I. The path to Ukraine: EU’s overstretching phenomena
The post-soviet space saw from 1991 the struggle for two different projects in Europe: Wider Europe, led by the EU’s enlargement project, and Greater Europe, led by the Russian Federation, a defeated power knocking on need’s door. As the enlargement project emerged as the only possibility pushed largely in the former Soviet space and ignoring Russia, the country entered the decade of humiliations: ‘stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok’ didn’t become an option.
Within that logic and with the EU’s blessing, the relationship between the former Soviet space and Russia quickly deteriorated. Within Wider Europe, the EU developed the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) as a previous step to membership and launched its most geopolitical branch: the Eastern Partnership (EaP). In 2004, the ‘big-bang enlargement’ gave full membership to 8 Eastern European countries. However, this expansion effort has had consequences within the consolidation and democratization of EU institutions, particularly regarding Poland and Hungary. EU’s winner complex and enlargement at all costs in Russia’s ‘near abroad’ has made tangible the widening vs. the deepening dilemma in the European Union.
Regarding the ENP, many Eastern countries such as Ukraine have institutionalized the European destiny for decades, fueled by EU’s policy and promises through the EaP and hatred against Russia. Following this path and according to the Strategy of Ukraine’s Integration to the European Union, Ukraine would have gained EU membership by 2007. However, it didn’t; and today one might wonder if there are any indicators of any EU plan to further integrate Ukraine.
The year 2014 heightened tensions within Europe to a point of no return. Following the events of the Maidan, Crimea’s annexation by Russia and the war in East and Southeast Ukraine, the EU finally realized that it had been overstretching, and thus pushed for a reform of the ENP, acknowledging that ‘the EU cannot alone solve the many challenges of the region (…) there are limits to its leverage’. It has further emphasized, intra-EU, the need to consolidate the democratic principles and common rule of law of those already members.
However, this state of affairs posits great challenges for the EU and the European continent. Is membership still an option for EaP countries? What kind of relationship does the EU want to have with Russia? What do we do with the situation in Crimea? What are the EU failures in relation to the situation in Ukraine?