Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Opportunity in Ukraine

Defeated by the Kremlin's nimble footwork and hard-hitting punches, the EU can now trust only to the power of the streets if it is to have a second chance in Ukraine

The pro-European demonstrators in Kiev have at least one institutional fan rooting for them: the European Union, which is glad to arouse positive emotions, for once. The contrast with Russia is pleasing, especially after Moscow scored so heavily by getting Ukraine to reject the prospective deal with the EU in Vilnius.

This is why, in the Maidan Nezalezhnosti square, now popularly known as the Euromaidan (interesting how in the Ukrainian language a public square appears to be called "maidan," an Arabic term used with that meaning from North Africa to India), the leaders of the Ukrainian opposition are receiving visits and expressions of support from European foreign ministers and parliamentarians.

And the fact is that, defeated by the Kremlin's nimble footwork and hard-hitting punches, the EU can now trust only to the power of the streets, if it is to have a second chance in Ukraine. And this second chance will necessarily come to nothing, should Brussels fail to sit down and do a bit of serious self-criticism, reconsidering the line it is taking in its relation with Ukraine, and insisting on placing all the blame on the Russians and the Ukrainians themselves.

The exaggerated image of "the two Ukraines" has distorted European perceptions of the situation in the country

In default of internal consensus on the prospect of EU membership, the EU's offer to Ukraine is the Free Trade Agreement. More than an offer, it almost amounts to a threat: the ample liberalization of commercial exchanges would probably accentuate the already heavy Ukrainian trade deficit with the EU (Ukraine imports from the EU about 60 percent more than it exports to it).

A substantial part of the Ukrainian economy would be left in a clearly disadvantageous situation, and the social cost of adjustment would necessarily be high. It does not seem that the EU is now in any position (as it was in some earlier EU enlargements) to offer Ukraine the economic aid that would be needed to cushion the social and regional impact of a rapid process of commercial liberalization.

The exaggerated image of "the two Ukraines," one pro-Russian (east and south) and another pro-European (west and center) has distorted European perceptions of the situation in the country. In the EU you hear very few voices speaking out against the more radical of the Ukrainian nationalists, who are ultraconservative, xenophobic, and even calling for the expulsion of Russian-speakers from the country. Has no one made it clear to them that values of this sort have nothing to do with those that underlie European integration?

An EU suffering from problems of self-esteem is overjoyed to see the starry blue banner (regarded with sullen indifference by so many in Western Europe) held high by Ukrainian crowds as a symbol of aspiration to full democracy, and a promise of a better future. The Ukrainians who wave it aspire to integration in Europe as a chance to live in a land more just, less arbitrary and less corrupt.

But the ideological fundamentalism of free trade and monetarism, the rigidity of a myopic visa policy, and a Manichaean interpretation of the complex Ukrainian society, have caused Brussels and the member states to build more obstacles than the ones they have surmounted.

It is very much mistaken to believe that the challenge posed by Ukraine's situation would have been resolved by the signature of the EU-Ukraine agreement at the meeting in Vilnius, or that its solution can be achieved only by means of a change of course in Kiev. In order to respond to the desires of the Ukrainians, the EU needs to reconsider its own rigidities, and its mistakes. Only in this way can it take advantage of this new opportunity that is so courageously, so generously, being offered it by the Ukrainians on the Euromaidan.

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