The EU After Ukraine

European Foreign Policy in the New Europe

A black ribbon is attached to a flag combining EU and Ukrainian national flags, February 22, 2014. Vasily Fedosenko / Courtesy Reuters

The dramatic events unfolding on Europe’s doorstep seem an affront to the European Union’s core political values: self-determination, rule of law, and peaceful conflict resolution. Yet even as the situation in Ukraine has deteriorated, Europe has largely remained a passive observer. EU representatives’ initial efforts to help stabilize the situation after the ouster of former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych petered out with Russia’s invasion of the Crimean peninsula. And the emergency session of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on March 3 resulted only in a bland statement condemning Russia’s actions that merely hinted at potential serious repercussions. European heads of state are likely to meet later in the week to discuss further options, but few are predicting that the European Union will play a large role in the conflict. The Wall Street Journal aptly summarized consensus opinion with its headline “A Shaken EU Makes No Real Effort to Confront Russia Over Ukraine.”

It was supposed to be different. The drama of the eurozone crisis aside, the past decade has seen a slow, steady evolution of the European Union as a global actor. It managed the successful absorption of 11 Central and East European states into its democratic free-market system. And with the Lisbon treaty, which came into force in 2009, the union finally had an answer to former U.S. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger’s apocryphal question: “When I want to call Europe, who do I call?” One should call Catherine Ashton, of course. She is currently the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, and despite widespread initial skepticism, her efforts to craft a Bosnia-Kosovo peace settlement and her leadership in recent negotiations with Iran have brought accolades. Also helping matters are the new European External Action Service, which serves as a dedicated EU diplomatic corps, and a strengthened European Security and Defense Policy. 

All this makes the European Union’s seeming timidity when it comes to Ukraine all the more perplexing. It also

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