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Eastern Europe’s Tito Option

LONDON – Success stories in what the European Union calls “the neighborhood” have been hard to come by. First Georgia, then Ukraine, and most recently Moldova have all been big EU hopes. But, in each case, those hopes were dashed. Unfortunately for the EU, this year’s annual summit with Ukraine (on November 22) will likely showcase this failure.

That summit comes at an auspicious time, as the EU reviews its European Neighborhood Policy (launched in 2004) and the Eastern Partnership (launched in 2009), ahead of a second grand summit in Budapest under the Hungarian EU presidency in May 2011. But France has dragged its feet on easing visa requirements for Ukrainians, and EU negotiators are frustrated with the total lack of progress towards a Deep Free Trade Agreement, which they blame, rightly, on the Ukrainian “oligarchs” who have returned to power since Viktor Yanukovych became President in February.

One problem has long been the lack of enthusiasm on the EU side for further expansion into the region. More recently, the EU has also had to face the reality of competing with Russia in what President Dmitri Medvedev calls Russia’s “sphere of privileged interests.” Increasingly, however, the problem is with Eastern Europe’s states themselves.

First, these are new states whose sovereignty was often contested at their birth in 1991, and that have remained weak. Their independence was a result of the USSR’s collapse, and, while some had national revolutions, in most Soviet elites and political culture remained entrenched. Corruption is rife, state capture by powerful vested interests is the norm, and institutional effectiveness and capacity for reform are weak.