Part II of the analysis by Klaudijus Maniokas and Darius Žeruolis

The Ukrainian story and the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius

The still unfolding Ukrainian story is a good demonstration of the strengths and failures of the EU‘s neighborhood policy. Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius at the end of November 2013 did not result in the signature of the Association Agreement with Ukraine. EU leaders have indeed tried hard to persuade the Ukrainian President to sign, but at the end he instead chose the Russian offer of financial help. Far from being a failure of the EU alone, this refusal of Yanukovych unleashed the biggest protests in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution in 2004. They could result in a change, which will probably be more important than a formal signature of the Association Agreement. Most likely, much of this agreement under Yanukovych would have become yet another Potyomkin village, a fake. EU insistence on the European norms and consistency of the approach won hearts of many Ukrainians and still proves attractiveness of the EU.

This also demonstrates the positive impact of the Eastern Partnership in terms of density of the relationship between the EU and Ukraine as well as other EaP countries. Since the launch of the Eastern Partnership, this relationship has reached many dimensions far beyond trade and diplomacy. It is about visa-free regime and mobility in general, which are so much valued by people in in the EaP countries. On the other hand, it is also about various infrastructure projects, economic relations and civil society. The problem is, however, that this increasing density of the relationship is not turning into the sufficient influence and impact of the EU over these countries. Thus Yanukovych decided not to sign the Association Agreement, and Armenia withdrew too. European Union lacks any impact on Belarus and the situation with democratic procedures and institutions is worsening in the region. EU‘s engagement is also not being felt in terms of financial investment from the member states’ companies.

Therefore there is also not so much positive side of the whole story. First, it seems that nobody in the EU is able to understand motivation of the current Ukrainian leader and his entourage. Though nobody expected meeting the EU requirements for signature by Ukraine to be an easy ride, most of the EU leaders and diplomats nevertheless were expecting an eventual signature of the Agreement in Vilnius. However, post factum most of them would have agreed that Yanukovych came to Vilnius without any intention to sign. Where then have all the investments into knowing Ukraine, such as sixteen meetings with Yanukovych held by the high representatives of the European Parliament Kwasniewski and Cox gone? Was this effort enough? The main value added of the Summit in Vilnius was probably in showing of how little most of the EU leaders knew or cared about Ukraine and the Eastern side of Europe. As one of them confided afterwards, the Ukrainian President behaved as a visitor from a different civilization. He and the EU leaders spoke different languages and, as one diplomat noted, Yanukovych did sense that he does not belong to the European club.

This lack of knowledge and intelligence is also quite obvious in the ongoing story of protests in Kyiv and the EU‘s stance towards the unfolding developments there. The EU‘s stance towards Russia and its policy towards Ukraine too was and is far from what it ought to be. The EU denounced aggressive, but successful Russian policy to dissuade Ukraine from signing an agreement with the EU. While the EU rightly refused to engage in the bidding game over Ukraine, its policy remains rather passive. Instead of actively shaping the events, the EU appears to limit itself with a kind of monitoring. Apart from several high level visits, including visits of Catherine Ashton (whose attention to Ukraine and the region is just a small fraction from the resources spent on Iran and Middle East in general) and the statements of the EU External Affairs Council, there seems to be very little of active engagement policy through the political parties, opposition movement, media, economic elite and other means. To put simply, the EU both lacking the active policy tools and is shy to use them.

The EU is failing to properly address Russia. There is a growing consensus about increasingly negative role of Russia in the region. This awareness is a certain achievement, but, as with the whole Eastern Partnership policy in general, it so far has not been translated into any clearer policy and action. EU obviously has only limited tools to address Russia and its influence in the Eastern Partnership region, but on the other hand is also not trying to create them.

There are many factors behind this reluctance to active engagement. One of them is clearly a past success of the enlargement policy based on a soft power of attraction. It is a cosy excuse not to engage into a fight and instead to indulge oneself with a praise of own beauty and virtue.

Assessment of the possibilities and potential of the EU to transcend the limits of its splendid soft power so that it acquires a certain harder shape is beyond the remit of this essay. Instead, we focus on what is already under disposal of the EU as it is. One of such tools is the Association Agreement. Ukraine‘s recent complaints about its costs have been dismissed by the EU far too quickly and easily. We also think that part of the Ukrainian problem is an unfavourable cost-benefit ratio of the deal proposed by the EU.

Association Agreement: a well-intended, but nevertheless bad deal?

EU’s Association agreement of a new generation with the so called Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement in its core was supposed to be a major if not the main tool of the Eastern Partnership Policy. The mere promise of the conclusion of such an agreement meant to encourage the Eastern Partnership countries to reform. It has offered a liberalized trade regime with the European Union and gradual convergence of the regulatory regimes in the aspiring countries to the EU standards. In the regulatory scope, ambition and detail it went far beyond any existing association agreement of the European Union. The agreement initialled but not signed with Ukraine is almost 1000 pages long and includes annexes with the references to the concrete EU legal acts and/or their provisions. In such a way implementation of the agreement meant to create a stable and EU-like regulatory regime, which was supposed to boost investors’ confidence and lead to lower risk and higher investment and thus economic growth in general.

To sign an agreement of this kind would be logical for countries having an EU membership perspective, such as the Western Balkan states. Paradoxically, they have much weaker agreements in their scope and ambition as the scope and ambition there are built through the accession track. For countries like Ukraine the EU regulatory standards have hardly been goals in themselves. And this should not be surprising, as the EU regulatory framework has never been intended to serve as a developmental framework. By its nature, it is a result of long years of slow and occasionally painstaking negotiations between the EU member states over externalities of cross border cooperation. The EU acquis communautaire reflects the preferences of rich consumers’ societies, which are willing to pay for high protection from health, safety, environmental and other risks. This protection is costly, and so are costly environmental, consumer safety and other standards contained in the Association agreement.

Provisions of Association Agreements as such therefore cannot be sufficiently motivating factors. Their current form was shaped by the EU‘s trade power and willingness to project the EU regulatory regime worldwide. In short and medium term it is beneficial to the EU and might be beneficial to many, but hardly to all third countries.

Association Agreements in their current form were developed building by and large on the enlargement template and unfortunately without a serious consideration about how they could be implemented in the Eastern neighbourhood. Despite many calls and internal discussions within the European Commission after the big bang enlargement in 2004, the EU institutions have not yet reviewed the acquis to establish its core with a clear developmental value, that is, providing advice on the sequencing of change for the aspirants who start approximation from significantly lower levels of development than those in the EU. During negotiations with Eastern neighbours the content of legally binding EU norms was mainly left to the DG Trade of the European Commission to determine. And there is no evidence to state that this selection was made with due sensitivity to development and foreign policy objectives of the EU.

What could be done: moving away from the acquis

In order for its enlargement and Eastern neighbourhood policies to become effective, the EU should abandon its current theory of change, which is based purely on EU’s attractiveness and develop more nuanced paradigm, especially towards the laggards of Western Balkans and Eastern partnership countries.

First, moving away from the acquis, the EU should emphasise more issues related to state building, fundamentals of market economy and investment promotion. The start of large scale transposition of the EU norms during the fifth EU enlargement into Central Eastern Europe coincided with accession negotiations, while the beginning of negotiations was conditioned by achievement of a functioning market economy status by the candidates. Out of the list of current candidates, potential candidates and Eastern neighbours, by the most recent Bertelsmann foundation transformation evaluation and European Commission stringent assessment only Iceland and Turkey are functioning market economies. In terms of maturity of their democratic credentials, none of them, save Iceland, qualify as democracies in consolidation, while their performance ranges from hard-line autocracies (such as Belarus and Azerbaijan) to defective democracies (only Serbia and Montenegro are approaching the category of consolidated democracies). Consequently, the focus on the first two Copenhagen criteria and addressing the issues of socio-economic development, which do not directly feature in them should outweigh the acquis. The EU has already started changing the emphasis, for example, during the visa liberalization negotiations with Western Balkan countries and Eastern partners as well as by frontloading chapters covering the rule of law, judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security (known as the “new approach”) in the accession negotiations with Montenegro and stating clearly that progress in these and flanking policy fields will determine the overall pace of accession negotiations. While this is welcome and necessary, in many countries it alone will not be sufficient to ensure stability and lasting continuity of reforms.

In potential candidate and Eastern partnership countries elections and therefore public administration too are still affected by the winner takes it all approach. The EU could and should do more in changing this situation by ensuring fair legal processes and vigorously protecting European integration professionals in the public administrations from unjustified dismissals. This is not least necessary in order to protect the European tax payer investment provided through the various forms of technical assistance and twinning. It is also about limiting the state capture. It could be the main goal and even a new theory of change of the EU. A post visa liberalization agenda of state building closely linked to monitoring of commitments of aspiring countries could provide sufficient motivation for aspiring countries for implementation.

Second, in order for EU to be successful, in some weaker potential candidate and Eastern partnership countries the European Commission will no longer be able to exercise its role as an arbiter of the progress made against the Copenhagen criteria. It will have to complement this role by active engineering on the ground, i.e. to become a player and a broker and to facilitate the necessary changes on the ground, through micro-management, where and when necessary Determination and efforts in 2012 – 2013 by the European Commission in assisting the Albanian government to meet the requirements for the candidacy status and the negotiating process with Montenegro are the first examples of such boundary crossing by the European Commission to assume the player status too.

Third, for its technical and financial assistance to become really effective, the EU needs to begin planning long-term to support the agents of change and be able to respond to rapidly evolving needs. Here there is much to be learned from the USAID and Nordic agencies for developmental assistance – for example, SIDA or DANIDA. Also, it should ensure availability of various rendered expertise after the end of the projects. Almost nothing remains of various project products and websites in particular afterwards. The EU delegations should ensure that all accumulated materials are available publicly and freely.

Fourth, the EU representations in the capitals of aspiring countries should be made up to the task. In their daily work, they seem to be hindered by still existing division between the EEAS and Commission’s delegates and lack of motivation and determination to make a difference. Staffing policy should suit the concrete challenge too. For example, if Bosnia and Herzegovina’s internal divisions can be solved at all, they should be tackled by political heavyweights enjoying full support of the member states and determined to achieve the results.

Fifth, as it is difficult now to change the already negotiated agreements, which have been also initialled with Moldova and Georgia, their implementation could still be geared towards the parts directly related to developmental aims and towards development in general. Procedurally, it should be possible to achieve this focus through jointly developed and agreed Association Agendas specifying implementation priorities and further policy and legal act-specific analysis of the cost-benefit ratio.

Focus on the socio-economic fundamentals is relevant to Western Balkan countries too, but especially so to Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, where issues of fiscal sustainability and economic governance are urgent in order to make them less reliant on foreign aid and afford the cost of acquis communautaire. Recent protests in Bosnia are a vivid demonstration of this need.

The European Commission’s intension to deepen the dialogue on economic governance with enlargement countries in order to assist them to fully meet the economic criteria and thus to enhance their competitiveness and job creation, is a step forward. Finally, EU cannot promise membership to any third country that it wants to influence. A passive attitude suggested by the seeming success of the EU enlargement policy could be counterproductive, as it may lead to disillusionment with the EU. Soft power of attraction has to be paired with a harder power of persuasion and dissuasion as well. Domestic change in the EU neighbourhood requires both.



A post in 2 parts, by Klaudijus Maniokas and Darius Žeruolis,

EU enlargement policy is an important tool of the EU‘s foreign policy. However, its limitations are increasingly obvious and it is hardly a recipe for a successful EU foreign policy in general. It is still important in Western Balkans where a number of countries are showing willingness to change at a prospect of the EU‘s membership. This policy is a glue which holds the region and some of its states together. Croatia‘s success also demonstrates viability of the membership offer. Montenegro and Turkey made a step forward in the second half of 2013. The next shooting star of the enlargement process is Montenegro. Under the Lithuanian Presidency of the EU Council it made big progress in accession negotiations by opening another five chapters, including the most difficult ones related to fundamental rights and judiciary. This is a real demonstration of the magnetic transformative power of the EU and confirmation of the “New Approach” in accession negotiations. Serbia formally began accession negotiations on 21 January 2014 and could be reasonably expected to advance fast. With opening of the chapter on regional policy and co-ordination of structural instruments in November 2013, accession negotiations with Turkey have resumed after more than a three-year break. In December 2013 the Council once again made it clear that without full and non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement towards all Member States and normalisation of relations with the Republic of Cyprus by Turkey, it will not be possible for the Council to unfreeze certain negotiating chapters and to advance negotiations significantly. However, the resumption of negotiations, along with implementation of the Positive Agenda of 2012 could bring the needed boost and keep Turkey interested in  coming closer to the EU. The EU also began negotiations on Stabilization and Association Agreement with Kosovo. This will certainly keep the necessary pressure to continue with state building and necessary reforms, although these are still early days of the integration process in Kosovo in view of the distance to be covered towards full membership in the EU.

Progress in 2013 in the remaining candidate and potential candidate countries or around them was less pronounced. The new Icelandic government decided to put the accession negotiations on hold. Albania made progress towards a candidacy status, but the EU was not convinced and postponed its decision to June 2014. Progress in FYROM and Bosnia and Herzegovina hinges on the high level dialogues, but without tangible success or even the prospect thereof.

Overall, EU enlargement is advancing, but the limitations of this policy are becoming more obvious as well, especially when it is judged against more difficult cases. Some EU member states are becoming hostile to the EU enlargement policy. As a consequence, decision to grant EU candidacy status to Albania was postponed again, despite the positive recommendation of the European Commission.

Albania‘s case also demonstrates limited ability of the EU to induce change. Regrettably, the EU did not have enough tools to stop the new Albanian government from politically motivated lay-offs of civil servants. This is an important negative feature of the policy, which has wider implications towards the EU foreign policy in general.

First of all, this policy is passive towards the domestic ingredients of change. The EU seldom if at all engineers them, because EU policy makers tend to overestimate the attractive power of the EU. Unfortunately, they have got accustomed to assume that a certain opening of the relationship with the EU or upgrading of its status in itself is sufficient to make a lasting impact on the neighbourhood countries or, more widely, on the external world. This assumption is increasingly incorrect as there are more external players and more divergent internal incentives in the aspiring countries.

This is obvious in Western Balkans, but it is even more so in the Eastern neighbourhood. The current EU‘s stance towards Ukraine is a case in mind. While EU was right refusing to play a bidding game with Russia, a more active EU stance towards Ukraine and other Eastern partners is necessary. It is not enough to open a prospect of association and free trade, it is important to help to offset Russia‘s influence and help to solve the main developmental problems of this region. This, inter alia, includes a reassessment of the cost and benefits of the current association agreements. They should be commensurate to the issues of socio-economic development faced today by the South-Eastern and Eastern neighbourhood and made lighter in their regulatory burden.

A shorter version of this post has appeared on Europe’s World  and can be read here. Part II of this commentary will appear here on eurosearch shortly.

By Uliana Poltavets, MSc in Public Administration (Leiden University)
Project Coordinator, Ukrainian School of Political Studies (Kyiv, Ukraine)

I was born in the USSR. It says so in my birth certificate which I had to change faced with European bureaucracy – apparently, I was from a non-existent country. When I was applying for master’s in Leiden University, to my surprise, I did not find ‘Ukraine” under the “Country of origin” field in the application form; instead I was offered to choose “USSR”. I wrote an angry e-mail to the admission’s office because I felt offended: I was from the independent state of Ukraine and wanted everyone to know that. But only now I realize that I was probably wrong. To me it might have seemed like I was from a free country. But to an outsider, who had a taste of real freedom, it was all Soviet Union.

When Ukrainian journalist, Mustafa Nayem, wrote a short post on his Facebook in the end of November inviting people to take on the streets to protest against the suspension of Ukraine’s association with the EU, I doubt he could have foreseen what was about to happen. Indeed, the role of social networks and the Internet in this revolution was underestimated not only by people but most importantly by the regime. Two days later half a million people waved European flags in the centre of Kyiv. The civil society went at great lengths trying to divide people’s demands from the agenda of different political parties. Yet, spending my casual Sunday on one of the main squares with a small banner with 12 stars on it, I felt inspired and driven, of course, but still disoriented. I realized it was no 2004, at least not yet or not anymore: people were ready but there was no consensus on what it was that we were ready for. Was it ‘freedom for Yulia’? Was it to impeach the president? Or was this a campaign for presidential elections ’15? There seemed to be just one reasonable question: where do Ukrainians really fit in this picture?

Towards the end of the week the protests died down, however, on November, 30, we woke up with a heavy heart. The images of injured students beaten by the police with particular cruelty shocked us. It became clear that Ukrainians did not fit in the picture at all – we were casualties in a master plan to steal what was left of Ukraine in our President’s sick imagination. The protests of the 1st of December will go down in my memory as my first acquaintance with tear gas and the first time I was really scared. Half a million people peacefully marched the streets of Kyiv towards Maidan, and just 200 m away the special police forces “Berkut” beat the tar out of protesters. I believe this was the day that the protest jokingly named “Euromaidan” by the press left the Association Agreement behind and became all about basic human rights and freedoms.

Since then, Maidan was a shelter to people who put their values first, people from different backgrounds, regions and with different education. Every day I went to Maidan in the morning, during lunch, and then again after work. I gave away all my salaries, brought food and meds to those protesters who lived at Maidan 24/7, and lost sleep when Maidan was attacked by the “Berkut” police and thugs hired by the regime to maraud and burn the cars. But after a month and a half of protests no progress was made. Instead, the regime responded with a set of the so called dictatorship laws that copied some of Russian legislation and forbade, for example, driving in a row of more than 5 cars (targeting one of the most active movements within Maidan – Automaidan who drove to politicians’ houses to protest). I myself as a manager of the Council of Europe funded project became a ‘foreign agent’ according to the new law.
On January, 19, my friends and I went to the protest yet again. The crowd was uneasy and restless. Several hours later we found ourselves amidst fire, sound grenades and tear gas. I watched the police bus burn several meters away from me and saw my cultured and intelligent friends with Western education filling with anger and aggression. They said something about this being a historical moment and how they needed to be a part of it. Instead, I only saw that violence always begets more violence. I remembered why we turned to the streets in the first place – to embrace the ‘europeanness’ in us, to internalize the values we thought we wanted. And I could not believe that this was the path we chose.

In the coming days, I worked at the first-aid post in the now burned Trade Unions building. Having no experience as a paramedic, I volunteered to sort through the meds people donated and form the first-aid kits for paramedics who went to the frontline. Every 5 minutes people were brought in with severe injuries. Three people were dead; many were kidnapped and tortured by the police. What I saw those days, what we all saw, will haunt us for the rest of our lives. Could I ever imagine in my worst nightmare that I would someday hear grenades exploding every minute, the whole night, when we were frantically reading the news and watching live stream while the bravest men fought for us?
Admittedly, at first there were no accidental people in the frontline. They were prepared for the escalation of the conflict and knew exactly what they were doing and that ordinary people would follow. They were right. However, what many outsiders fail to understand is that Maidan is a versatile body with so many organizations and movements that nobody was able to count them. Everyone came to Maidan for their own reasons, chasing their own goals, consequently, the methods and strategies vary among the protesters. The infamous “Praviy sector”, a far-right organization that was the driving force of the violent protests, does not have a wide support among Ukrainians, their actions are generally judged, and many suspect them of being Russian agents. That is why any accusation of radicalization of the revolution is far from the truth.
But during those bloody days and nights in the end of February, there were no organizations at Maidan. No guards of Maidan who had so defiantly worn military uniform before. Just several hundred people who stayed there despite their fears and many others who were there by chance. My friend Sergey Kemskiy was one of the latter. He was a pacifist by nature and did not have any weapons. He was shot in his neck by a sniper and died immediately.

After Yanukovych’s regime fell, we finally felt like we could start over. There was no trust for the opposition leaders who repeatedly discredited themselves as passive, irresponsible and populist. It was clear we had to build the country from scratch – judiciary, police, everything that was rotten with corruption, and nobody knew how to do it. In this situation of complete distrust and chaos people became the justice. Putin used it as a window of opportunity. The condescending tone of Russian attitudes towards Ukrainians that we tolerated for many decades finally blew up in our faces. ‘Fascists’, ‘nazi’, ‘thugs’ – those were the words they used not only in their media but in conversations with us. I never understood the hatred of Balkan nations towards each other; now I do. Under the false pretense of ‘protecting the Russian population of Ukraine from fascists’ Russian army invaded Crimea with the whole world watching. We thought we were daydreaming – can this really happen in the 21st century in the centre of Europe?
A month later now, we find ourselves in an unreal reality. I see people in Sevastopol celebrating, crying of happiness, and claiming this was the dream of their lives – to be a part of Russia. Russians have never been infringed in Ukraine; Ukraine is known to be a shelter for minorities of the ex-Soviet Union, e.g. Crimean Tatars evicted from their land by Stalin and returned by Ukraine. But it is important to understand why many Crimeans want to be a part of Russia. They see Russia as a continuation of the Soviet legacy; for them it means poor but stable life, without the necessity to think of such complicated things as freedom, human rights, transparency and rule of law. They want to be told how to live. This is a mindset of many fellow Russians I know, while Ukraine cannot promise stability; it can only promise opportunities. In contrast, here in Ukraine most of us can literally feel the freedom we want, with every fiber of our souls, with every breath we take. And this is what unites us with Europe. Or better, this is what unites Europe with us.

I do not know where my limit is; I am tired of putting my life on hold for the last four months. I am scared to live in a reality where I have to become a member of the Red Cross and keep an ‘emergency’ bag in case of bombing. But I know very well the price people paid so that I could live my life in a free, independent and prosperous country, Ukraine. And neither I, nor others will let them down. Even if it means we have to sacrifice everything.

Antoaneta Dimitrova:  The above text needs no explanation. It is a personal view and not our usual academic commentary, but I found it important to post it here as a way to give a voice to one of the Ukrainian citizens whom we can easily forget while games of geopolitics are being played. The only thing I would like to add is that Ulyana Poltavetz is an alumna of the Master’s programme of Public Administration of Leiden University and I had the pleasure to be her teacher and supervisor.


Europe’s Eastern Partnership – a successful failure?

Tanja A.Börzel1, Freie Universität Berlin

The depiction of the European Union as an economic giant but political dwarf is a classic, and criticisms for its failure to get its act together when it comes to foreign and security policy are an old hat. With the recent events in Ukraine, however, EU bashing has reached a new dimension. Political commentators and journalists sing from the same song book. And the tune goes as follows: In the 21st century, Russia and the US play a geostrategic game of the 19th century according to the rules of the 20th century. In their competition over exclusive spheres of influence, Russia got the Crimean (back) and the US keeps the rest in the West. Europe has either been irrelevant in this power game or dealt one or two cards to the US. Either way, the European Union and its member states have betrayed the values they seek to uphold bowing to the power of Western energy companies, Russian oligarchs, US imperialism, or Russia’s ambition to re-build the Soviet Union – pick you choice.
There is no question that the conflict over the Crimean involves geopolitics. While all parties justify their actions by the need to protect democracy and human rights, the bidding over Ukraine’s territorial integrity is also about economic and security interests. Yet, in the 21st century, immaterial and material interests are intimately linked. For once, in a globalized economy, the prosperity of Western democracies and the survival of the Russian rent-economy both depend as much on the energy supply from Russia. More importantly, Western democracies share the belief that democracy is the best way to ensure security and prosperity in the long run. So do many Ukrainians that have been holding out in the Maidan, first, to dispose of an autocratic and corrupt regime, and then to protest against the land-grab by an external autocratic regime. The European Union has been an important reference point for their demands of democracy and (international) rule of law. After all, it was the refusal of former president Yanukovich to sign the Association Agreement with the EU last November that triggered the protest movement in the first place.
The European Union and its member states might have underestimated the political costs of the Association Agreement for President Yanukovich. They did not anticipate how far President Putin would go to protect what he sees as Russia’s national interests in its near abroad. And the EU certainly failed to prevent the annexation of the Crimean, which could set a precedent for pro-Russian secessionist regions in other Eastern Partnership countries (Moldova, Georgia). Yet, what should the EU have done? Offering a membership perspective to Ukraine in return for political reforms would have been unlikely to make Yanukovich cut his own power by strengthening the judiciary, reforming electoral laws, and fighting corruption. Moreover, it would have fueled Putin’s anxieties of a “Western expansion” even further. Providing massive financial aid to counteract Ukraine’s dependence on Russia would have empowered a corrupt and autocratic regime rather than transforming it. Trying to reach a compromise with Putin over the Association Agreement with Ukraine might not only have invoked memories of the 19th and 20th century. It would have been unlikely to work in Putin’s world of competing spheres of influences. Imposing strict sanctions early on against Putin’s attempts to undermine Ukraine’s territorial integrity could have easily escalated into military conflict, a risk that seems hardly justified given that Putin is the ultimate loser of his own geopolitical game – precisely because the European Union has largely resisted playing along.
True, Russia won the Crimean, and Putin’s domestic approval rates have sky-rocketed. Yet, this is likely to be a Pyrrhic victory. Economically, the rouble fell. So have the stock values of many Russian companies and the trust of foreign investors. Internationally, Russia is completely isolated, no country likes the idea of a foreign regime grabbing part of its territory, and this includes China. Russia can’t have it both – be accepted by the international community but not wanting to play by its rules. Putin’s foreign policy has accelerated Russia’s fall from a rising power to a rent-seeking economy that has little in common with the emerging markets of Brazil, India or China. The loss in economic and political power will drive Ukraine but also other countries in Russia’s near abroad even more towards the West.
The EU might have failed to actively shape the developments in its Eastern neighbourhood, arguably because it has refused to buy into Putin’s world of geopolitics. This is not to say, though, that it has not had any influence. Despite its external failures, it is the internal success of the EU in transforming Europe into a region of lasting peace, prosperity and security that draws post-Soviet countries to the European Union.

1For eurosearch readers: This week, we present the commentary on the European Union’s Eastern Partnership by our MAXCAP coordinator and partner Tanja A.Börzel from the Freie Universität Berlin. The commentary was first published on 20 March 2014 in the Focus section of the Verfassungsblog as part of the topic: ‘EU and Ukraine: Make or Break for the CFSP?’

Among the many negative consequences of Putin’s move in the Crimea, one has remained somehow under the radar: the shift from interactions in which the people – the activists of the maidan, the protesters – were active participants, to a game of high politics. To a certain extent and when we think of the much needed readjustment of perspective on Russia, this is welcome. As Techau noted in an insightful commentary, the EU noticed too late that it was in a geopolitics game and brought the low politics toolbox that it uses for Association agreement negotiations to a high politics construction site. After Putin brought Russia back into the picture with the help of the so-called volunteers and the actions of the Crimean parliament, the voice of the people is being drowned in the new propaganda war. The problem with this is not only that there has been so much disinformation around that we are really coming to a Cold War-like fog of confusion. The bigger problem, as far as I am concerned, is that the ethnic politics aspect of Ukrainian politics has come too much to the fore and obscures the drive of Ukrainian citizens of all ethnicities towards a less oligarchic, more transparent, more pluralistic and equal political regime. As Chrystia Freedland has written in an opinion piece in last Sunday’s NYT and as I have written in my commentary at Crooked Timber, the struggle of Ukrainians to depose President Yanukovich was not primarily an ethno-cultural fight, it was a political struggle against corruption and the fusion between oligarchic economic power and political power. In moving our attention to ethnicity, we – and those advising the new Ukrainian government – lose sight of the demands and energy of the people that kept the Ukrainian revolution going when everyone thought Yanukovich’s decision not to sign the Association agreement was the end of closer Ukrainian-European ties. The people were really the ones that disrupted the predetermined scenario last time and their desire for a more just democracy in which rule of law prevails should not be forgotten. I believe that what many Ukrainians liked about the EU agreement was not primarily the trade or the adoption of EU’s regulatory approach, but the EU’s insistence that formal rules and institutions be observed and enforced. The short term implications of my argument may not be great, except for the need to look more carefully at the appointment of business entrepreneurs as political appointees of the new government. In the long term, any support measures from the EU or the US should not target the economy without consulting and empowering those who started the changes and wanted a different kind of democracy in Ukraine.


Only last November, the most dramatic picture of the EU’s failure to bring its message to the Ukrainian leadership was a YouTube video showing Angela Merkel telling President Yanukovich in Vilnius, ‘We expected more’. A mild, civilized and diplomatic rebuke. After the failure to sign the long negotiated Association Agreement in Vilnius and a few more days of rescue attempts, Commissioner Füle was criticized for ‘losing his cool’ and being undiplomatic when he commented on twitter that the ‘words and deeds of Ukraine’s leadership were further and further apart’. Today, the internet and news agencies are alive with shocking images of violence from the centre of Kiev. In the last weeks the Ukrainian parliament passed, with lightning speed, legislation ‘stipulating jail terms for offenses such as driving in columns of more than 5 cars, people wearing hard hats and demonstrating in uniforms and ‘not complying with the demands of legal authorities’. In an even more bizarre Orwellian twist, those near the central square in Kiev were reported to have received an sms message ‘Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance’.

How could things go so wrong so rapidly: for Ukraine but also in terms of the ability of EU policy makers to influence events there? A small, rational part of the answer is that political regimes where the distance between informal rules and formal legislation is substantial are difficult to understand by studying only the formal legislative rules and the configuration of formal veto players. A gut feeling response suggests that the President and the opposition feel they have nothing to lose and therefore will not look for a compromise. Last but not least, the violence – which is, even in these curcumstances – not the wish of the majority of people protesting in the streets of Kiev these days – may be a sign that no one has any trust in President Yanukovich’s words any more. So Mr. Füle was right after all. One cannot help but wish that the realities of Ukraine’s political system of neopatrimonialism, a form of governance characterized by nearly complete state capture and power monopolies, (as defined by Alina Mungiu-Pippidi in a recent article in the Journal of Democracy) had been understood and acknowledged earlier.

Met Evert-Jan Mulder, Principal Consultant Europa/Internationaal PBLQ


Recent heeft de Raad voor het Openbaar Bestuur advies uitgebracht over de relatie tussen Europa en decentrale overheden. De ROB constateert in dit advies dat Europa (lees de Europese Unie) een steeds grotere invloed heeft op decentrale overheden. Enerzijds “moeten” overheden steeds meer van Brussel, als gevolg van toenemende wet- en regelgeving. Anderzijds biedt Europa ook diverse kansen, in termen van samenwerking, kennisontwikkeling en financiering. Kortom, decentrale overheden zijn en worden steeds meer met Europa verbonden. Dat is dan ook de titel van het ROB-advies.

“Met Europa verbonden” kijkt vooral naar de bestuurlijk-juridische gevolgen van deze toenemende vervlechting tussen Europa en de decentrale overheden. Met name de interbestuurlijke verhoudingen tussen rijk en decentrale overheden binnen de Europese context komen aan bod. De ROB constateert hier een interessante ontwikkeling. Enerzijds neemt de bemoeienis van de EU met nationaal beleid toe, anderzijds is er sprake van een afnemende verantwoordelijkheid van het rijk als gevolg van allerlei decentralisaties. Wat zijn hiervan de gevolgen voor de bestuurlijke verhouding tussen Europa en de Nederlandse overheid, en wat zijn de gevolgen voor de Nederlandse interbestuurlijke verhoudingen? Voeren straks bijvoorbeeld de provincies de onderhandelingen over het milieubeleid—dat steeds meer een verantwoordelijkheid van de provincies is geworden—in plaats van het ministerie van I&M?

Het ROB-advies gaat niet in op de vraag wat de effecten zijn van de toenemende Europeanisering van decentrale overheden en welke factoren daarop van invloed zijn. Het Instituut Bestuurskunde van de Universiteit Leiden (Campus Den Haag) heeft in 2012, in samenwerking met PBLQ, deze vraag onderzocht voor gemeenten. Het onderzoek, uitgevoerd door een aantal Master studenten, was gebaseerd op diepteonderzoek in 8 gemeenten (op basis van verschillende kenmerken geselecteerd) en een survey waarop 147 van de 418 gemeenten hebben gereageerd (respons van 35,4%). Het onderzoek is daarmee een goede graadmeter van de wijze waarmee Nederlandse gemeenten met de EU omgaan. Hoofdconclusie is dat gemeenten nog (lang) niet alle kansen pakken die de EU ze biedt.


De onderzoekers hebben gekeken in hoeverre verschillende gemeentelijke kenmerken van invloed zijn op de wijze waarop gemeenten met de Europese Unie omgaan. Het blijkt dat bevolkingsdichtheid en gemeentegrootte inderdaad invloed hebben op de verhouding die de gemeente heeft met Europa. Zo hebben landelijke gemeenten minder vaak een specifieke Europa-strategie en achten de ambtenaren van die gemeenten de EU minder relevant voor hun organisatie. Ook vinden landelijke gemeenten het lastiger om Europese subsidies te verkrijgen. Grotere (en vaak niet-landelijke) gemeenten komen makkelijker aan Europese fondsen, althans naar het oordeel van de onderzochte gemeenteambtenaren.

Mogelijke verklaringen hiervoor liggen in het feit dat in grotere gemeenten meer aandacht wordt besteed aan het ontwikkelen van een Europa-strategie, zoals uit het onderzoek blijkt. Daarnaast is er in grote gemeenten meer capaciteit om met Europese zaken om te gaan en voor het verspreiden en borgen van relevante kennis. In kleine gemeenten geven ambtenaren aan dat er onvoldoende kennis aanwezig is om actief met de EU om te gaan.

Wellicht belangrijker nog dan de beschikbare capaciteit is het feit dat grote gemeenten vaker een proactieve houding hebben ten aanzien van de EU. Grote gemeenten zien de EU eerder als een kans om gemeentelijke doelstellingen te realiseren dan kleine gemeenten. In het verlengde daarvan werken grotere gemeenten vaker samen met andere gemeenten en lobbyen actief in Brussel, wat de kans op toewijzing van een subsidie vergroot. Zodra een gemeente eerder een subsidie heeft ontvangen zijn ambtenaren aanzienlijk positiever over de mogelijkheden die Europese subsidieregelgeving schept voor lokale overheden.

Succesvolle “europeanisering” is voor een belangrijk deel gestoeld op het verzamelen van kennis en het vervolgens integreren van die kennis in de gemeentelijke organisatie. Of zoals een ambtenaar van één van de vijf grootste gemeenten hierover zegt: “Kennis over meer actuele ontwikkelingen is beperkt aanwezig, terwijl daar juist de belangrijke aanknopingspunten zitten om invloed uit de oefenen op wat er in Brussel, maar ook op wat bij het Rijk, gebeurt, en te sturen op de gevolgen voor de gemeente”. Kleinere gemeenten geven aan dat zij die kennis in onvoldoende mate hebben. Ook worden ambtenaren in kleine gemeenten nauwelijks gestimuleerd om hun kennis over Europa up-to-date te houden. Ongeveer 70 procent van de onderzochte ambtenaren gaf aan dat dit een verbeterpunt is. Wel geven sommige kleinere gemeenten aan dat wanneer meer complexe kennis nodig is, deze extern wordt aangetrokken.

Interessant punt is ook de wijze waarop gemeenten met Europees geld omgaan. In veel gevallen zijn de huidige werkzaamheden en doelen van de gemeenten niet het vertrekpunt om subsidies te zoeken, maar wordt eerst gekeken naar de programma’s voor Europese subsidies, waar vervolgens weer projecten bij gezocht worden. Daarnaast blijkt uit het onderzoek dat er een groep ambtenaren bestaat die niet eens op de hoogte is van het feit dat hun gemeente een Europese subsidie ontvangt.


Het onderzoek laat zien dat er duidelijke verschillen bestaan tussen grote en kleine gemeenten als het gaat om hun houding ten aanzien van Europa. Grote gemeenten blijken vaker een ‘Europa-strategie’ te hebben, beter op de hoogte te zijn van Europese wet- en regelgeving en succesvoller te zijn in het verkrijgen van Europese subsidies. Voor een deel is dit te verklaren door de grotere capaciteit en financiële middelen die grote gemeenten hebben. Nog belangrijker is dat grote gemeenten Europa als meer relevant ervaren en dus een meer actieve houding hebben ten aanzien van de EU.

Het hebben van een proactieve houding ten aanzien van Europa blijkt alle betrekkingen met de EU ten goede te komen, of het nu gaat om kennis van Europese wet- en regelgeving (en daarmee kosteneffectiever omgaan) of het verwerven van Europese subsidies. Bij grote gemeenten ontstaat deze bewustwording en actieve houding wat makkelijker doordat men bijvoorbeeld een speciale Europa-afdeling kan opzetten.

Kleine gemeenten kunnen op dit vlak echter ook hun voordeel doen. Het onderzoek laat zien dat kleine gemeenten vaak externe partijen aantrekken bij complexere problematiek. Het nadeel hiervan is dat die kennis vervolgens niet binnen de organisatie wordt geborgd. Anderen zoeken een oplossing gevonden door het opzetten van samenwerkingsverbanden met andere gemeenten. Deze oplossing bespaart capaciteit bij de betrokken gemeenten en zorgt er tegelijkertijd voor dat kennis uitgewisseld en geborgd wordt in de organisatie. Dat bevordert tevens de houding die ambtenaren hebben ten aanzien van de EU. Bovendien zijn gemeenten die al samen lobbyen voor subsidies vaker succesvol hierin.

Samenwerking kan ook op een hoger, bestuurlijk niveau. In plaats van ‘ieder voor zich’ zou een overkoepelende organisatie vooral kleinere gemeenten kunnen steunen, zowel in kennis als belangenbehartiging. De VNG of het Kenniscentrum Europa Decentraal zouden deze rol (meer) op zich kunnen nemen en uitwisseling van ervaringen tussen alle gemeenten kunnen stimuleren. Dat biedt mogelijkheden tot uitwisseling tussen gemeenten, maar ook om met anderen een sterkere positie te verwerven ten aanzien van vraagstukken die in Europa worden bepaald.

Hoe verder?

De conclusies uit het onderzoek van de Universiteit Leiden en PBLQ laat een aardige discrepantie zien met de conclusie van de ROB uit “Met Europa verbonden”. De ROB constateert terecht een onmiskenbare groeiende beleidsimpact van de Europese Unie op decentrale overheden. Tegelijkertijd laat het onderzoek van Leiden en PBLQ zien dat deze beleidsimpact zich niet meteen vertaalt in adequate organisatorische aandacht voor de EU. Er is bij gemeenten nog veel te winnen waar het gaat om onder meer bewustzijn van het belang van de EU, het ontwikkelen en borgen van EU-expertise, het formuleren van een concrete EU-strategie en het benutten van EU-subsidies. Deze conclusie spoort met uitkomsten uit eerder onderzoek dat PBLQ heeft verricht onder een groot aantal ambtenaren van zowel centrale als decentrale overheden (Europa, wat doe je ermee?). Voor gemeenten betekent dit dat de komende tijd meer zal moeten worden geïnvesteerd in de relatie met Europa. Daar kunnen en moeten landelijke organisaties zoals de VNG en Europa Decentraal een entamerende en faciliterende rol bij vervullen.

Uiteindelijk zijn gemeenten echter zelf verantwoordelijk voor de concretisering van de relatie met Europa. Dat betekent dat zij op zijn minst aandacht moeten schenken aan de volgende drie onderwerpen:

  • In de eerste plaats moeten zij zelf op de hoogte zijn van wat er speelt op Europees niveau. Dat betekent dat monitoring van de EU moet plaatsvinden vanuit de verschillende taken en verantwoordelijkheden van de gemeente.
  • In de tweede plaats moeten gemeenten beleidsmatig hun relatie met Europa definiëren. Hoe raakt Europa de gemeente? Waar liggen de kansen, waar liggen verplichtingen, en waar liggen samenwerkingsmogelijkheden met Europa maar ook met de buurgemeenten en de provincie?
  • Tot slot moeten gemeenten een EU strategie hebben, die de geformuleerde Europese doelen vertaalt in een concreet handelingsperspectief, met ‘namen en rugnummers’.

Alleen op deze manier kunnen gemeenten daadwerkelijk invulling geven aan hun verbinding met Europa.


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