Rhein on Energy and Climate

The debate over Ukraine has essentially been centred on Russia’s shrewd and illegal take-over of the Crimea and the risk of Russia destabilising the eastern parts of Ukraine with a large share of Russo-phone citizens.

Crimea having formally become part of the Russian Federation there is no point shedding tears. Crimea will not come back to Ukraine in any near future, if ever; Ukraine will have to do without, which should not be difficult.

It should focus all its energy on transforming into a vibrant society and becoming a democratic, prosperous country.

This is a monumental challenge, as the acting prime minister has acknowledged when taking office a month ago.

The “Maidan Revolution” has for the first time laid bare the deplorable state of the country. Pervasive corruption, worse than anywhere else in Europe, the absence of an independent judiciary, a largely non-competitive business, a non-functioning administration, too much collusion between government and “oligarchs” etc. have left the country with a sham democracy where the rule of law is non-existing and citizens have completely lost their confidence in the government.

The country lacks a capable political elite, committed to the well-being of its citizens. Its party structure needs profound reforms.

The interim government faces almost insurmountable difficulties in meeting the extraordinary challenges the country faces.

Whatever its shortcomings it has no choice but to restore law and order throughout the fragile country and, as least as important, a sense of unity among all its citizens. This must be remain its main priority for the coming months.

The fight against corruption must be another priority. All those who have committed major acts of corruption during the past 10 years must urgently be indicted and convicted in open and fair trials, demonstrating the beginning of new era of justice.

The presidential election scheduled for May 25 should become the first test for the new democracy and the strengthening of Ukrainian identity, anything but easy to achieve in the present political and economic climate.

But Ukraine being formally a parliamentary democracy it is the prime minister and the parliament that matter politically. Parliamentary elections should therefore be held urgently allowing for a democratically a legitimised government to start work as soon as possible.

This elected government will have to take harsh measures putting Ukraine’s finances and economy in order. Considering the abysmal situation the government inherits from many years of mismanagement this will require enormous courage, not least phasing out the unsustainable gas subsidies.

Ukraine will therefore have to tighten its belt during the very period when Russia might make life for Ukrainian exporters excessively difficult.

Unfortunately, the EU can only be of little help to the new government. Its recipes will produce positive effects only in the long run. It cannot offer budget assistance. Its market opening will not produce miracles; to be effective Ukrainian industrial and agricultural products must be highly competitive in price and quality. Moreover, most of the industrial products have already enjoyed free access to the EU thanks to the general system of preferences.

Ukraine will have to engage in a long and difficult reform process from which the average citizen will not reap material results over night.

Ukraine would do best to enter in a profound ”apprenticeship” with the three Baltic countries and Poland which have successfully implemented the recipes leading to higher economic prosperity and political freedom.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 24/3/ 2014


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  1. it is a fairly depressing picture that you paint but I fear that you are right.

    It did occur to me watching the demonstrations in Kiev that the prospect of EU membership for peripheral countries may do more harm than good. There seems to be a belief both in non member countries and in some newer EU countries that EU membership possesses magical powers. If you wave the EU flag enough the frog will be transformed into a handsome prince.

    Yet the reality seems starkly different. There is wide disparity between the member states as regards the rate of economic progress and as regards the honesty and absence of corruption and nepotism in politics and the public sector. The EU may confer certain benefits but it is clear that what really matters is what happens at the level of the nation state. Unless there is fundamental change at that level the frog will stay a frog.

    The danger is that by over emphasising EU membership and encouraging young idealistic people to look towards Europe we discourage them from facing the reality that what happens in Ukraine or Serbia or Romania or Bulgaria is what really matters. We encourage their belief in the magical powers of the EU.

  2. A good if somewhat incomplete analysis.

    I want so second Londoner and add a few thoughts.

    Why did the EU and member country institutions like the Konrad Adeneauer Stiftung and US NGOs disseminate all this EU propaganda, promising prosperity and a fuctioning bureaucracy and democratic judiciary, when all they have to offer is a measly IWF-backed loan and the danger that the UKraine’s main trading partner, Russia, will stop being cooperative?

    As the Ukraine’s main problems are those it has to solve itself, and the EU association agreement won’t really be of much help, it would have been better or just as well for the country if Yanukowitch’s agreement with Russia for easy credit and gas price reductions had been accepted for the time being, without pushing for regime change.

    Why this massive support of the Maidan demonstrations, even though they represented only part of the population, had a violent side from the start and strong nationalist undertones that didn’t bode well for the future? Demonstrations in Madrid or in countries like Bosnia and Bulgaria are ingnored by EU politicians, certainly they don’t show up for photo opportunities with the demonstrators and don’t rage when the government uses riot police to dispel demonstrators or occupoers of government buildings.

    We are not being told the truth here, neither are the Ukrainians whose country was destabilised for no good reason.

    If this is about democracy, why do EU institutions sign long-term treaties with an interim government of doubtful legitimacy, a treaty that the elected president, whatever his faults and whatever the reasons, refused to sign? Shouldn’t the EU have waited until after presidential and parliamentary elections?

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