Ukraine Is the Most Important Country for the EU. Here’s Why
Size and a desire to join set Ukraine apart from the rest of the world in a unique way as far as the European Union should be concerned.
Which is the most important “outside” country for the European Union at the present moment and for the foreseeable future?
It isn’t the United States of America. It’s not the Russian Federation. Nor is it China, nor is it Turkey. It’s not Egypt, or Libya, or Syria, or Algeria, or Tunisia, or Morocco. It’s not Iran. It’s not even Serbia, or Georgia.
This question is absolutely essential for the future of the European Union.
And its answer should be unequivocal.
The reason, quite simply put, is the following:
Ukraine is the largest country that has the realistic potential, the desire, and a wide range of prerequisites to become a member state of the European Union, and to become one of the several “big ones” at that.
Of course, that is a very long shot: Ukraine hasn’t even been recognized as an official EU candidate country yet, and it’s not even sure when it will be, or even that it ever will be.
However, out of those eligible (i.e. being geographically part of the continent of Europe), Ukraine is the largest country that has the potential to become a member state of the European Union, and whose population seemingly has the desire to do so, and, what’s ever more important, whose society wishes to change correspondingly in the process. And, presumably, EU integration pre-accession changes have always been for the better – as dozens of other countries from Western, Southern, Northern, and Eastern Europe already have. Even EU haters admit that.
Evidently, Ukraine doesn’t carry nearly as much international weight as the USA, Russia, China, or Turkey, or even Iran, or Egypt, or a bunch of other countries, when it comes to trade, diplomacy, military power, you name it.
However, as far as the EU is concerned, all of those factors are trumped by one simple factor: the realistic potential to become one of your own.
Historical comparisons between the European Union and the United States of America aren’t very insightful because history doesn’t repeat itself, the two entities are quite different, and so on. Yet, such comparisons do have some illustrative power.
So, in that regard, just to illustrate the point about the EU and Ukraine, it’s worth asking which was the most important country for the United States in the 1840s? It wasn’t Britain or France, or Spain. It was the Lone Star republic of Texas. Why? Because Texas had the potential to become one of the US states. And it did so shortly thereafter (leaving aside the exact nature of the circumstances and events around this development).
Theoretically, both Russia and Turkey could be that most important to the European Union – because they both have European territory, and therefore eligible to become EU member states. Both of them are huge, with far greater scope that Ukraine.
However, in both cases the main factors against that possibility have to do with the lack of desire among their ruling elites and general populations to seek the goal of becoming part of the European Union, a process invariably entailing tremendous changes.
In both of those countries, their ruling elites and the majority of their people seem to desire to stand on their own, possibly as some form of an empire, at least in the sense of projecting influence in their own “spheres of influence” (historical cliché as that is).
That’s alright. Nobody is supposed to want to become part of the European Union, and to transform themselves tremendously in the process of pursuing this goal in a dedicated fashion.
That is why the European Union should be concerned first and foremost with those countries whose ruling elites and societies consider becoming part of the EU to be a great opportunity for them. Those countries are the matter of discussion here.
That’s why the EU is left with Ukraine being the most important (still) non-EU country for it that’s out there. Once again, the simple fact of the matter is that Ukraine is the largest of those countries that are simultaneously eligible for EU membership and seem to have a desire to seek it. Once again, with all the corresponding internal changes that this achievement usually entails.
The awareness of which country is the most important for the EU and why that is Ukraine is of utmost importance for the Union if it wants to be a viable, credible, and promising political entity on the world map.
Not because of expansionist dreams. Not because of geopolitical goals. Not because of wanting to rob Russia of its empire. Not because of a desire to become the world’s next superstate.
Anybody even slightly familiar with the core philosophy of the European Union as well as the practice of that philosophy by the already existing peace-loving, introvert, well-meaning member states would axiomatically know that can never be the case.
Anybody should be rather content with having the European Union as their immediate neighbor or even not so immediate neighbor.
That awareness of utmost importance because of the European Union’s mission to bring together all on the European continent with the stated desire to pursue, internalize, and adhere to its eternal values.
There are a number of still non-EU European states meeting that seemingly or possibly meet that criteria – from the already recognized EU candidate countries in the Western Balkans (Southeast Europe) to the regions of the former Soviet space.
Ukraine happens to be the largest one of those. With roughly the same population and twice larger territory, Ukraine is what Poland was among the countries that joined the EU in the three “Eastern Enlargements” in the decade between 2004 and 2013.
This is a principled situation, and it doesn’t technically matter that Ukraine’s EU membership is a still very long shot, or that it might even never get realized, that Ukraine’s is riddled with high-level corruption, that Ukraine has a very burdensome communist heritage, or that the emblematic Dutch voters are prepared to reject even an EU association agreement with Ukraine multiple times. It is a matter of principle.
And in principle, Ukraine is the largest of those countries that realistically can become part of the EU, whether in 10, 15, or 20 years (or even never).
Going back to the point why it is Ukraine, and not Russia or Turkey:
Ukraine is secular, pro-European, and apparently pro-democratic, and does not seem to have a desire to dominate anything, neither its region, nor Europe or the EU, even if it would likely be bold enough to defend its standing on certain issues the way Poland does it, already an EU member for 15 years. The way any EU member state is entitled to do that within the Union.
These qualities of Ukraine might set it in contrast to Russia and Turkey whose leaderships and societies seem to treasure the memories of those countries’ respective historical empires. They might even prefer those visions of old-style grandeur way more than the prospects of becoming part of the European community of shared values, a community devoid of overt imperial gloss – even if their leaders might be prepared to pay lip service to the possibility of a “great European home”, for instance.
Historically speaking, that’s OK, too. If any country wants to become, or reemerge as an empire, it’s entitled to try – as long as it manages to achieve that goal, with all ensuing risks and threats for itself. But it would probably be wiser to learn from the European experience.
As far as the question of “empire” goes, the great thing about the European Union is that it is a Union of “losers”: countries which either built empires to see them crashing down, or which were otherwise crushed, mauled, or severely threatened by empires, and have therefore reached the right interpretation of their historical experience. Namely, that nothing worthy can come out of imperial ambitions.
Then there is the question of size. It goes with the fact that both Russia and Turkey are simply too big. If at some point any one of those two became a member state of the European Union (a scenario for political science fiction writers for the time being, even in Turkey’s case which has technically been in accession talks for 14 years now), it would be the largest member state (Turkey is about to surpass Germany by population pretty soon). Unsurprisingly, there is not a single organization in the world of any sort that would be overly enthusiastic to welcome a newcomer that might be able to dominate it.
Ukraine, on the other hand, is quite big but not too big, so that both the Union as a whole, and the already existing member states, both big and small ones, will be able to “swallow” its accession with relative ease.
If or when Ukraine becomes a member of the EU, it would naturally assume a spot among the Big Six – which are now about to become the Big Five when Britain finally leaves the Union through Brexit (Germany, France, UK, Italy, Spain, Poland).
Again, while this is still a very long shot, and Britain’s departure (which itself was a long shot for a while) is regrettable, but such a set up would bring a better East – West balance inside the EU.
Due to its otherwise sorry legacy of totalitarian communism, Ukraine is overwhelmingly secular, as is Russia. Secularism has actually been an issue with respect to Turkey’s EU bid, and has actually emerged more prominently after 2000 than before. Many tend to fail to take notice of the fact that as far as religion is concerned with respect to EU accession, the question isn’t what religion the potential candidate country has (Christianity or Islam) but how deeply secular it is. Theoretically, if a society is overwhelmingly secular – from government to everyday lives, the specific religion wouldn’t matter.
The enlargement of the European Union cannot go on indefinitely as it is constrained by geography (here’s another awkward comparison to the United States of America – its expansion also had to end at some point, Trump’s ambitions for Greenland notwithstanding).
However, for the time being the enlargement of the European Union is far from over – nearly a dozen countries have at least the theoretical desire to become part of the Union and to change for the better in the process. Those are still left outside. EU enlargement wouldn’t be completed until all who are eligible, worthy, and wish to join, do get in.
All of this is not even discussing the highly notable fact that in recent years, Ukraine was the place where people died waving the EU flag as a symbol of hope, freedom, and progress.
Based on both potential desire for accession and positive change, and on its sheer size, Ukraine appears to be the most important non-EU country for the European Union for the time being. It would be very shrewd of the entire European Union to take notice of that fact.
(Banner image: Wikipedia)