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Ukraine's EU bid

December 3, 2009

When Ukraine won its bid to co-host the 2012 European Championships, it saw the decision as its pass to EU integration. But since then, Kiev has done more to floodlight its incompetence than its credibility.

Long winding road
Ukraine has a long road to travel to BrusselsImage: AP

If there are two things likely to bind a nation, they are soccer and a desire for progress. In terms of the former, Ukraine scores well, but on the latter, it let's itself down. Particularly when it comes to the ongoing issue of how to make it into the league of nations which form the European Union.

That Kiev yearns to hear the beckoning call from Brussels is no secret, but so far the fledgling democracy has failed to inspire the kind of confidence necessary to support that invitation for membership.

Its politics are often characterised by mud-slinging and below-the-belt tactics, and there is no parliamentary majority to push through the types of reforms the EU would want to see. In short, there is a long way to go.

But if the sprawling landmass on Europe's eastern edge is serious about making it into the inner sanctum, why does it not do more for its cause?

Kataryna Wolczuk, an expert on eastern European affairs, says the reasons are manifold. She cites the Orange Revolution - the protest movement which followed the run-off vote of the 2004 presidential elections - as the kick-off point for the country's current ineffectiveness.

A protester waves an orange flag
The euphoria which followed the orange revolution has fadedImage: AP

“It raised expectations to such an extent that the political leadership has been embroiled in a tug-of-war ever since,” Wolczuk told Deutsche Welle. She says politicians are more interested in scoring points against one another than they are in long-term policy making.

And in a country which is known for its corrupt judicial system and flimsy institutional framework, such a combative approach to governance is bound to make the EU flinch.

Not a one-way street

But as Wolczuk says, it takes two to tango, and she firmly believes that the EU had a hand in preventing faster Ukrainian progress. “The Orange Revolution presented a window of opportunity, there was new leadership, there were expectations, there was ambition,” she said.

Only instead of seizing the moment and casting Kiev a symbolic anchor, the EU opted for a wait-and-see approach which is keenly felt and has dampened enthusiasm.

Kiev cityscape at dusk
Kiev would welcome greater clarity from BrusselsImage: AP

Nico Lange, Head of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Kiev, agrees there is scope for Brussels to be clearer about membership prospects for post-Soviet countries but he also stresses the need for Ukraine to think more broadly.

“There needs to be a greater willingness to understand that becoming a member of the EU is not simply something that can be thrashed out at the negotiating table, but something which requires reform and political will,” Lange told Deutsche Welle.

He said the hope among Ukrainians is that someone will come along and do everything for them, that the EU will step up and modernize the country on their behalf. “But obviously they have to do that for themselves.”

Wasted opportunity?

The question is, are they up to the job? If the 2012 European Championships genuinely are a measure of the country's readiness to come in from the cold, the answer would likely be ‘no'. Preparations are running behind schedule and as a result UEFA has not yet decided which Ukrainian stadiums will host matches during the tournament.

Construction work on a stadium in Kiev
Stadium construction work has been painfully slowImage: RIA Novosti

It's all a bit of a mess and certainly hasn't done much to raise the country's profile abroad. “The project has been beset by the same problems of corruption, bureaucracy and mismanagement inherent in Ukraine,” Lange said.

Wolczuk agrees that preparations for the soccer tournament are symptomatic of Ukraine's internal struggles. “It wants to achieve something, but then realises how difficult it is without functional institutions.”

Which leads right back to the issue of reform and just what it will take to stop Ukraine from repeatedly shooting own goals on the European playing field.

Lange says it's all about stimulating political will. “If the public were to exert pressure like they did in other countries, not only with words but with deeds, Ukraine could very quickly become very dynamic.”

Author: Tamsin Walker
Editor: Rob Mudge