October 2-4, 2009, Kiev
“If the EU makes so many mistakes, why in fact do you want to join it?” This was how a German participant reacted to criticism of the EU’s eastern policies by a Ukrainian politician. Does the EU have to give Ukraine an unambiguous membership perspective? The majority of the Ukrainian participants of the 144th Bergedorf Round Table in Kiev agreed that Ukraine needed a clear perspective of this kind.
There was disagreement about how Ukraine would become a member of the EU. Some of the participants warned that the notion of first joining the EU and then solving the country’s problems was tantamount to putting the cart before the horse. EU membership in fact presupposes an inner transformation. But in Ukraine many people underestimated the various steps which had to be taken in order to achieve this. On the other hand, others argued that the driving force for reforms in Ukraine had to be a wish to improve the lot of the population and not a striving for EU integration come what may. The reason for EU indecision with regard to Ukraine was not the situation in Ukraine itself, but the inability of the EU to define the borders of Europe and its own identity. Even if Ukraine implemented all the required reforms, it would not add up to a guarantee of EU membership. Others suggested a functional or sectoral integration of Ukraine into the EU in a manner reminiscent of Switzerland. Ukraine ought to move closer to the EU on the basis of small pragmatic steps. Some people also praised the existing arrangements. Thus the association agreement with the EU might well lead to interaction and links on a scale which has hitherto been difficult to imagine. There was disagreement about whether Ukraine in the recent past had moved away from or towards the EU.
When it came to the question of EU enlargement policy in general, some participants called on the EU to display a greater openness towards eastern Europe. The EU had to realize that it was “dealing with a new Europe.” The EU was playing a decisive role in the modernization of eastern Europe. It was wrong to deny the eastern neighbours of the EU the prospect of membership by saying that they were already members of the OSCE and of the Council of Europe. One had to hold out an unambiguous prospect of membership to these countries, though without giving them a membership guarantee. However, other participants rejected this idea and said that it was wrong to raise false hopes which in the end were bound to come to nothing.
With regard to the borders of the EU, some participants believed that the natural eastern border of the EU was the western border of Russia. Others wanted to avoid a discussion of this kind, because it was bound to be exclusive and not inclusive. It would be a much better idea to think about how it might be possible to create a pan-European economic area.
There was criticism of the fact that enlargement policy had been pursued too much on a bilateral basis hitherto and not sufficiently in regional terms. It was incumbent on the EU to develop more regional policies with eastern Europe which also included Russia. In general terms trilateral cooperation was of crucial importance, for example, in the areas of energy, transport and combating crime. This would also enable the EU to demonstrate that it did not wish to pursue a spheres of influence policy in its eastern neighbourhood. Whereas one participant argued that Belarus was not forced to choose between relations with Russia or the EU, and was perfectly capable of maintaining a balance, this idea was rejected when it came to Ukraine. Ukraine had to decide which option it was going to take. On several occasions China was mentioned as being a new actor in the area, for in the course of the economic and financial crisis it had become the region’s most important creditor.
The Eastern Partnership was assessed in a variety of different ways. Thus some of the participants criticized its small budget and the fact that from the very beginning it had been integrated into the flawed European Neighbourhood Policy. On the other hand, others argued that the Eastern Partnership had the potential to change relations between the EU and the neighbouring states at which it was being aimed. Furthermore, the Eastern Partnership did not explicitly exclude EU membership. However, the Eastern Partnership was more important for Moldova and Belarus than for Ukraine, since Ukraine had already moved closer towards the EU. Some participants demanded that the Eastern Partnership should be coordinated more closely with Russia.
The participants agreed that the question of the liberalization of the visa regime had to be resolved. There were demands that Russia should be included, that visa fees should be reduced, and that it was time to draw up a visa liberalization timetable. Others ruled out speedy liberalization and pointed to the lack of adequate document security in Ukraine.
When discussing the subject of energy security, the participants agreed that the Ukrainian energy sector needed to be reformed. In order to ensure uninterrupted energy transit to Europe Ukraine had to modernize its transport system, for which in turn it needed loans. Furthermore, Ukraine had to improve its energy efficiency and, thanks to its own resources, could thus become independent of energy imports.
There was a need for multilateral negotiations and a joint document regulating energy relations in order to be able to provide guarantees for both consumers and suppliers. The European Energy Charter was not working. Russia’s proposal for global energy governance was deemed to be a possible basis for coordinating the relations between suppliers, consumers and transit countries. If there was no response to the Russian suggestions, it might conceivably lead to the establishment of a “gas cartel” directed against the West. Other participants rejected the idea that this was in fact possible.
There was unanimity with regard to the question of whether Ukraine would fulfil its transit obligations this year. A new gas crisis was not in the offing. Furthermore, President Putin’s gas boycott had been a radical step, and Russia now understood that on that occasion it had gone too far. It was a matter for debate whether Russia, against the background of its own internal requirements and insufficient investment in the upstream sector, would in future be able to satisfy growing EU demands. This was another reason why the Nordstream and South Stream pipeline projects did not make economic sense.
NATO was called upon to play its new role in eastern Europe in a proactive manner reminiscent of the EU when it came to the issue of stability and security. Poland, for example, had a subjective feeling of insecurity which had to be dealt with. One way of doing this was to establish complementary military structures, for example, a joint German-Polish brigade or a joint “Baltic fleet.”
The strategic partnership with Russia had quite obviously not come up to expectations, and this was a failure on the part of the West. Russia had to be incorporated into European security arrangements, for example, by continuing to develop a pan-European security structure. Other participants thought that Russia should become an associate member of NATO, and that Ukraine should certainly become a fully-fledged member. It was emphasized that NATO was not merely a military alliance, but above all a political one which presupposed the existence of military standards and of certain specific values. In order to acquire them Ukraine needed “orientation security” or incentives such as, for example, a Membership Action Plan. Ukraine was described as an “alliance state” which should not continue to remain neutral for long. Others emphasized that the US continued to be of crucial importance for security in eastern Europe. Thus it would seem to be a good idea to renew the 1994 security pledges. Instead the Obama administration was turning towards Russia and away from Ukraine, and this had a destabilizing effect on the region.