She – they – deserve a prize from the EU. But which prize should it be?
Celebrate the courage of Euromaidan! Honor its activists! Support democratic Ukraine! Remind Europeans everywhere just how important events in the largest country of Eastern Europe are for the future of the continent.
There are good reasons to doubt that it is. These reasons have nothing to do with what happened in Ukraine in early 2014, but rather what is not happening in the EU now. Tens of thousands of Euro and a ceremony on TV is not the prize that Ukrainians have fought for, and will do little for them in this dark hour.
What is a real prize?
Let us first ask: what do Ukrainians need from the European Union today?
With their country under attack, their territory occupied, their people displaced and their soldiers locked in battle with Russian and Russian-backed forces, Ukrainian society hopes for substantive support from the EU – material, financial and moral. This includes credible and sustained sanctions against Russia, holding them accountable for the annexation of swaths of Ukrainian territory. It includes economic aid, assistance in coping with rising numbers of internally displaced and support for the cold winter that is looming. And, perhaps most important of all, it includes the promises made in Article 49 of the Treaties of the European Union: that once Ukraine meets the specified criteria, it might also have the chance to join the European Union, without any neighbouring country holding the right to veto. Just as the Baltics and Poland have.
It was in order to keep such a perspective alive that many Ukrainians risked their lives last winter, waving the blue European flag. To sustain the momentum of the Maidan protests, the Ukrainian people voted for political parties that promised to work towards a European future. During his inauguration, Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, again referred to the goals of Euromaidan. The European People’s Party also spoke of the movement’s vision, when it met in Dublin earlier this year.
This democratic vision is what the new European Parliament should be supporting today – through policy reform and concrete action. It is a vision that needs to be sold actively, both on the international stage and to European constituencies. The goals and ideals born out of Euromaidan need to be defended in the face of both indifference and skepticism. A strong restatement of this vision from the European Parliament – and meaningful and tangible support – would remind Ukrainians of what they are fighting for.
Of course, awarding a prize is much more simple than implementing palpable change. Standing on a podium next to people who have already become global stars in their own right, is easy. Perhaps it is too easy. It appears as a gesture of solidarity, but it is one without substance. At a moment when Ukrainians feel abandoned by Europe, a prize and accolades are not likely to reassure them.
There are other, more effective steps that could be taken to support Euromaidan, instead of giving the Sakharov Prize. For instance, the European Parliament could recognize the efforts of the Ukrainian people by bestowing a real award – the lifting of visa requirements for all Ukrainians. This is something that would truly benefit the people of Ukraine, carrying a strong promise of future EU integration.
By contrast, a symbolic gesture by the new European Parliament, at a time when Ukraine is facing profound existential threats, is a substitute for real action. This is not the first time such empty gestures have been made on the part of the European Parliament, though. In 2011, the EP took the obvious step of giving the Sahkarov prize to the activists of the Arab uprisings. The prize raised the hopes of brave activists for sustained support from Europe as they, like the activists in Ukraine, faced a watershed moment in their countries. But these expectations were never fulfilled.
An Egyptian prize winner was asked in 2011: “What could the EU and EP do to support the transition to democracy in the Arab world?” She noted: “I am against any form of foreign intervention, but I think the EP should insist on the application of universal humanitarian laws.” Today, many of the Tahrir Square activists are in prison, their organisations banned. The only European country that reacted strongly to this repression was Turkey.
Another 2011 Sakharov Prize winner, from Libya, explained: “[The Sakharov Prize] will be of great help to me and the Libyan people, because this is the first time that a Libyan received such a prize. So if you help me to do my job properly, it will help the Libyan people.” Today, Libya is in chaos.
The Syrian activist, Razan Zaitouneh, was a recipient in 2011 as well. Then in hiding, Zaitouneh was a human rights lawyer who had created the blog, “”Syrian Human Rights Information Link” (SHRIL), (which has since been taken down). On her blog she publicly revealed murders and human rights abuses committed by the Syrian army and police. Zaitouneh is quoted as saying: “The most beautiful part of the Syrian revolution is the high spirits of the Syrian people, who turned the protests into carnivals of song, dancing and chants of freedom, despite the bullets, arrests and tanks.” Since then, millions of refugees have had to leave Syria – although it is not the European Union that has given them shelter. On 9 December 2013, Zaitouneh, along with three other Syrian activists were kidnapped east of Damascus, in the city of Duma.
It was an easy decision to award a prize to courageous Arab activists in 2011. It was much more difficult to find practical ways to protect them and uphold their ideals. Awarding the Sakharov Prize was a gesture that failed to meet the expectations of long-repressed populations – much like the Arab Spring itself.
Shining the spotlight of attention
Euromaidan was the central story in Europe in 2014. The people who led it – Mustafa Nayem, Ruslana Lyzhychko and others – will be featured heavily in any review of this year’s events. They are famous, and they deserve to be.
In other words, by awarding them a personal prize, the European Parliament will add little to what the media and European leaders have already said. It will not bring the change that is now needed in Ukraine – Euromaidan is past the point where paying lip service and attention to their cause will solve the problems their country is facing. It is similar to awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the first African-American president, right after he was elected. The White House suspected that the award was more about getting Obama to visit Oslo, than the achievements of a newly elected president. It certainly left the world – and human rights – unchanged. Is this really what human rights prizes are for?
Making a difference?
Alternatively, one should ask the question: what can awarding such a prize actually accomplish? Can – and should – the Sakharov Prize be used to make a real difference? Not just to the way we look at the past, but also to the future?
Today, human rights are under assault across Eastern Europe, from Russia to Azerbaijan. Ukrainian political prisoners have fortunately been released as a result of Euromaidan. But 2014 has also seen dozens of dissidents elsewhere become targets of persecution.
In Azerbaijan, there are dozens of activists in prison; not victorious, but languishing; not celebrated, but isolated and unknown to much of the world. They are there for defending the values of free speech – the core idea behind the Sakharov Prize. They are paying the price for protecting the European Convention of Human Rights, but remain largely ignored by democratic Europe.
By nominating these human rights defenders for the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament would celebrate the same values for which Ukrainians took to the streets. But it would also do something that has been difficult to achieve thus far. Something that Azerbaijani civil society is in desperate need of.
The human rights situation in Azerbaijan is not getting the attention or media coverage that Euromaidan has. Both causes are undoubtedly worthy of recognition. However, bringing attention to the plight of Azerbaijani activists by nominating them for the Sakharov Prize will result in substantive change, more so than would nominating Euromaidan. Ukraine is instead in need of a much different reaction from the European Parliament. It would be a missed opportunity not to take advantage of the power that the Sakharov Prize can have. The EP was successful in using the award to raise awareness about a dire situation in 2006, when it drew the attention of the world to the fate of Alexander Milinkevich, leader of the opposition in Belarus.
In this way, the European Parliament would also assert the value of human rights in petro-states, such as Azerbaijan – even those that have already invested millions in buying friends throughout Europe. After assuming chairmanship of the Council of Europe in May 2014, Azerbaijan has used its influence in the Council to launch an unprecedented assault on civil society. It is an autocracy with the same values and the same approach to “freedom” as Russia under Vladimir Putin. And we have seen what can come from such leaders, should they ostensibly be allowed to run free with their repressive tactics.
So, will European parliamentarians take a path that is obvious and uncontroversial? Or will they send a signal that could make a real difference? Honouring dissidents in Azerbaijan could have real impact. It might even save lives. It would be acting with a strong voice, not reacting passively.
Let me repeat: this is not about the relative merits of the various candidates. Euromaidan deserves the highest recognition. It deserves a prize from the EU. So this is our proposal: recognise Ukraine’s struggle with actions that will truly benefit its people, with the kind of support that is appropriate for where Ukrainians are in their fight towards liberalisation: put Ukraine on the white Schengen list and grant visa-free travel. And give the Sakharov Prize to the forgotten activists of today; human rights defenders who are suffering in the shadows as you read this, in prison for speaking out on behalf of others.
Es sollte eigentlich ans baltische Meer gehen, doch dann sperrte die Fakultät in Riga kurzfristig ihre Tore. Wie wäre es mit der Ukraine, wurde ich gefragt: auch hier suchte man 1993, kurz nach dem Auseinanderbrechen der Sowjetunion, junge Leute mit Interesse daran, einer post-sowjetischen Generation westliche Wirtschaftslehre nahezubringen. So landete ich im Sommer 1993 in Czernowitz, im Grenzgebiet zu Rumänien und Moldau, Hauptstadt der nördlichen Bukowina.
Ich hielt Vorlesungen zur Volkswirtschaft und international political economy, vor dem Hintergrund von Hyperinflation und dem Zusammenbruch aller Strukturen. Und ich entdeckte dabei ein mir bis dahin vollkommen unbekanntes Land.
Da war die Armut, das Gefühl von Isolation gerade eine Tagesreise von Wien entfernt. Der Zusammenbruch von sowjetischer Infrastruktur und Industrie. Ein Jahr lang kein Warmwasser, manchmal tagelang keinen Strom. Die Kopiermaschine, die ich aus Wien mitgebracht hatte, gab ihren Geist auf, nachdem hungrige Mäuse in meinem Schlafzimmer alle Kabel durchgebissen hatten. Im Winter wurde der Unterricht abgesagt, denn die Räume der Universität konnten nicht mehr beheizt werden.
Czernowitz Herrengasse – A young Austrian teaching economics in 1993
Da war die Verzweiflung einer ex-sowjetischen Mittelklasse. Und die Entdeckung der Vergangenheit einer Region, die der Historiker Timothy Snyder als Bloodlands bezeichnete: Mittelosteuropa, das wie keine andere Region im frühen 20. Jahrhundert unter Besatzungen, Vertreibungen, Völkermord und totalitären Regimen gelitten hatte.
An die mitteleuropäische Vergangenheit erinnerte nicht nur die Architektur der Stadt – Universität, Herrengasse, Schlossplatz, Volksgarten – sondern vor allem zwei ältere jüdische Damen, noch in der k. u. k. Monarchie geboren. Zwei Freundinnen, Lydia Harnik und Rosa Zuckermann, die seit Jahrzehnten jeden Tag miteinander telefonierten. Ich besuchte sie mindestens einmal die Woche in ihren Wohnungen. Deutsch war ihre Muttersprache, Europa ihre geistige Heimat. Lydia hatte Mitleid mit der Ukraine, diesem “armen geschundenen Land”. Von ihrer Rente konnte sie nicht leben, und so unterrichtete sie weiterhin Sprachen; Französisch und Deutsch, in ihrer winzigen Wohnung neben dem Volksgarten. An der Wand das Portrait von Thomas Mann, im Regal die Romane der russischen Schriftsteller, die sie verehrte. Sie liebte die russische Literatur ebenso sehr wie die deutsche.
Beide hatten im zweiten Weltkrieg Angehörige in faschistischen Lagern verloren. Beide waren selbst nach Transnistrien verschleppt worden. Rosa und Lydia erinnerten sich allerdings auch an ein Europa mit offenen Grenzen, so wie jenes, in dem es einst ihren Eltern möglich war, bis zum Ersten Weltkrieg ohne großen Aufwand von Czernowitz nach Wien zu reisen. Damals war hier die östlichste Universtät des Habsburgerreiches, und ein junger Ökonom war damals ebenfalls auf die Idee gekommen es doch zunächst einmal in der Provinz zu versuchen (Joseph Schumpeter). Diese Zeit lag fern, die Bevölkerung jener Stadt war vertrieben oder ermordet. Lydia hoffte dennoch dass nun, mit dem Ende des Kommunismus’ und der Sowjetunion, eines Tages auch die Ukraine zu einem neuen freien, demokratischen Europa gehören würde.
Rosa Zuckermann, mentor in Czernowitz
Und so hatte jede Generation hier Erinnerungen an den Fall von grossen Reichen. Melancholie lag auf der Stadt. Die Industrie war zusammengebrochen. Der grosse jüdische Friedhof der Stadt oberhalb des Prut war überwachsen. In der Stadt kannte damals kaum jemand Westeuropa – kaum jemand konnte reisen. Wir befanden uns dabei weniger als eine Stunde Fahrt von der rumänischen Grenze entfernt, doch Rumänien zählte damals noch nicht zu Europa. Zu absurd die Grenze, zu arm das Land dahinter.
Zwei Jahrzehnte sind seit damals vergangen. Ich besuchte Lydia noch einmal kurz vor ihrem Tod mit meiner zukünftigen Frau – Lydia hatte mir zur Hochzeit geraten, sie war die erste Person, der wir von einer Telefonzelle vom Hauptbahnhof in Rom aus nach dem Heiratsbeschluss von unseren Plänen erzählten. Unsere Tochter heißt, nach ihr, Fanny Lydia.
Rosa besuchte ich später auch zu ihrem neuzigsten Geburtstag, eine 28 stündige Zugreise war dazu notwendig, aus Wien mit Umsteigen in Lemberg. Sie kam zu jener Zeit durch einen wunderbaren Film – Herr Zwilling und Frau Zuckermann – in ihren letzten Lebensjahren zu einer gewissen Bekanntheit in Deutschland. Das amusierte sie sehr. Ich hatte sie und Herr Zwilling oft in ihrem kleinen Haus in der Klara Zetkin Straße besucht und tatsächlich sehe ich sie heute noch, winkend von ihrem Balkon beim Verabschieden, nach außen fröhlich und resolut, im Inneren melancholisch und besorgt.
Mittlerweile sind Lydia und Rosa beide auf dem überwachsenen jüdischen Friedhof von Czernowitz bestattet. Europa hat sich seit jenen Jahren dramatisch verändert.
Nicht nur Österreich, auch Polen und Rumänien sind der Europäischen Union beigetreten. Wer heute aus der Ukraine nach Polen blickt, kann die Veränderung dort oft kaum fassen. Ein Europa der offenen Grenzen, ohne politische Gefangene, kein Abholen von Kritikern des Nachts durch die Geheimpolizei, ohne Angst vor Kriegen, Revolutionen oder neuen Vertreibungen. Dieses Europa ist heute weniger als eine Stunde Fahrt von Czernowitz entfernt an der rumänischen Grenze, die zur Grenze der Europäischen Union geworden ist. Und doch hat sich eines nicht geändert: die Ukraine gehört weiterhin nicht dazu.
Die politische Hoffnung der beiden jüdischen Freundinnen, eine europäische, demokratische Ukraine, sie ist bislang nicht in Erfüllung gegangen.
Will man verstehen warum im November 2013 erst Tausende, dann Zehntausende Menschen aller sozialen Gruppen und Generationen in Kiew auf die Straße gingen, um mit europäischen Fahnen in der Hand für ein Assoziationsabkommen zu demonstrieren, das kaum einer von ihnen im Detail gelesen haben dürfte, dann muss man sich die Verschiebungen der politischen Grenzen in Europa vor Augen halten. Ich vermute es gab nicht viele Ukrainer, die davon motiviert waren sich von Russland abzugrenzen, ein Nachbar der hier – auch bei Rosa und Lydia – viel weniger als Bedrohung empfunden wurde als in den meisten Ländern Mitteleuropas. Daher gab es auch in Umfragen bis zu den Protesten nie Mehrheiten für eine NATO-Mitgliedschaft der Ukraine, ganz anders als in Polen, dem Baltikum oder Georgien.
Was es gab, vor allem bei der jungen Generation, war ein wachsender Konsens darüber, dass die Ukraine sich nicht noch einmal zwei Jahrzehnte auf der Suche nach einem Sonderweg leisten konnte. Die Plünderwirtschaft großer Oligarchen, ein von Korruption zersetztes politisches System, eine Gesellschaft ohne Perspektiven, das Gefühl, vor verschlossenen Grenzen zu stehen … all das trieb viele einer Generation, die zum Zeitpunkt des Zusammenbruchs der Sowjetunion oft noch gar nicht geboren war, auf die Straße. Auch die Enttäuschung über das Versagen der letzten Proteste, der Orangenen Revolution 2004.
Als ich im Winter 2013 nach Kiew kam, bemerkte ich bei jungen ukrainischen Studenten großes Interesse an den Erfahrungen ihrer westlichen Nachbarn, Interesse selbst für die arme, kleine Republik Moldau, die die Ukraine auf dem Weg zum Erlangen der begehrten Visafreiheit für Schengen-Staaten überholt hatte. Und auch Angst, dass die Ukraine erneut den Anschluss zu verlieren drohte. Als schließlich Ende des Jahres auf russischen Druck hin ein schon zu diesem Zeitpunkt enorm unbeliebter, weil korrupter Präsident das Assoziationsabkommen mit der EU verweigerte, schien eine weitere Hoffnung auf ein irgendwann besseres Leben zu schwinden.
Tatsächlich waren die meisten der Demonstranten auf dem Maidan vor allem für eine andere Ukraine, eine europäische, ähnlich dem heutigen Litauen oder Polen, auf die Strasse gegangen (Von westukrainischen extremen Nationalisten, die niemals die Mehrheit stellten, einmal abgesehen). Was war auch die alternative Vision der Herren im Kreml, und ihrer ukrainischen Verbündeten? Warnungen vor einem dekadenten Westen, der ehrbaren Slawen die Homosexuellenehe aufzwingen wollte? Zumindest in dieser Frage stimmten Putin und ukrainische Nationalisten überein.
Der Kreml verhöhnte die EU, von der politischen Klasse in Moskau schon lange als impotent, künstliches Konstrukt, machtlos, dekadent, abgeschrieben. Doch bot Russland selbst keine Hoffnung. Mit einer Wirtschaft, deren wertvolle Rohstoffe Europa zwar auf dem Weg durch die Ukraine erreichten, deren Nutznießer ihren Reichtum dann allerdings sofort nach London, Paris, Wien oder Nikosia überwiesen. Dieser im westlichen Europa gelagerte Reichtum ist heute die Achillesverse, aber auch ein Machtinstrument des Kremls. Denn nun, nach der Besetzung der Krim, nach Ultimaten, Drohungen mit Einmarsch und Krieg und der Verletzung aller eingegangenen internationalen Verpflichtungen, die Souveränität der Ukraine zu respektieren, sind es auch wirtschaftliche Interessen, russische Milliarden, die Europa davon abhalten, auf das russische Verhalten entsprechend zu reagieren. Und das hieße: Druck auch auf die persönlichen Interessen der Herren im Kreml. Die von einer Wiederherstellung eines eurasischen Großreiches träumen, ihre Reichtum und ihre Familien aber in London oder Paris vor einem räuberischen Staat in Sicherheit bringen.
So kommt es heute in der Ukraine zu einem Aufeinandertreffen zweier Visionen. Da Herrscher, die unbeliebte Grenzen unter vorgeschobenen Argumenten mit Gewalt neu ziehen. Dort die Erfahrung von Integration und offenen Grenzen. Es geht um die Frage was die Werte der Europäischen Menschenrechtskonvention, später auch von Russland bei seinem Beitritt in den Europarat akzeptiert, heutigen Demokratien noch wert sind. Die heutige russische Elite fürchte – trotz ihrer Rhetorik – weniger die NATO als die Möglichkeit den eigenen Reichtum zu riskieren. Oder fürchtet gerade dies eben auch nicht: denn nicht nur ehemalige deutsche Bundeskanzler sind heute auf der Gehaltsliste kremlnaher Betriebe, sondern auch internationale Organisationen, wie der ebengenannte Europarat, wurden in den letzten Jahren von den Autokratien des Ostens unterwandert.
Dass es bei der Bewahrung dieser Werte letztlich um Zivilisation geht, um Sicherheit nicht nur für Ukrainer sondern für ganz Europa; das hätten Lydia Harnik und Rosa Zuckermann jedem jungen Europäer glaubwürdig dargelegt.
In recent months large numbers of Ukrainians braved first the cold, and then snipers, protesting and waving the blue star-spangled flag of Europe. This has angered leaders in the Kremlin and triggered the dramatic crisis over Crimea. It also left many in the EU confused how to respond. Should the EU, or future Ukrainian governments, withdraw their commitment to association and deeper integration in order to placate a grim and threatening Russia? Is Ukraine’s still undefined “European perspective” worth the risk of offending Russia?
In fact, by defending their right to ratify an Association Agreement with the EU – and the prospect for deeper integration in the future – Ukrainians kept open the single most promising path for a poor country like theirs to change their fate. Here is why.
Leave aside for one moment geopolitics. Focus on the situation of ordinary citizens, the lives of average households living between Lviv and Kharkiv. The most basic fact about Ukraine is that it is poor. In fact, Ukraine is one of the poorest countries in Europe; only Moldova, Georgia and Armenia are poorer. The Gross National Income per head in Ukraine is lower today than it is in Kosovo, which is the poorest country in the Balkans. See the table below:
Poverty gap: EU, Balkans and Ukraine
Gross National Income per head, current US$ at market exchange rate 2012
European Union (28 countries) Turkey Bulgaria (poorest EU member) Macedonia Kosovo Ukraine Georgia Moldova
Now look at the table below. It shows the forty-six richest countries in the world in 2012. The measure of wealth used here is Gross National Income per head (at market exchange rates, taking the average exchange rate over three years), using data published by the World Bank.
To be rich or poor is, of course, a matter of comparison. Here – following the example of Oxford economist John Kay – I take as a reference point the richest country in the world and consider countries to be prosperous if they have at least one eighth the Gross National Income per head of the frontrunner. In 2012 the richest country in the world was Norway, followed by Switzerland and Denmark.
Table 1: The world’s richest countries in 2012
Gross National Income per head, current US$ at market exchange rate
GNI per head between one half and
one quarter of Norway
GNI per head between one quarter and
one eighth of Norway
Netherlands Japan Austria Singapore Finland
Belgium Germany Kuwait (2010) France
United Kingdom Hong Kong SAR, China
United Arab Emirates (2011) Italy New Zealand (2011) Spain Israel (2011) Cyprus
A few things are remarkable in this list. First, most of the forty-six countries were already prosperous half a century ago (North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia). The biggest exception to this is a group of petro-states (Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain).
Most emerging economies are not yet members of this club: not China, not Brazil, not India, not Turkey. Russia barely makes the list. Becoming prosperous relative to traditionally wealthy countries is very hard. It takes decades of stable growth. Still only a minority of the world’s population lives in these prosperous states: in 2012 about 1.3 billion people, out of an estimated global population of 7 billion.
Second, note all the countries highlighted in bold in the list above. They are the members of the European Union: twenty-four of forty-six countries! Luxembourg and Malta (not included in this table because they have less than 1 million inhabitants), would also qualify as rich. This means that all but two of the members of the enlarged EU of twenty-eight are currently members of the club of the world’s rich countries. There are only two exceptions: Bulgaria and Romania. If the past is any guide, one should expect these two countries to join the club of the rich within another decade.
Third, the most promising strategy to become part of this exclusive club is to make the effort to join the European Union. To see this, compare the above 2012 list of the world’s richest countries with that of 2002 below. This list contains forty-one countries, home to 1.1 billion people.
In the decade between 2002 and 2012, Mexico and Lebanon fell out of the list of the prosperous. And only seven newcomers broke through: two petrol states (Russia, Venezuela); Chile; and four European countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
In 2002 thirteen of the forty-one richest countries in the world were members of the EU. Even then, many of the newcomers, countries that appeared among the rich for the first time in 2002, had focused for years on joining the EU.
Table 2: The world’s richest countries in 2002
Gross National Income per head, current US$ at market exchange rate
United Arab Emirates Denmark Sweden United Kingdom Netherlands
Hong Kong SAR, China Finland Austria Ireland Belgium Germany
Fifth, once an EU member joins the club of rich nations it remains there, despite severe crises later. Portugal, Spain, Greece remain in the club of the prosperous top forty. Other countries, which are on their own, such as Mexico or Argentina, have dropped out of the list.
Take the case of Greece. Its recent economic plight has been seen by some as evidence of the limits of the European Union’s ability to bring about convergence.
Here is the story of the Greek economy, seen through Gross National Income per head since 1980 (Greece joined the EU in 1981). Greece’s GNI dropped in the first years after accession, then grew sharply, most spectacularly after 2000. Between 2010 and 2012 it dropped again: but this is still (despite the obvious hardship) a crisis in a country that has remained one of the most prosperous in the world (and the richest in the Balkans by far).
Historically, rich countries have formed contiguous geographical blocks. This remains true. Growth spreads through intense contact and exchange between neighbours. Of course, proximity alone is not enough: policies and institutions must allow for integration, as common standards facilitate beneficial exchange (in EU jargon the adoption of the so-called “European acquis”). Integration also encourages mutual learning and economic interaction.
These tables have strong implications for enlargement policy. The protestors on Maidan, Kiev’s central square, were right: the most promising strategy for ordinary Ukrainians to live a better life is not to stay on the sidelines or to look East, as they had done since gaining independence in 1991, but to integrate with their Western neighbours.
EU integration is not a magic wand. In the case of Greece it has taken a generation to become prosperous. EU integration also does not prevent future crises. But as a generational strategy to catch up it has worked, again and again, for countries from the Atlantic coast to the Baltic Sea. This is because it is a process based on openness and on meeting standards, on learning from the most successful economies in the world and on receiving feedback from them.
Ukrainians, like Finns or Austrians during the Cold War, might well decide to remain neutral in terms of military alliances. NATO is also unlikely to offer Ukraine the kind of security guarantee it has offered to the Baltic States. However, no one interested in the welfare and long-term stability of the Ukrainian people can expect them to renounce the possibility to follow in the path of Poland or the Baltic states when it comes to EU integration. This also holds true for Moldovans and Georgians.
This is not a matter of geopolitics, spheres of influence, or the prestige of leaders: it is about better lives for millions of households. No one can legitimately ask Ukrainians, Moldovans, and Georgians to give up their European perspective just to please the Kremlin. It would be far too big a sacrifice, with consequences for the next generation.
This article is part of a research project on the future of Europe funded by ERSTE Stiftung in Vienna.
The inspiration for the tables above came from Oxford economist John Kay, one of the leading economists in the United Kingdom. His website: www.johnkay.com. I also strongly recommend his book The truth about Markets for a stimulating introduction to modern economics for non-economists: www.johnkay.com/books.
 These tables omit countries whose population falls under 1 million people: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Bermuda, Brunei Darussalam, Cyprus in 2002 (but not in 2012), Equatorial Guinea, Greenland, Iceland, The Isle of Man, Malta, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macao SAR (China), Malta, Palau, San Marino, Seychelles, St. Kitts and Nevis. These tables also omit Qatar; although it has a population of over 1 million and its GNI per head in 2011 was 76,010. However, the World Bank has no GNI per head figures for Qatar for either 2002 or 2012.
 Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators: Size of the economy (population data for 2012) http://wdi.worldbank.org/table/1.1
In October 1935 the Italian army invaded Abyssinia. In the same month the Abyssinians appealed to the League of Nations for help. The League condemned the attack. All League members were ordered to impose economic sanctions on Mussolini’s Italy. Then all resolve faltered.
Sanctions were half-hearted. They did not include vital materials such as oil. Britain kept open the Suez Canal, crucial as Italy supplied her armed forces. In December 1935 the British Foreign Secretary and the French Prime Minister met and presented a plan that gave large areas of Abyssinia to Italy. Mussolini accepted the plan.
The League’s involvement was a total failure.The capital, Addis Ababa, fell in May 1936 and Haile Selassie was replaced by the king of Italy. Somaliland, Eritrea and Abyssinia became Italian East Africa. The League of Nations was a corpse even before it perished. It had no more legitimacy.
The Crimea crisis and events in Ukraine today pose a similar threat to the credibility of other European organisations … created, like the League, in the wake of a devastating war with high hopes of launching a new era. And one organisation already in the crosshair of the dictator’s assault, already reeling, which Russia was able to join under false pretext and then proceeded to capture with the support of other autocrats in the East and accomplices from the West is the Council of Europe.
Until a few weeks ago one could fear that the Azerbaijani presidency of the Council of Europe, set to begin a few weeks from now in Strasbourg, would mark the low-point in the history of this once proud organisation. And one might have hoped that, perhaps, it was still possible that the sight of a dictator at the helm of this club of democracies might produce a long overdue shock; wake up democrats across Europe, to pay attention to an institution once created to embody the values of post-war Europe (stated in the European Convention on Human Rights) and recently captured by autocrats from Europe’s east.
Until a few weeks ago I thought there was time to rescue these institutions. Certainly, that it was worth it Today there is good cause to wonder whether the Abyssinia moment has not now also come for Strasbourg.
Unless the Council of Europe reacts to the dramatic illegal occupation of one member state by another member state; unless PACE – the Parliamentary Assembly – issues a strong and unequivocal declaration; unless member states in the Committee of Ministers now take effective actions against Russia; it is hard to see how this “spiritual union” of European democracies can survive as more than a bureaucratic corpse.
It is not hard to envisage a future for the OSCE in this new, harsher, Europe: it will return to being a forum for debates between dictatorships and democracies, similar to the CSCE after the Helsinki Accords were ratified in the 1970s. It has long been obvious that countries such as Uzbekistan, Belarus, Russia or Azerbaijan are not democracies. The notion that they should participate in setting high standards for European democracies – which need these standards as much now as ever – debases everyone. Instead let diplomats meet in Vienna and talk (and exchange insults) about peace and common interests. Such a forum is useful as long as it does not serve to legitimize dictatorial rule as “democratic.”
The same is not true for the Council of Europe. Between the OSCE and the EU it has no future if it does not credibly defend the highest values of democracy. The demise of its credibility creates a void that also needs to be filled: most probably by the European Union, now called upon to define its own human rights acquis more explicitly.
The EU should make human rights central to its association agreements. It should spell out its “political criteria” much clearer, both for accession candidates and for its own members. It should find ways to cooperate with other genuine democracies, from Switzerland to Norway to Moldova in the East.
Of course it would be preferable to preserve the Council of Europe and see dictators such as Putin and Aliyev censured instead, until their countries change their ways. But this looks increasingly unlikely. Instead we will have an Azerbaijani presidency and not even symbolic sanctions against Russia after its aggression.
The Palace of Europe in Strasbourg
It is hard to see is how the Council of Europe can function much longer as a hostage of dictatorial and aggressive members. They pay an important share of its budget. They are bent on destroying the values it once stood for. And for some time now they have imposed their vision of the world with impunity.
It should also be noted that there would still be a lot worth rescuing from the burning house of the Palace of Europe, the Council of Europe’s headquarter in Strasbourg. Conventions, agreements, commissions, initiatives (such as the Venice Commission), all serving their members , all worthy of being preserved … but outside of the clutch of dictators. (The same is less obvious in the case of PACE, which appears increasingly superfluous next to the European Parliament on the one hand and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on the other).
The thread does not stop here, unfortunately. Other proud institutions might soon face a similar challenge: one is the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Warsaw. It has so far stood up, valiantly, to pressure from the East over its professional work on election monitoring. Why would Putin or Aliyev want credible election observation any more than rulers in Tashkent or Minsk? It is fighting tough battles over its budget. It soon faces a crucial choice over its future leadership. ODIHR’s independence and professionalism must be defended at all costs. In fact, should ODIHR be at risk of losing its credibility as a result of an ongoing Russian and Azerbaijani campaign, or should it be paralysed – then the EU and democracies like Switzerland should stand ready to fund it directly. To rescue valuable experience. To preserve it as the preeminent European election monitoring organisation, open to other European democracies.
It now seems only a matter of months before post-Maidan Europe will see a broader debate on the institutional architecture needed to preserve core values and safeguard the lessons from the 1930s and 40s. And we had better prepare for it. For it now seems increasingly likely that Russian troops in Crimea and Ukraine might have a similar effect on European institutions as Mussolini’s troops had when they embarked on their aggression in East Africa many decades ago.
Council of Europe
ESI background analysis: how the Council of Europe is losing credibility
It is also an urgent cause to reflect on one of the biggest policy opportunities by the European Union. Just as the experience of the Kosovo war in 1999 led a generation of European policy makers to reflect on the costs of disengagement in the Balkans, the experience of Kiev in 2014 should lead to a reflection on the costs of disengagement in Eastern Europe.
If one wants to find a date for when the EU lost the thread in this region I would suggest summer 2005.
2005 was one year after the big Central European enlargement. This remains the single biggest foreign policy success of any big power in the past 20 years. The EU – led by Germany – had done the right thing in 1997 when it decided to open accession talks with five, and in 1999 when it decided to open accession talks with another seven countries. This has remade the geopolitics of half of the continent. Germany under the Red-Green government, supported by France under Chirac and in alliance with the Prodi commission of the EU, had made this big enlargement their priority, (and a German close to the chancellor, Günter Verheugen, was put in charge of pushing it through) after 1999.
But then came the great disappointment. Following the 2004 enlargement, the EU – and Germany – failed to provide leadership, vision, and a strategy. Ukraine should have been offered a clear EU perspective after the Orange Revolution – and with it, serious EU involvement to help guide its transition and focus its reforms. This chance was missed.
The same offer should have been on the table in Vilnius in 2013 for Moldova and Ukraine. Another missed opportunity.
2005 was the turning point in this story. During the Ukrainian Orange revolution in early 2005 crowds in Kiev were waving European flags as they protested against election fraud. (Just as Ukrainian protestors in Kiev would wave European flags again after November 2013.)
The notion that continued EU enlargement was a good peace policy for the whole continent was still defended in Germany in early 2005, not only by the Red-Green coalition of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his foreign minister Joschka Fischer, but also by Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, then in opposition.
In January 2005 the opposition CDU in the German Bundestag called on the Red-Green government in power to offer the Western Balkans a more concrete accession perspective (Antrag der Abgeordneten und der Fraktion der CDU, Fuer ein staerkeres Engagement der Europaeischen Union auf dem westlichen Balkan, 25 Januar 2005). Signatories included, among others, Wolfgang Schaeuble, Ruprecht Polenz, and Angela Merkel.
Furthermore, in spring 2005 the CDU faction in the Bundestag, led by Angela Merkel, prepared a motion calling on the German government to also offer a concrete European perspective to Ukraine. Following the Dutch and French referenda in spring 2005, rejecting the EU Constitutional Treaty, this motion was silently buried and astonishingly never tabled!
In early 2005, there was still talk across the continent about the EU’s ability to attract and thereby transform the states around it. As Mark Leonard, a prominent think-tanker, argued in a book that appeared in 2005:
“The overblown rhetoric directed at the ‘American Empire’ misses the fact that the US reach – militarily and diplomatically – is shallow and narrow. The lonely superpower can bribe, bully, or impose its will almost anywhere in the world, but when its back is turned, its potency wanes. The strength of the EU, conversely, is broad and deep: once sucked into its sphere of influence, countries are changed forever.”
This was not based on wishful thinking, but rather on the real experience of the previous decade in Central Europe. Enlargement had helped overcome age-old suspicions. It had helped stabilise a young democracy. It had helped rebuild economies in turmoil following the collapse of communism. It also helped resolve bilateral conflicts for good. The experience of Germany and Poland was only one dramatic illustration of this promise in action. In 1990 the number of Poles who feared Germany still stood above 80 per cent. By 2009 it had fallen to 14 per cent.
In 1999 in Helsinki the EU gave candidate status to Turkey. In 2000 in Zagreb, and even more explicitly in 2003 in Thessaloniki, the EU held out the promise of accession to all of the Western Balkan states. Turkey received a date for the opening of accession talks in December 2004, and EU enlargement commissioner Gunther Verheugen confided to associates at the time that he expected Turkey to likely be a full member by 2014. Following the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2004, the idea of offering a European perspective to the first South Caucasus republic did not appear far-fetched. European flags were put up outside all of the government buildings in Tbilisi.
This was all to change after summer 2005. First, the crisis over the EU’s constitutional treaty, followed by the onset of a global economic crisis in 2008, dramatically changed the policy discourse on enlargement in Europe. Almost as soon as Mark Leonard’s book praising the EU for its policy of transformation through enlargement – Why Europe will run the 21st century – was published, the book’s premise came into doubt. Inside, the EU policy makers questioned whether the Union had already over-expanded. This further undermined the EU’s self-confidence. Then came the Euro-crisis. There were concerns over populism in new member states – with the focus first on Poland, then Slovakia, and finally Hungary. The Euro-crisis after 2008 undermined the notion that EU enlargement actually changed countries “forever.” Concerns mounted over weak institutions and corruption in Romania and Bulgaria. There was intense frustration over administrative capacity in Greece, a long-time member state.
An air of fragility and doubt took hold. In light of multiple European crises, a different consensus emerged: enlargement, the EU’s flagship policy of the early 21st century, is not a solution to the problems of the continent, but rather a source of its problems. Enlargement had already gone too far. It could not continue as it had in the past. In 2005, following the French and Dutch referenda which rejected the EU constitutional treaty, Michael Emerson predicted that while accession treaties have been signed with Bulgaria and Romania, “ratification by the French parliament cannot be taken for granted. For other candidates or would-be candidates, the general message is ‘pause’.” 
And doubt was infectious. As the EU began to doubt its ambitions, its neighbors, from the Balkans to Turkey, from Ukraine to Georgia, began to doubt its commitment. They no longer took for granted that article 49 of the EU’s own treaty (!) really applies – which states that “any European State which respects the European values and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union.”
Doubt undermined trust, which has since translated into a sense of betrayal, most visibly in Turkey. Turkey has been negotiating with the EU since late 2005. With the Turkey-EU accession process in crisis, further enlargement as a strategy for peace-building and conflict prevention in Europe came to sound almost utopian. Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, a champion of EU enlargement when in office, has now wrote in a book on Europe 2030: “while almost all of the EU’s neighbors wish to join, its own citizens increasingly oppose not only further expansion but also deeper political integration.” Fischer concluded:
“I doubt that Europe’s malaise can be overcome before 2030… While the partial creation of a common defense system, along with a European army, is possible by 2030, a common foreign policy is not. Expansion of the EU to include the Balkan states, Turkey and Ukraine should also be ruled out.”
However, here is the catch: enlargement has found no successor as a strategy to overcome conflicts on the European continent. All attempts to find alternative foreign policy strategies to tackle conflicts have failed.
This is obvious from Ukraine to the Balkans to the South Caucasus. Tensions remain high everywhere once enlargement is put on hold and discarded. Take the Caucasus for instance. Recent years have seen a war (Georgia in 2008). There are continued casualties along the Armenian-Azerbaijani cease-fire line. The borders between the territory controlled by Georgia and the land controlled by Abkhaz and South Ossetian troops are tense. International diplomacy has resembled a string of failed initiatives by the US, Russia, Turkey, Germany or the EU whenever one of them made an effort to actually try to solve any of these seemingly intractable conflicts.
This failure to find alternative policies to avert regional conflicts is the conundrum facing European policy makers today. Neither Europe nor the US have shown any evidence that they can remake either Afghanistan or the Middle East. But in South East and Eastern Europe, all the tools exist to prevent a return to the tragedies of the 20th century. In this case, it really is a matter of will and vision. Or sadly, lack thereof, as we see now in Kiev.
In the Western Balkans the process of enlargement linked to conflict has produced the most impressive results for EU foreign policy anywhere in the world, post 1999. (This too might be put at risk unless enlargement retains its mobilising power for reforms).
In the South Caucasus the absence of even a vague promise of enlargement coincides with paralysis, frozen conflicts, closed borders, and rising regional mistrust.
As for Ukraine, the images from Kiev speak for themselves. Where just recently peaceful crowds were waving the European flag, snipers have moved in.
Enlargement has stabilized the continent like no other policy. There is still demand for it. And yet, for now, there is no supply.
And so today, ten years after 2004, there is a choice again between two courses of action in the face of failure.
One seems easier in the short term: to resign. To note that “the late 90s are over,” that enlargement has “not really worked” (as if the EU crises today had been caused by Bulgarian accession), that it cannot be defended in front of sceptical publics, that the EU lacks leaders.
The alternative option is to recognise and explain, again and again, what a nightmare of insecurity a small EU would face today. One in which Bulgaria, Romania, and certain Baltic countries would not have been admitted, and no promise would have been made to Serbia and other Balkan states in 2003 at the EU Thessaloniki summit.
It is to make a strong case to offer a membership perspective to Moldova and Georgia today – and expect them to meet the Copenhagen political criteria.
To maintain the pan-European instruments to defend democracy also in the East – ODIHR for election monitoring, the Council of Europe (today almost farcically useless in the East).
To take a serious look at the instruments the EU is currently using – in Turkey, in the Balkans – and sharpen them.
For the EU to use all available tools – visa bans, competition policy, support to independent media – to confront the Russian vision of “managed democracy” (which is just neo-autocracy).
To fight for release of all political prisoners. And to focus on the East not just when the streets are burning… and not only in Vilnius or Stockholm, but also in Madrid and Rome.
To defend the vision of “one Europe, whole and free.”
This is still the only credible alternative to a return to 20th century horrors. And the cheapest security and foreign policy there is for the EU.
“This region was also the site of most of the politically motivated killing in Europe—killing that began not in 1939 with the invasion of Poland, but in 1933, with the famine in Ukraine. Between 1933 and 1945, fourteen million people died there, not in combat but because someone made a deliberate decision to murder them. These deaths took place in the bloodlands, and not accidentally so: “Hitler and Stalin rose to power in Berlin and Moscow,” writes Snyder, “but their visions of transformation concerned above all the lands between.”
 Michael Emerson , “The Black Sea as Epicentre of the Aftershocks of the EU’s Earthquake”, CEPS Policy Brief 79, July 2005, p. 3.