2013-07-04-oliverA. Portnov: The question of whether or not the Ukraine will sign the Association Agreement with the EU this autumn seems to be the principal issue concerning the future of the country for many people there. Do you think that this document will be signed this year and how important do you think it really is?

O. Dupuis: What European citizens know about the reality of the European Union and their understanding of its future is today so vague that political predictions have become extremely difficult. It is not easy to determine whether it will be those who conveniently cling to the position of “democratic intransigence” who will have their way, or, on the other hand, if it will be those who are convinced of the fundamental importance of the accession of the Ukraine to the EU, both for the Ukraine and for the EU. What is certain is that the Association Agreement is ready and should definitely, I believe, be signed. It is of undoubted importance as it is a prerequisite to addressing an even more serious issue – the opening of negotiations for the Ukraine to actually join the EU, which could, opportunely, start with chapters 23 “Judiciary and Fundamental Rights” and 24 “Justice, Freedom and Security”. It would also be the best guarantee that could be given to Julia Tymochenko and to all those who may be future victims of politically-motivated court cases.

A.Portnov: There is currently no consensus in Ukraine over its geopolitical future. An opinion poll carried out in February and March 2013 shows that 41% of those questioned supported integration into the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, 39% supported the Association Agreement with the EU and 19% stated no preference. Do you believe that Ukraine must choose between these two integration projects? If so, do you think that it would be possible in such a divided society?

O. Dupuis: In spite of all the reservations that one could have about the state of the EU today – its economic difficulties, its political shortcomings, its lack of ambition and self-confidence –, it has to be admitted that the Union is a reality that has brought huge benefits to its Member States and their citizens, not least of which is the fact that it allows Nations to continue to existe. The Customs Union based around Russia has kept many features of the former Soviet regime. This union suffers from the same basic problem as the USSR did – the demographic, political and economic domination of Russia over its partners. More importantly, it ignores the very nature of the present Russian regime – an embodiment of the antithesis of the rule of law that was the Marxist-Leninist regime. Russia today, as before, is ruled by a “State within the State” (the power structures working in symbiosis with the economic oligarchy, who often come from these structures) which knows no law except that of the survival of the fittest. Is this what forty five million Ukrainian people want? I do not think so. However, I am convinced they (and others like the Turks for example) have a strong fear of unrequited love. The Union’s ongoing hesitation is responsible for this, as is Viktor Yanukovych’s skilful manner of relentlessly claiming that he wishes to join the EU without doing anything towards such a rapprochement. 

A.Portnov: You have published various articles and open letters about the importance of the Ukraine for the European Union. Could you briefly outline your views on why you believe that an Association Agreement with the Ukraine is of such importance for the European Union?

O. Dupuis: The Association Agreement is of fundamental importance for the Ukraine and for the European Union for four main reasons:

- The first and most important of which is that accession to the European Union – which includes the process leading up to a country formally joining – would, as was the case for Spain, Portugal, Poland and Slovakia, provide a real motivation to complete reforms which would encourage the rule of law to take a firm hold in the Ukraine. As for why the EU might want its Ukrainian neighbour ran by the rule of law and not by a reincarnation of the former Soviet regime, the matter hardly needs any explanation.

- Secondly, the Ukraine has been a part of Europe since time immemorial. It should enrich and be enriched by Europe and find a place at its heart – the European Union.

- The third reason is economic. To be able to access a market of 500 million consumers without barriers or obstacles is a great opportunity for the Ukraine and the enlargement by 45-50 million new Ukrainian consumers would be a great economic boon to the EU.

- Finally, from a strategic point of view, as much for the Ukraine as for the EU, the integration of the Ukraine into the EU (and the strengthening of democracy and the rule of law that would go with it) would be a wonderful example of how it is possible to build an alternative to the authoritarian regime that Vladimir Putin is trying to re-establish in Russia, unfortunately with some success. This would be of real encouragement to those Russian citizens who have not lost hope that one day their large country will become a democracy based on the rule of law.

A.Portnov: Do you believe that your views are shared by at least some EU political officials?

O. Dupuis: Not enough. Undoubtedly. Apart from the Polish, the Lithuanians, some of the British and some Germans, those in political power in most of the other EU Member States are conspicuous by their silence on the issue. This silence does not necessarily indicate their opposition, but it does show their fear of public opinion in their respective countries; they believe the public to be incapable of understanding the Ukrainian issue and who are beset by images of businesses relocating to the East and of the infamous “Polish plumber”. So, rather than explaining and convincing they prefer to sweep the subject under the carpet.

A.Portnov: What about the Russian factor in EU policy towards the countries from the “Eastern Partnership”?

O. Dupuis: It is a factor that EU political officials have undoubtedly failed to assess. Similarly, the “Russian factor” is underestimated by EU Member States which the Russian government systematically penetrates, mainly by bribing politicians, including the elite. And if Russia is able to take this offensive into the EU countries, helped by its enormous financial means originating from oil and gas reserves which are largely controlled by the Kremlin, it is easy to imagine what these authorities can do in the former USSR countries where Russian control structures – the backbone of Putin’s system – have kept strong “friendships” with local secret services just as they have in the bureaucracy and some parts of the political class.

A.Portnov: The European Union is in the midst of a deep crisis. There is much discussion about possible outcomes to the present situation. What do you believe is the most desirable and the most realistic scenario?

O. Dupuis: The most desirable is also, I believe, the most realistic as it would provide for Europe’s most essential needs. It basically consists of four basic reforms, none of which is out of reach in principle.

The first reform, which is essential if European citizens are to once again feel involved in the European project, is the introduction of a great democratic experience – the election of the President of the European Commission by universal suffrage by all the citizens of the Union.

The second reform would be to enable the resolution of the British question by constitutionally allowing for two levels of integration into the Union, while preserving the institutional unity of the whole. On the first level, the four freedoms of movement – of people, goods, capital and services – with basic (but substantial) social and environmental guarantees to prevent all attempts of social dumping. This is one option which could suit the British, and later, at least as a first step, the Ukrainians, the Turks, the Moldavians and the Georgians. A second group would gather together those who have chosen to integrate more closely.

The third reform, fundamental for reinforcing a European sense of unity, would be the creation of a common (not single) army which would be able – at least in its first stages of existence – to carry out peacekeeping and anti-piracy missions, evacuate European citizens from serious danger, etc., and would also be an impetus to the gradual implementation of a common foreign policy.

The fourth reform would be to open up to new citizens by launching definitively the accession process of the Ukraine, Turkey, Georgia and Moldavia to the EU. 

A. Portnov: You consider your scenario to be realistic, but is it feasible?

O. Dupuis: None of these reforms put the existence of the Nation-States of the EU in jeopardy. Nevertheless, they are experiencing fiercer resistance than that triggered by the substantial losses of sovereignty that Member States have had to endure in emergency situations and under the pressure of the economic crisis of the last five years.

The paradox is obvious. These are extremely difficult and painful changes because they highlight a situation which fails to be thoroughly understood: the duality between the persistence of strong Nation-States and the existence of a Union which has become impossible to ignore. Member States must finally acknowledge this reality and their citizens must be able to participate in it (in elections) and identify with it on a global level (foreign policy, common army).

In order to make this symbolic leap, Europe is in need of leadership. This is the sticking point. Angela Merkel certainly has excellent mastery of the mechanisms of power but she does not seem to have strong European convictions, which may be due to her personal history and the history of the country where she grew up, a country exempted from responsibility for Nazism by the Soviet regime who put all the blame on West Germany. In France, the aristocracy of the established institutions (ENA, Quai d’Orsay [French Foreign Affairs Ministry] etc.) fear, with good reason, losing much of their influence in a European organisation which grants the Union more legitimacy and clarifies the distribution of responsibilities between the States on the one hand and the Union and its institutions on the other. Will President Hollande, himself from this aristocracy, know how to free himself from them, put into practice the European convictions that he claims to have and be the driving force behind this change? This is one of the big unknowns. Will others (possibly the new Italian government) know how to inspire or carry out this crucial reform process? Next year’s choice of a new EU commission President will reveal much about this. Will the French and the Germans be able – as with Jacques Delors, who had gained the trust of Helmut Kohl even more than that of François Mitterrand – to unite behind another committed European, who may be German this time?

A.Portnov: Which countries could realistically join the EU during the next 20-30 years? Is there a real chance for the Ukraine and also, for example, Turkey?

O. Dupuis: There are real chances for the Ukraine, Turkey, Georgia and Moldavia. However, good fortune needs a bit of help. To this purpose, I believe that it is essential that the Ukrainian opposition parties start to actively convince various Member States to sign the agreement next November. A tour of European capitals by a delegation of the main Ukrainian opposition party leaders supporting the signing of the Association Agreement would not merely be worthwhile but could be, I believe, a determining factor. 

Olivier Dupuis – politician and essayst from Brussels, former Member of the European Parliament