scientific and cultural exchanges, tourism and direct contacts between citizens.


It seems that the case inevitably moves towards formalization of relations. Especially considering the fact that if earlier European politicians earlier rigidly insisted in the release of the ex Prime Minister, than now its name almost vanished from the list of demands. Brussels also is pretty interested in the association, that is why we can assume, that the priorities shall be given not to emotions, but to pragmatism and economic consideration.


And still there is yet no complete assurance in successful finalization of the process. It is impeded by objective and biased circumstances. Thus, we may probably agree with the deputy of the Verkhovna Rada from the Party of Regions, the first deputy Head of the Committee on the issues of European Integration Irina Berezhnaya, who does not refuse the priority of the role, given the European integration, but reminds, that Russia remains the main trade partner of Ukraine, and the Customs Union has 60 bln USD goods turnover: “We can’t allow ourselves ignoring these facts and we can’t do it during definite period”.


Indeed, to create necessary conditions for the real association with the EU Ukraine needs to solve its economic and social problems, also at the account of interaction with Russia. As the signing of the Association Treaty does not result into increase of investments from the EU, by this some benefits can be expected only in a medium-long-term prospect.


We also should not doubt that Moscow in its turn shall do everything to prevent, or at least, at maximum complicate the approach of Kiev with European Institutions. For this the policy of carrot and stick, by this first of all the Kremlin for sure shall implement well-practiced and promising the best results pressure in gas sphere: game of gas prices and the intention to capture gas-transporting system.


There is no complete certainty, that Ukrainian President realizes what critical moment has come for its country and which historical responsibility he bares for the decision, with whom shall Ukraine integrate – with East or West. On contrary, at the moment it’s more likely that speculating on Euro-integration, he just wants Russia to make economic concessions. European integration itself is defined and shall be defined by him as a long-term and hard-achievable objective.


That is why hardly the current leaders of the country shall in reality start approaching the united Europe. Naturally, the pressure of public opinion could force it to follow this way. However, at the moment Ukrainian society is almost half-split on this issue, so the chances of positive situation development are not that great.


Such pessimistic forecast is also proved by the restraint of the host of the on-coming Vilnius Summit, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, who declared during the meeting with the Ukrainian colleague: “The situation is still complicated, and we have not yet reached the final stage”.


As for another big European country Poland, for it geopolitics is an existential issue: defeat inevitably results in national disaster. That is why its foreign political strategy concentrates on the solutions of the most important matter: to preserve national identity and independence. 


Warsaw is prone to view real dangers only from Moscow. By this an additional threat is the return of Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, who is famous for his categorical rejection of west and intention to rehabilitate Russia as the great power. That is why Poland should develop its strategy on the least unfavorable scenario of the situation development.


To achieve the goal it has made a strategic choice in favor of NATO membership and the European Union, as they seemed absolutely reliable institutions. However, efficiency of the Alliance, as a new military force has incited lately definite doubts. If Russia is aggressive, than its ability to use armed forces to counteract shall depend almost exclusively on the USA, and there is no complete assurance to make such step.


Future of the European Union is pretty indefinite, as its modern state evidently leaves much to be desired. There are also such radical scenarios, according to which Berlin shall not be eager to take the expanses to preserve the EU, as a result of which it shall ease relations with it and approach with Moscow. And the rise of Germany, far from any European organization and strengthening economic relations with Russia, is the most unfavorable variant for Poland. 


That is why one of the plans of preparation of Warsaw to an unfavorable situation is search for additional force able to help it to protect its interests. With this objective it gradually goes to the leading positions in Central and Eastern Europe.


Thus, Poland becomes informal leader of the Visegrad Four, the organization, which today actively influences the EU policy, lobbying there its interests and which is supported by other countries of the region. It is one of five NATO states, performing unofficial condition of expenses for defense in the amount of 2% of GDP. In 2012 its expenses in this sphere were twice higher than the expenses of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary together.


Poland is an old “advocate” of Ukraine in the issues of Euro-integration. Only for the last two years there were more than 50 meetings at different levels between them. 


Today Poland is a state with stable government and relatively strong economy. But we should consider the fact that currently strong position has partially become the effect of weakness of other countries, deepened into the crisis. Warsaw still needs to increase its economic potential, becomes the source of innovations, to be able to assure its own security. 


We can’t omit the important circumstance, that there is no unanimity in the country on foreign policy of the current government. In particular, there are politicians and experts, who are convinced that within eastern direction it is only a vain loss of time and energy, which should be directed at modernization of the country. 


They consider, that obsession with Ukraine, on which by the way Warsaw has no influence, distracts the attention from those regions of Europe, which should be the example of modernization for Poland.


This ground leads to a conclusion that Warsaw should limit its eastern policy with two points: protection of Polish minority and concern about places and objects outside eastern boarders, which have a significant meaning for Polish historical and cultural self-identification.


Critic is coming from the right opposition, represented by the conservatives of the party “Law and Justice”. To their mind, Poland, on the contrary, should play a more active role out of the EU, in Eastern Europe and in Caucasus.


Polish authorities are perfectly aware of the existing problems, which is proved by the words of the Prime Minister Donald Tusk: “Today it is clear, that our partners in East shall be complicated partners for many years”. But he added immediately: “We should have a complete image about the things happening in Russia, and to assist Ukraine to build a stable state. We should observe East in the context of the European Union, as our line in the EU to a greater extent depends on how we are effective and responsible in interrelations with our eastern neighbors”.


I.e. there is understanding that everything happening in the Russian Federation, Belarus and Ukraine, influences significantly on the level of stability and security in Eastern part of Europe.


Poland is able to cope simultaneously with the challenge of modernization, develop appropriate line in the frameworks of European Institutions, to establish as good as possible contacts with German lands and together with that to work for East European part of the continent also to become stable and secure.


One of the most significant stages on the way to this objective should be overwhelming approach of the Central and Eastern European states in similar position, for which the Summits of their leaders are held.


This also allows hoping that despite all difficulties, the countries of the regions – members of the EU shall proceed with the attempts to spread among their less developed neighbors European standards in all spheres.