NEW YORK – Last weekend’s European Parliament election and presidential election in Ukraine produced sharply contrasting results. Europe’s voters expressed their dissatisfaction with the way that the European Union currently functions, while Ukraine’s people demonstrated their desire for association with the EU. European leaders and citizens should take this opportunity to consider what that means – and how helping Ukraine can also help Europe.
The EU was originally conceived to be an ever-closer association of sovereign states willing to pool a gradually increasing share of their sovereignty for the common good. It was a bold experiment in international governance and the rule of law, aimed at replacing nationalism and the use of force.
Unfortunately the euro crisis transformed the EU into something radically different: a relationship of creditors and debtors in which the creditor countries impose conditions that perpetuate their dominance. Given low turnout for the European Parliament election, and if support for Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi were added to the anti-EU vote on the left and the right, it could be argued that the majority of citizens are opposed to current conditions.
Meanwhile, just as Europe’s bold experiment in international governance is faltering, Russia is emerging as a dangerous rival to the EU, one that has global geopolitical ambitions and is willing to use force. Putin is exploiting an ethnic national ideology (and support from the Orthodox Church) to bolster his regime. Indeed, speaking on the Russian radio program Direct Line last month, he extolled the genetic virtues of the Russian people. The annexation of Crimea has made him popular at home, and his effort to weaken America’s global dominance, in part by seeking an alliance with China, has resonated favorably in the rest of the world.