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Ukraine’s Integration and Reconstruction: How To Prepare the EU?

Can the EU rise to the historic significance of Ukraine’s accession? What would it mean to the EU, and what lessons can the EU learn from its previous experiences of enlargement? What are the challenges the EU could face in terms of the reconstruction of Ukraine? Panelists of our online event, co-organized with the Review of Democracy, discussed these questions, among many others.

By Minahil Mustafa

The European Commission shall arrive on a conclusive decision on Ukraine’s accession to the Union at the end of June, 2022, said Iskra Kirova, Senior Policy Analyst on EU external relations at the Open Society European Policy Institute, who moderated the discussion. The real question in this conversation is whether Europe has the capacity to integrate Ukraine into the Union, and how to prepare it for accession, added Laszlo Bruszt, Co-Director of the CEU Democracy Institute, and Professor of Sociology at the CEU Department of Political Science.

He also stated that the war challenged the foundational stones upon which the Union was built, one of which was the maintenance of peace via economic interactions, trade, joint production systems and shared markets. He stated that the war challenged the EU’s soft power approach to foreign policy strategy and it must learn from past experiences and current inconsistencies within the EU. 

He said that the Eastern enlargement was a relative success compared to the southern enlargement because “the EU did not take its prejudices seriously.”  By 1994, the EU had formulated a criterion for accession which required supernational institutional building. Countries seeking membership must: 

  • Remain democratic  
  • Have functioning markets, and 
  • Must be able to withstand the economic pressure emanating from the EU. 

He highlighted that accession simply does not end with integration, but the political repercussions that follow must also be addressed by the EU. Concluding his talk, he stated that

“state building is a very crucial part of any kind of integration and not just integration but also reconstruction in different state capacities.”

The success of integration in Eastern European countries (citing Hungary and Poland) was because of the politicization of the process and the way these countries were able to mobilize political support to garner accession rights. 

Andrius Kubilius, Member of the European Parliament (European People’s Party), and former Prime Minister of Lithuania, expressed that the debate on Ukraine’s accession was a big fight as part of the “biggest geopolitical crisis that the European Union is facing.” He thinks that the biggest mistake the EU had made was not using its own soft powers ambitiously. It left Ukraine in a grey area, thereby giving Russia the opportunity to advance. The question now is whether the EU will help Ukraine become a stable nation (unlike in the cases of its earlier accessions). He said that he sees a lack of commitment to this cause from the EU, citing that those borders remained unstable. If the EU is successful is stabilizing Ukraine, it can also inspire Russia to transform back into a democracy, he believes.  

The paradigm of the world changes if Ukraine is provided membership because Russia will continue the war not against just Ukraine, but against the EU. This will also dismantle the Russian point of views of the war. He addressed the nuances of finances the EU could be putting into the war. He presented the cases of Lithuania, which struggled to develop and stabilize itself after accession due to the lack of aid from the EU, and Eastern Germany, which learned to abide by the EU laws after its integration. He proposed both strategies to be possible, and that the EU take a middle way now: allow Ukraine achieve an economic membership like the Nordic countries, and then transform into a fully integrated member.  

Milada Vachudova, Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina, stated that the

“EU Member States have been privileging geopolitical stability and economic profits over liberal democracy.”

The war proves the wrongness of this situation, she continued. The EU must address two problems here, both emanating from its member states. 

If Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban can successfully decouple European integration from the regime-type of liberal democracy, this could be a dramatic deterioration to the EU’s potential to be a geopolitical power and to the revival of its integration processes which was previously successful.  

She also pointed out Germany’s preference for economic profits, and the corruption in German politics and CDU (Christian Democratic Union), who lend support to Orban’s authoritarian regime. France has also allotted a very minuscule portion from its military budget to help Ukraine, sustaining France’s position as a geopolitical moderator between Washington and Moscow. On a positive note, she said that political parties within the EU who have been pro-Kremlin and ethno-populist see their position weakening.  

The accession process needs to be revived as a meritocratic process, which requires political wall, and a technocratic aspect in which Ukraine can shine because it has shown, since 2014, its state capacity and political will to integrate, she argued, adding that

success in the EU pre-accession process depends on political will, a robust technocratic and meritocratic process, the national government and on the bottom-up pressure and activity in the country.” 

Tymofiy Mylovanov, President of the Kyiv School of Economics, who is currently in Ukraine, said that the situation there grows more alarming each day. He said that Ukraine was in the utmost need of physical macro support to prevent the crash of the economy in June-July. He highlighted that the economic support received was mostly in the form of loans, which puts the country deeper into debt, hence putting Russia at a politically winning position. The support that Ukraine is now receiving is now largely military, but not economic or humanitarian. He said that the end of the war is very unclear because of the tricky situation that Ukraine is in now, and Russia’s relentlessness to using hard powers to its benefit. The only way the war can end is by defeating Russia. As he said,

“Russia is a threat to the idea that we can prosper and defend ourselves by soft power rather military power, and this is a very unpleasant situation for the world to be in.”  

Mylovanov said that the choices Ukraine has are very grim: it can either seek Russia’s mercy which would mean the execution or exile of its leaders, or continue to fight. For Ukraine, EU integration is a hopeful outcome. Sanctioning Russia during the war on Georgia might have prevented the attack on Ukraine, but the world, especially the EU, cannot delay a response as it was done previously, he argued.

He also talked about economic corruption, especially through energy, which has affected the behavior of many European countries, making the EU vulnerable to Russian leverage. He hopes that the EU would find strength to put humanity above its internal politics, economic interests and free riding problems to recognize Ukrainians as Europeans on a deeper, symbolic level. 

The participants also discussed what possible steps could be taken by the EU to assist Ukraine in such a time. Iskra Kirova highlighted the need to support Ukrainian business to support the state, and also confirming its candidate status so that preliminary aid can be provided. Mylovanov recognized the technical issues with providing financial aid to the state in a war-torn country, but urged governments to act with urgency in this regard. EU candidacy would help streamline domestic politics, depolarize society and reduce corruption to bring about a positive change and objective progress, hence undermining the attempts of Russia to polarize its politicians, he argued.

Vachudova also supported this stance, stating that a candidate state sees pressure from Brussels and domestic actors which can fast-pace the much-needed change to transform the political situation in Ukraine, and shelter it from civil and foreign forces. Andrius Kubilius also emphasized that integration brought an increase in GDP in Lithuania, and the same can be the case for Ukraine. Membership can help with its security and democratization both.

Laszlo Bruszt argued that long-lasting prosperity and peace in Europe cannot be achieved without Ukraine’s membership. The EU should be prepared for the worst-case scenario, where it protects itself from a political system in which foreign policy, geopolitics and the future of Europe is decided by a fragmented regime. 

Watch the discussion:

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