EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule has expressed his support for Ukraine’s EU accession in response of the founding of the Eurasian Economic Union. But some question when the EU's backing came at the right time.
The European Union and Russia are in a contest. While the Russian President Vladimir Putin has just founded the Eurasian Economic Union with Kazakhstan and Belarus, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle announced his support for accession of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova to the European Union.
"If we are serious with transforming the countries in Eastern Europe, we have to use the most important tool for transformation: the enlargement," he told German daily "Die Welt."
The goal is not immediate - or even fast-tracked - accession, but a long-term perspective. Still his statement is a message to Russia at a time when Putin criticizes the possibility of EU expansion while at the same time he is works to increase his sphere of influence. Was it a good idea to bring up the EU membership for former Soviet republics now?
Fule's statement "not helpful"
Yes and no, according to eastern Europe expert Hans-Henning Schröder of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. The perspective of an EU accession for Ukraine could stabilize its internal situation. But the normalization after the upheaval in February can't be achieved without agreement from Russia. "In this context the offer of a long-term integration into the EU is not helpful," Schröder told DW.
EU Parliamentarian Elmar Brok shared this opinion but for a different reason. Brok agreed with Fule that the EU enlargement is one of the most successful tools for securing peace.
"Although the enlargement should only go so far that the solidarity is not endangered," the chairman of the EU Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee told DW. He said he sees solidarity endangered by the hasty expansion of EU member states.
Brok did not rule out that the three countries will join the EU at some point, but he warned of focusing on the prospect at the moment. His concerns, however, had less to do with Russia than with the countries themselves and the false hopes that could arise there. The initial step should signing association agreements with the states followed by negotiations for their admission to the European economic area. Association agreement talks are currently underway with all three countries.
At the Charlemagne Prize ceremony for European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, leaders from Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova declared their desire for closer relations with the EU. Moldova's Prime Minister Iurie Leanca was particularly clear about it. He said European integration was a question of survival for his country. Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has also expressed his interest in closer relations to the EU. But he mainly praised that in the EU borders are not moved. It was largely a debate over whether Ukraine should develop closer ties to the European Union or Russia that set off the Maidan revolution in Kyiv in late 2013.
The economic union is a geopolitical project
Eastern Europe expert Schröder said he assumes the current leadership in Moscow will regard Fule's statement as a threat and will try to exploit it. Putin currently has no reason to change his policy as it is proving domestically successful for him.
"Especially the integration of Crimea has resulted in a massive increase of popularity for the government among the public," he said.
Putin is strengthening his influence and the Eurasian Economic Union with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus is a part of that. "Russia is using an entire network of regional organizations to arrange the post-Soviet area so that it can exert great institutional influence," said Schröder.
Ukraine is still the blank spot."The attempt to include [former Ukrainian President Viktor] Yanukovych in the tariff union - even with generous financial offers - was an approach to secure its sphere of influence," said Schröder, adding that the Eurasian Economic Union is "obviously a geopolitical project." Some 50 percent of Russia's foreign trade is with the EU while 7 percent is with Kazakhstan and Belarus.