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Ukraine: still waiting for the EU

, by FM Arouet

Ukrainians have now been demonstrating for three months, at least 10 people died and close to 500 were injured. In yet another Cold War-style stream of East-West tensions, Vladimir Putin plays it like Stalin and the West like John Lennon. Time to wind back to Ronald Reagan.

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Where is the EU?

On 17th February, the Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko met with Angela Merkel to urge the EU to apply sanctions against Yanukovych and in his inner circle of oligarchs and ask her to influence the on-going constitutional reform process, in order to allow Ukraine to shift to a more parliamentary system and hence reduce Yanukovych’s influence. On the 18th February, at least 6 people died in the most violent day since the beginning of the protests, which increasingly look like a full-blown Revolution.

Mr. Klitschko is right to remind Angela Merkel that being the most powerful woman in Europe requires action, not passivity. Since the start of the crisis, EU action has consisted of nicely worded criticisms and a visit by Catherine Ashton to Yanukovych that yielded nothing (the opposite would have been truly surprising). The United States have already imposed economic sanctions against Ukraine, and have been understandably frustrated by EU passivity – a feeling illustrated by US diplomat Victoria Nuland’s very poetic “F*** the EU!”. The EU has the ability to act: it is economically powerful enough to impose tough economic sanctions, visa bans, and can use existing anti money-laundering legislation to freeze oligarchs’ assets. The only thing it lacks is the courage and willingness to use its power.

Face up to the Bear or he will face you down

After nearly three months of crisis, it seems the EU is yet again unwilling to directly confront Vladimir Putin. Despite the strong argument that taking part in the Sochi Olympics matters more than Europe’s influence in the world, there is a point where the EU will have to face up to the Russian leader. More than 100,000 people died in Syria since 2011 under the barbarian rule of a regime overtly supported by Russia. The EU has already crushingly lost this battle for influence, and is now about to lose another one. Europe’s dependence upon Russian oil and gas could explain such fear of confrontation. But the solution to Europe’s energy dependence is known and achievable: integrate Europe’s energy markets in order to optimise energy production and consumption, and hence reduce dependence upon Russia. This is challenging but the long-term economic and political gains are certainly worth the investment.

As the EU increasingly stands off from global affairs, Putin is more than happy to step in. And with him comes his perception of diplomacy: absolute state sovereignty and non-interventionism. This vision is explicitly shared by China, whose rise has already caused a shift in global priorities, especially as numerous developing countries prefer to receive unconditional investment and trade from China than morally driven business from environmentally and socially conscious Europeans. The EU and the US are the two only significant actors who attribute at least a semblance of peace, shared prosperity and democracy in their aspirations for the world. Every step down the road of isolationism is a step away from global influence, and will never be recovered.

Europe should not become a big Switzerland

Recent events suggest that the EU is slowly adopting Germany’s passive stance in global affairs. No matter the extent of Germany’s economic success, it is by no means a reason for the EU to adopt its political stance on global affairs. Merkel should be playing a leading role in the Ukraine crisis, but a smiley picture with Klitschko will not do the job. Germany’s refusal to vote the UN Resolution authorising military intervention in Libya in 2011 was scandalous enough; now that it has a chance to buy itself back into global diplomacy, it should seize it.

The EU should not dream of becoming a “big Switzerland”. The Swiss referendum on immigration shows how people tend to behave when they think they can live comfortable lives and get all the benefits from globalisation while bearing no costs and cutting themselves from the world. This is pure self-delusion. Should the Swiss implement the referendum decision, the EU should apply pure reciprocity, just to kill the idea that a country can free ride on others’ achievements and hard-work. Again, this requires political courage, a scarce commodity in Brussels. The EU should send a clear signal that it intends to remain influent in global affairs. This begins with a make or break deal with Ukraine: either a renewed political agreement which includes a reform of the Constitution, or tough economic sanctions. As this article is published, the situation in Ukraine is worsening, which requires quick and courageous moves. Does the EU feel unloved in Europe? Well, then it should look behind the Maiden Square barricades in Kiev, people over there are dying for its ideals.

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