Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels

For years, Ukraine and the European Union (EU) have been hesitantly cooperating on a range of common policies, and the process has arguably been assisting Ukraine to be gradually integrating into the EU-bound structures. As of now, the cooperation, however, shows plenty of inefficiencies and drawbacks, leaving space for multiple improvements even within the existing legal framework of AA/DCFTA. While the framework-linked achievements in trade and other economic sector are undeniable, its geostrategic aspect is still vaguely detectable.

Evidently, if a partnership is declared by the two sides as strong, both the EU and Ukraine should be quick in recognising their common vision on a number of major challenges, which they are currently facing: for example, the Hungary-Ukraine disagreements, dysfunctionality of the Eastern Partnership Programme (EaP), the North Stream 2, public diplomacy mechanisms that are currently focusless, ubiquitous Russian propaganda, the Chinese 17+1 Initiative, and many other ones. Arguably, these issues are of geostrategic nature, with political economy playing only just a role in the process.

Nowadays, despite the most recent ‘North Macedonian setback’, there are evident reasons to suggest that a period of intensification in regards the EU-bound integration is laying ahead. It can hardly be counter-argued that the EU has been experiencing a period of political stagnation in the last decade, muddling through some severe crises, ignoring some calls on imminent reforms on solidifying the union, and seeing examples of ground-shaking institutional vandalism in some of the entity’s Member States. The living treaty revision is already dated back more than a decade, and the EU seems to be road-blocked by immediate problems that are waiting for solutions. In the particular case of Ukraine, the country’s interrelation with the EU are no longer about ‘begging for membership’. With necessity, enhanced all-round integration between the EU and Ukraine exemplifies a basic function of statecraft as well as a matter of survival for both. Fully recognising the leverage that the EU is enjoying in international trade, there is something more substantial that makes both the EU and Ukraine equally ill-prepared to tackle their own (and, sometimes, common) challenges alone, without the synergised support received from each other. They have to exist and act within an international system that was designed at a different time and for different powers to make major calls on exceptions and possibilities to cooperate.

In such a context, there is no better time to address the issue of multiple inconsistencies in regards of the EU-Ukraine interactions. With the ongoing ‘revolution of governance’ in Ukraine and the upcoming new European Commission in the EU, the two sides have already got a particular ‘homework’ to be completed to get on a higher level of interrelations. Any strategic cooperation is directly associated with the agenda-setting process. For the EU, such a ‘discovery’ can lead towards learning a better way to interlink the process of tacking all sorts of foreign policy challenges with different techniques on delivering strategy-related messages to an important partner. Comprehensively employing this multi-dimensional approach, while re-discovering a new Ukraine in a less generic manner, the EU can significantly boost its leverage as a global actor. For the Ukrainian state, it works the same way. It could be argued that there is only one thing that is required for the two partners to become much better off – a synergy in the process of achieving positive and mutually-beneficial results out of their interrelations.

On concrete notes, yet another attempt on drafting a renewed EU-Ukraine Common Strategy (not an EU strategy on Ukraine) is long overdue. Arguably, “a priority partner” is a weak point of departure to start tackling the aforementioned common challenges together. In this respect, there is a positive example of NATO and its idea of establishing a circle of the “enhanced opportunities partners” to realise the organisation’s “Partnership Interoperability Initiative” and commence implementing programs of cooperation with each of the enhanced partners in a tailor-made manner. Linguistically and politically, the concept of interoperability presumes synergy of actions between partners.

Based on the renewed EU-Ukraine Common Strategy, a new geostrategic design for the EaP could be found in the context of Ukraine. Back in time, when the programme was introduced, some of the high-profile European optimists wanted it to be treated as a “seeming guarantor for security in Europe”; it was only a few years after such an optimism was expressed, “the EaP revealed defects regarding the fulfilment of its objective of being a guarantor for security in Ukraine”. With the necessity for both the EU and Ukraine, the re-framed EaP can significantly benefit from the CSDP-associated elements to be included in the framework. In fact, as reported, there is something in the same context was expressed by Linas Linkevičius, the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, during his speech at the 2019 Riga Conference. In addition, an EU-Ukraine ‘joint communique’ being issued on a point of common concern should become a norm, if this integration is the integration. This approach can, to a great extent, solidify the process of formation of the EU’s strategic narrative.

For Ukraine, the country’s natural as well as normatively enhanced desire is to be recognised as a reliable European EU-focused democracy has very little to do with its own habitual practice of converting such a desire in the irritating agenda before each and every official from the EU. The size of Ukraine, in fact, is an issue. Arguably, as it was clearly undersigned by the EaP-bound cumbersome developments, the EU can assist in building but will not be able to maintain a needed range of democratic institutions for Ukraine – it has to be one of the tasks of the Ukrainian civil society as well as the state.

For the EU, Ukraine is simply too big and too important to be treated as just an ordinary neighbour. It is not ordinary, never has been, and unlikely to become an ordinary European state in the nearest future. In a certain way, Ukraine represents a paradigm for Europe – it can be on the continent’s political map, or disappear from it, or become geo-strategically invisible, but a ‘Ukrainian question’ has been there for centuries.

In short, there has to be a serious attempt made to detect a solid theory-based operational framework for the two sides to synergise their integration-focused positive intentions, should they (want to) keep communicating with each other in geostrategic terms of equal partnership. This call can be solidified via presenting a framework to make the interlinkage effective and mutually beneficial – in order to be theoretically solid, structurally stable and operationally viable, the special case of the EU-Ukraine integration needs to portray a synergised two-way traffic, while directly linking the cooperation with agenda-setting processes on both sides.

Authors: Vlad Vernygora, Liubov Akulenko, Dmytro Naumenko, Ukrainian Centre for European Policy (Kyiv, Ukraine)

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