Opinion: Demonstrations in Ukraine demonstrates the importance of European unity

Within the confines of our islands, during the protracted debates over Britain’s relationship with the EU, it is perfectly easy to forget what is patently obvious to the majority of continental Europe – European unity matters. As Ian Traynor at the Guardian has pointed out, the mass demonstrations in Ukraine show that the EU still offers hope to many on the peripheries of the continent. Indeed, it is probably extremely difficult for Nigel Farage or indeed any British Eurosceptic to understand the waving of the EU flag as an act promoting national self-determination and prosperity or the association between Brussels and ‘hope’. Nevertheless, the reality is that European unity remains utterly essential to the majority of countries that have experienced the utter misery of dictatorship, restrictions on freedom, democracy and diplomatic isolation.

Ukraine is geographically the largest country in continental Europe and has a sizeable population exceeding 44 million. Despite its size, since independence in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has been the subject of a perpetual tug of war between Europe and Russia, and over 20 years later, the direction of Ukraine’s future remains entirely insecure. Ukraine represents a country that has missed out the prosperity and opportunities experienced by other post-Soviet and post-communist states that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007 that in doing so broke away (to a certain degree) from the clutches of the Kremlin. Merciless pressure from Russia, whose attempted rigging of the 2004 Presidential election in Ukraine contributed to the first mass pro-Western demonstration, the Orange Revolution, appears to have thwarted Ukraine’s latest attempt to integrate into the West despite the clear economic and political benefits EU association offers to the majority of Ukrainians. It is rare that one sees a country demonstrate such a brazen and ruthless exhibition of power, as Russia has. Putin threatened Ukraine with untold economic and political sanctions in the event of signing a treaty with the EU, the threat of which proved too much for President Yanukovyich to stomach.

Ukraine represents the importance of smaller countries working together, which enables them to have a bigger say on the world stage. Whilst this author is sceptical of making comparisons between Russian and US exercises of power, the same basic principle applies. Countries which isolate themselves from Europe need to ally themselves with a global power, and that invariably leads to a wholly unbalanced relationship, Ukraine being an extreme case of subservience to super power. So when people contemplate a ‘Brexit’ they must realise the diplomatic implications of such an action – is it feasible that Britain could leave and not expect a greater subservience to the United States? The potential implications of a deepening ‘Special Relationship’, following the Iraq War, I would hope would lead to collective gasps of horror from most Brits and lead to serious re-think of where Britain’s diplomatic ties should be maximised.

It is far too early to say whether the biggest mass demonstration in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution, a revolution which ultimately failed in its goal of moving Ukraine away from the commands of Russian power, will bear any fruit. However, it is already a powerful reminder of the importance of unity between European states in the interests of freedom and democracy, and the potentially dire consequences of what an unbalanced bilateral relationship can bring about.

* Paul Stocker is a PhD History Scholar at Teesside University, online blogger and Vice-Chair of Middlesbrough and East Cleveland Liberal Democrats

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  • Bill le Breton 2nd Dec '13 - 1:10pm

    There is also a real need to reach out with resources to help the people of Georgia who are shaking off an authoritarian regime – by supporting Georgia Dream, a coalition which includes our cousins in the Republican Party. From memory Georgia Dream got 70% in the Presidential elections October 2012 and 62% in the Presidential election October 2013.

    Local elections take place in spring of 2014, which could see a widening of the influence of Georgia Dream and the Republican Party within it.

    We must not leave them isolated at this moment of greatest opportunity.

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Dec '13 - 1:11pm

    That should have read 70% in the Parliamentary election in October 2012 !

  • “Indeed, it is probably extremely difficult for Nigel Farage or indeed any British Eurosceptic to understand the waving of the EU flag as an act promoting national self-determination and prosperity or the association between Brussels and ‘hope’.”
    No it’s not the least bit difficult to understand such enthusiasm from peripheral EU countries. As ever, simply follow the money. Take just 3 EU contributing countries.
    The EU spend on Bulgaria is about 215% of Bulgaria’s contribution.
    The EU spend on Slovakia is about 208% of Slovakia’s contribution.
    The EU spend on Britain is about 41% of Britain’s contribution.
    See, it wasn’t that difficult to understand the enthusiasm of a country like Ukraine who might also expect a similarly high return on its membership fee. If I was a Ukrainian, I too would be waving the EU flag. What’s NOT to like about a 4x return on your investment?

  • Paul Stocker 2nd Dec '13 - 2:09pm

    Are you seriously suggesting that thousands of people have gone to the streets in Kiev, set up camps, and stormed the City Hall, because they are a bit miffed about not getting any EU aid? This isn’t about membership of the EU, it is about whether Ukraine is free to make its own decisions about which region its future lies in.

  • Yes, I’m seriously suggesting that a group of people can look at their close neighbour countries, (and recent EU joinees), and determine the very clear economic benefits of aligning and installing themselves into the EU project, whilst at the same time dumping a Russia, that treats them very badly. Who wouldn’t.? What they haven’t yet grasped, is that in their eager pursuit to join ‘the project’, and cash in, they will simultaneously, have to surrender their sovereignty and freedom to Brussels.
    “This isn’t about membership of the EU, it is about whether Ukraine is free to make its own decisions…”
    No doubt, …freedom to make its own decisions… was high on the Greek ‘to do list’. But as the Greeks found to their cost, the warm welcoming arms of the EU project, turned into a bitter death grip on their democracy, their sovereignty, and their very soul.
    Ukraine should be careful what it wishes for, because joining the Federal European Project, is NOT a something for nothing deal.

  • While we should always be willing to extend the hand of friendship and support to other countries, particularly those looking to further a secure, democratic society, we should not ignore the massive cost extending Europe to the east has imposed on the UK, its working class in particular.

    Not only has it meant the export of vast amounts of UK manufacturing capacity to Eastern Europe, it has also meant importing a large proportion of their workforce, reducing their unemployment but leading to a massive displacement of our own people from the jobs market and to a collapse in wage inflation, hence the standards of living crisis. We are also paying, through net contributions, to improve their infrastructure while our own crumbles.

    So the calculation is decidedly more balanced and complicated than many Euro-enthusiasts would admit.

  • Paul Stocker 2nd Dec '13 - 5:39pm

    RC – I think it is pretty unfair to blame the cost of living crisis on Eastern European immigration. I think the recession and uncertain nature of recovery over the last few years is a much more deciding factor on the failure of wages to rise, not to mention high inflation, which is only just beginning to decrease. I believe the woeful state of employment opportunities, particularly from the young, comes from 30 years of governments who have not invested in Britain’s long term future for the sake of spending money on tax cuts or throwing it at public services. Immigrants and the EU make a good scapegoat but really cannot be blamed for the lack of opportunities for the low paid.

  • @Paul Stocker
    “I think the recession and uncertain nature of recovery over the last few years is a much more deciding factor ”

    Sorry but you are demonstrably wrong on that point. The government’s own statistics show the situation clearly in black and white. Massive numbers of new jobs have been created over the past three years. Sadly the figures clearly show that only some of them have gone to UK born workers

    “I believe the woeful state of employment opportunities….”

    Stop right there. There is not a woeful state of employment opportunities. So please cancel that idea from your head. It simply is not true. People take refuge in assumptions like this, despite the facts showing the reality is different, simply because they don’t want to see it as it conflicts with their heartfelt beliefs.

    As for “scapegoating” immigrants and the EU, I’m not scapegoating anyone. I’m making observations based on verifiable statistics. Due to immigration, in particular from the rest of the EU, employers can obtain all the workers they want at the prevailing wage rates. This means that, in contrast to other recoveries, where a tightening UK labour market meant a return to wage inflation, this time there is no restriction of supply and wage inflation has not recovered. Add this to inflation in energy and food prices, determined by global markets, and you have a complete explanation of the so-called cost of living crisis. This may make for uncomfortable reading, but it is how things are.

  • Simon Banks 3rd Dec '13 - 9:26am

    I find John Dunn’s assumption that financial calculation must trump questions of felt identity or liberty depressing. People, individually or in groups, often do things that aren’t in their economic self-interest. Of course EU membership is more attractive to, say, Bulgaria and Moldova for economic reasons, but it’s also an assertion if a national identity part of which is being European.

    One point where I want to qualify Paul’s excellent article is on Russia’s behaviour. Clearly Putin’s government is cynical and ruthless in pursuing national and Putin’s interest. But it’s not too surprising that a Russian government would want to obstruct the Ukraine, most of which was part of the Russian or Soviet state for centuries and with which it has an extremely long border, from becoming attached to a rival grouping which has a foreign policy and minister and one day might have a military dimension.

    Putin won’t be there forever and Europeans should be thinking hard about how we might improve relations with Russia.

  • Shows the risk of having to rely on resources such as gas and oil from parts of the world with dodgy regimes or governments. The EU isn’t perfect but there is something in the old adage of ‘united we stand divided we fall’. I for one haven’t forgotten when our great pal George Bush slapped tariffs on British steel to help his re-election campaign in swing states. He put two fingers up to the WTO when they declared them illegal but backed down almost immediately when the EU stepped in on Britain’s side and threatened reciprocal sanctions against EU imports from sensitive US states.

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