Impact of European common values on the EU’s ability to solve conflicts in the countries of the Eastern Partnership

By Per Gahrton
Former Member of the European Parliament, Green Party of Sweden
PhD Sociology
Lund, Sweden, October 2017

A lecture at the XI Congress of Ukrainian European Studies Association, Kharkiv National University, October 20, 2017

Introduction: Sweden-Ukraine ties

A couple of days ago Swedish media reported that a wild boar, shot some 200 kilometres north of Stockholm, had been found to contain ten times more radioactivity than permitted by the health authorities. As you may guess, this radioactivity emanated from the Tjernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. This shows that we live in one globalized world and that my Sweden and your Ukraine are linked together.

Another example of Swedish-Ukrainian common experience might be the battle of Poltava in June 1709, which according to Wikipedia resulted in the “beginning of Sweden’s decline as a Great Power”. As belligerents, Wikipedia lists on one side Sweden and Ukraine, on the other Russia.

However, this military defeat against the Tsar may have been a blessing for the Swedes, because afterwards the Swedish people toppled the dictatorship of the king and introduced what is called The Times of Freedom (Frihetstiden), when a four-chamber parliament including peasants, ruled the country for half a century. Though it was not a full-fledged democracy (women and the poorest men were excluded) it was a starting point, well before the French Revolution.

About hundred years later Sweden suffered another defeat against Russia, which in 1809 conquered Finland, a country that until then had been an integral part of the Swedish kingdom.

Although many Swedes wanted to retake Finland, today most historians think that perhaps even this defeat was a blessing, for two reasons: First, the inevitable Finnish struggle for independence – which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year – was not conducted against Sweden but against Russia. And secondly, the political elite decided, as expressed by the famous poet Esaias Tegnér, to “reconquer Finland inside the borders of Sweden” which meant to build a peaceful and rich society and give up wars and dreams of territorial expansion and great power status.

Since then Sweden has been militarily non-aligned and has seen no war for more than 200 years.

Examples of Scandinavian conflict-resolution

However, earlier throughout history Scandinavia has been an arena for endless internal wars, mainly between the Danish and Swedish kingdoms. Like so often people have fought with those who should be their closest friends – their neighbours.

But since a very short and stupid war between Sweden and Norway in 1814 – because Norway was taken from Denmark by the superpowers and given to Sweden to compensate for the loss of Finland – there has been peace between the Scandinavians. This doesn’t mean that there have been no conflicts, but they have been resolved peacefully.

Three of the five Nordic states have achieved their independence without internal Nordic bloodshed: Norway in 1905 when Sweden accepted the dissolution of the Swedish-Norwegian union, Finland in 1917, which, as I have mentioned, took its freedom not from Sweden but from Russia and, third, Iceland in 1944 when Denmark accepted its sovereignty.

The independence of Finland, however, threatened to end in a conflict with Sweden in the 1920es because the Swedish-speaking population of Åland wanted to join Sweden; this was resolved by giving the archipelago wide autonomy inside Finland.

An older example is the southern part of Sweden I come from, Skåne, which was conquered from Denmark in 1658, a fact which since the early 1700s has been accepted by Denmark. And despite our half-Danish dialect, our view of Copenhagen as our cultural capital and our love of Danes (my wife is Danish), only a few lunatics would like the Skåne region to split from Sweden today.

Another interesting example of the Nordic peace mentality may be the case of Finnish Karelia which was robbed by Stalin during the second world war. In the early 1990es, Yeltsin offered to sell the region back to Finland but president Koivisto declined because he didn’t want a territorial dispute.

The EU – winner of the Nobel Peace Prize

After much debate the Swedish people in a referendum in 1994 with 52 percent in favour and 47 percent against decided to join the European Union. I voted against, but like most sceptics since the enlargement of the EU from 15 to 28 member states, I now accept the EU as the main forum for European cooperation.

The big issue for many Swedes is: Will EU continue the Scandinavian tradition of peaceful conflict resolution or will it develop into a military super power with an ambition to rule the world?

The image of the European Union as a peace organisation was of course enhanced when it was awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, motivated by its having “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”. According to the Nobel Committee EU deserved the Award because its role in the reconciliation of France and Germany, the “introduction of democracy” in Greece, Spain and Portugal, the advancing of democracy and human rights in Turkey, the strengthening of democracy in Eastern Europe, the overcoming of “the division between East and West” and, finally, the “process of reconciliation in the Balkans.”

That is certainly not a negligible achievement! Thus, it may seem clear that EU is an “angel of peace”?

EU:s conflict-resolution – military or civilian?

However, most of the EU member states have a very violent recent history, having been involved in the two World Wars. Some of them have ruled other countries as colonial powers. 22 EU states are also members of the military alliance NATO, only Sweden, Finland, Austria, Ireland, Malta, Cyprus are non-aligned or neutral.

The debate about the global strategy of the EU is lively.

Since the Cologne European Council in 1999, the Common Security and Defence Policy has become a significant part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. EU itself has a limited military capability, the most concrete result is the EU Battlegroups initiative. The Battlegroups, however, have never been deployed, but peacekeeping missions have been sent to Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East. EU military operations are supported by a number of bodies, including the European Defence Agency and a Military Staff.

However, in reality, EU as union still works mostly according to the Swedish/Scandinavian model, using its “soft” power to promote peace and conflict resolution by diplomatic, economic and political rather than military means and methods.

Non-military conflict-resolution means

The “Constitution” of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on 1 December 2009, states that EU aims to “preserve peace, prevent conflicts and strengthen international security”. EU’s Charter of Human Rights contains some 54 articles divided into titles such as: dignity, freedoms, equality, solidarity, citizens’ rights and justice.

Mediation is one part of EU’s conflict-prevention and peace-building toolbox for conflict countries. Based on the Concept on Strengthening EU Mediation and Dialogue Capacities adopted in November 2009, the EU has developed its own mediation support capacity. Actors such as EU Special Representatives are frequently engaged in mediation efforts.

A strong method for influencing non-EU European countries may be the prospects for EU-membership.

Any European state may apply to become a member of the Union if it respects the common values of the Member States as expressed in the Copenhagen criteria, which include: a) the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities; b) a functioning market economy; c) the ability to take on the obligations of membership, (the acquis communautaire).

The European Community humanitarian aid office, or “ECHO”, provides humanitarian aid from the EU to developing countries. Counting the EU’s own contributions and those of its member states together, the EU is the largest aid donor in the world.

One non-military measure used by the EU is of course sanctions, which for the time being is used against more than twenty countries, including Russia, because of its behaviour against Ukraine. EU imposed economic sanctions on Russia in July 2014, which will last until the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements.

The sanctions have contributed to the collapse of the Russian ruble and the Russian financial crisis since 2014 to the present.

But they also caused economic damage to a number of EU countries, with the total losses estimated at €100 billion. In 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur Idriss Jazairy reported that EU countries were losing about “3.2 billion dollars a month”. He also noted that the sanctions were “intended to serve as a deterrent to Russia but run the risk of being only a deterrent to the international business community”.

Some EU states, like Italy, Hungary, Greece, France, Cyprus and Slovakia, have expressed reservations against the sanctions.

EU-Ukraine relations

The EU uses several means and policies to contribute to development and conflict-resolution in Ukraine.

The Eastern Partnership policy, inaugurated in 2009 and covering Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, was created to support political, social and economic reform efforts in these countries with the aim of increasing democratisation and good governance, energy security, environmental protection, and economic and social development.

EU established a Support Group with Ukraine in spring 2014 which has focused on the basic reforms, such as reform planning, governance and rule of law, economic governance and sectoral policies including agriculture, energy, infrastructure, health, the labour market and education, and IDPs.

On 27 June 2014 the EU and Ukraine signed the Association Agreement. The chapters on political dialogue, justice, freedom and security, and economic, financial and sectoral cooperation entered into force provisionally on 1 November 2014. The trade part of the Association Agreement entered into provisional application on 1 January 2016. The regulation on visa liberalisation for Ukraine entered into force on 11 June 2017.

A fact that may have played some role in the present Ukrainian-Russian conflict is that the entry into force of the Association Agreement with EU marked the end of trilateral trade talks with Russia, which suspended Ukraine’s trade preferences under the Commonwealth of Independent States Free Trade Agreement (CIS FTA) from 1 January 2016.

This shows that the offer of the EU for closer cooperation is also an obligation to end certain types of cooperation with non-EU countries which may be a problem for EU-countries bordering non-EU-countries. In Scandinavia this problem has been solved by making the two non-EU-countries, Norway and Iceland, a kind of economic, but not political, members of the EU by the EEA, the European Economic Area.

EU – preoccupied with corruption in Ukraine

The EU is preoccupied with combatting the corruption in Ukraine. At the latest EU-Ukraine summit in November 2016, a special program for fight against corruption was signed and EU promised to support new anti-corruption bodies and the monitoring of anti-corruption efforts by the Rada and civil society with €15 million.

The International Crisis Group has recommended that Western leaders should give the president of Ukraine a tough message, including the handover of a list of Ukrainian suspects of high-level corruption. Poroshenko would be advised, the IGC proposes, that outside support risks being curtailed unless he immediately takes energetic action to address the widespread allegations of corruption within his entourage. (Ukraine: Military Deadlock, Political Crisis, Crisis Group Europe Briefing N°85 Kyiv/Brussels, 19 December 2016)

It is interesting that the establishment of an independent anti-corruption court is one of the three main demands by the protesters who have built a tent camp in front of the Verkhovnaja Rada (parliament) since October 17.

I have noticed that the parliament has now decided to send a proposal for such a court to the Constitutional Court to obtain its views.

Ukrainian-Russian peace: With US arms or UN peace troups?

According to recent media reports, the USA is considering providing Kyiv with lethal weapons, worth 50 million dollars, including shoulder-mounted Javelin anti-tank missiles.(Commentary 13 September 2017, Ukraine’s New Diplomatic Battlefronts: U.S. Weapons, UN Peacekeepers).

At the same time it has been reported that Russian and Ukrainian presidents may agree on deploying UN peace-keepers in the conflict area. (16/9-17 AFP).

To be neighbour of the Russian Bear

This leads us to the basic issue of the art of living as a neighbour of Russia. Sweden has a long experience, although since 1809 not having a common border. A former Soviet republic that I happen to know much better than I know Ukraine is Georgia, about with I published a book in English some years ago, Georgia – Pawn in the New Great Game (Plutopress, London 2010).

There are similarities and differences in the Georgian and Ukrainian cases. One difference is that the Russian attack against Georgia in 2008 was provoked by a Georgian attack against South Ossetia, including Russian peace observers (as reported by the EU Tagliavini-report).

That is of course not the case in Ukraine. Interestingly, the person responsible for the Georgian provocation, President Mikheil Saakashvili, was toppled by the Georgian voters in 2013, then fled to Ukraine and became governor of Odessa, a post he lost in November last year together with his Ukrainian citizenship. But the day before yesterday he re-emerged at the big opposition rally in front of the Verkhovnaja Rada in Kiev!

In Georgia Saakashvili was replaced by the Georgian Dream regime, which officially aims at joining both the EU and NATO. Despite this, Russia has normalized a lot of relations with Georgia, not least it has reopened its markets for the very important Georgian export of wine and mineral water. Why?

One reason may be that despite its declared Western ambitions, the Georgian Dream regime is using less harsh language than Saakashvili did about Russia and also has admitted that Russia – for good or for bad – is an important neighbour with which Georgia has to have working relations.

Ukraine – Russia’s psychotherapist?

Is there something for Ukraine to be learnt from EU, Sweden and Georgia? There are important differences but we all will have to cope with Russia as a big neighbour.

Sweden has chosen to join the EU but remain outside NATO. Georgia has changed its rhetoric and tries to establish working relations with Russian economy and Russian culture, without giving up its independence.

The EU tries to be both tough and soft, but also admits that it needs peaceful working relations with the Big Bear.

In a recent book the Director of Carnegie Moscow Center, Dmitri Trenin, asks: Should we fear Russia? (Polity 2017) His answer is that a weak Russia, economically declining and feeling itself surrounded by evil forces that want to see the dissolution of the Russian Federation, is more dangerous than a strong and prosperous Russia feeling respected by the rest of the world.

It is obvious that Russia is in need of some kind of treatment.

Perhaps Ukraine should try to act as its psychotherapist?

Per Gahrton

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