Freedom of Association

Ukraine Decides Its Fate. And Europe's. And Russia's.

Children chat underneath a giant Ukrainian flag in the centre of the Western Ukrainian town of Lviv, June 30, 2011. Marian Striltsiv / Courtesy Reuters

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel stood before the Bundestag on November 18, she warned that the shadows of the Cold War are still with us. Nowhere are they darker, she continued, than over those countries situated between the European Union and Russia. Cold War or not, Moscow’s pressure on them would be unrelenting. So, she concluded, Germany and the European Union would have to wage a campaign of their own -- “lived solidarity,” she called it -- to help the countries pick their partners wisely.

This was a clear signal that the EU, although seemingly fragile within its own borders, still has ambitions to extend its model abroad. At its upcoming Eastern Partnership summit, which will take place November 28–29 in Vilnius, Lithuania, the EU hopes to conclude an Association Agreement with Ukraine, which would boost economic, political, and social ties between them. Whether or not the EU’s gambit succeeds (and it is not yet clear whether Ukraine is ready to sign), the next few weeks could change the face of politics in Ukraine, decide Russia’s future role in Europe, and determine the EU’s broader relevance in the region. 

Although it falls short of integration, the Association Agreement is an attempt to transform Ukraine by bringing it closer to European economic and political standards. It would abolish trade barriers and compel Ukraine to adopt EU technical regulations and rules for government procurement and competition. Ukraine would also have to undergo comprehensive political and legal reforms, with support from the EU and member state agencies. In return for long-term industrial transformation and economic growth, then, Ukraine would incur major short-term costs, the prospect of which has deterred some Ukrainians.

For the EU, the Association Agreement is far less of a mixed bag. The union has major strategic and economic interests at stake: strategically, the EU strives to create a benign environment for itself by spreading its model of rule of law and transparency to its periphery. And inducing Russia to

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