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Commitment Issues
Dutch Hollow Out Ukraine-EU Deal

As European leaders seek to appease the Dutch about the controversial association agreement with Ukraine, Kyiv is re-learning a familiar lesson: the EU is just not that into Ukraine. Reuters:

European Union leaders, anxious to preserve a landmark cooperation agreement with Ukraine, will address Dutch concerns on Thursday by saying the deal does not give Kiev the status of a candidate for membership of the bloc, diplomats said. 

The Netherlands demanded caveats on the EU-Ukraine agreement, which establishes closer political ties and envisages a gradual freeing-up of trade, after Dutch voters rejected it in a referendum last April.

The so-called association agreement, designed to bind Ukraine closer to western Europe as it tries to move away from Russia’s orbit, is now being provisionally implemented. 

But it would unravel if Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte withdrew his support, which he had vowed to do should he fail to get a meeting of 28 EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday to agree to limit the promised benefits to Ukraine.

To be fair, the Dutch insistence on a statement downplaying Ukraine’s membership prospects is a largely symbolic move. Given its smoldering conflict in the east and its incessant corruption, Ukraine is hardly ready to become an EU member any time soon. And the addition of the Dutch-proposed language may be a simple political calculation for Rutte to save face at home, where voters rejected the agreement in a referendum earlier this year.

Still, symbols matter, and it would be hard for Kyiv not to take this one personally. After all, it was the EU Association Agreement that became the cause célèbre of the Maidan protestors in 2013, who touted it as a symbolic first step toward integration with Europe. Ukrainians who still believe in that promise—after the annexation of Crimea, the ongoing bloodshed in the Donbass, and three years of dire economic conditions—would like to believe that their sacrifice has been worth it. European leaders are sending a dispiriting reply: don’t get your hopes up.

If the revised agreement embarrasses Ukraine, it also exposes once again the hollowness of Europe’s commitment to the country. In many ways, this is a reflection of simple geopolitical reality: Ukraine will never be as important to the EU as it is to Russia. As we have argued all along, the Eurocrats who pushed the agreement in the first place miscalculated and stumbled into a confrontation with Russia for which they were not prepared; in Walter Russell Mead’s words, they brought a baguette to a knife fight.

The EU capitulation to Dutch demands only underscores this reality, which we have seen time and time again. The limitations of European support for Ukraine are becoming ever more apparent, even as Euroskeptic parties are on the march throughout the continent. One wonders if the Ukrainians, too, will begin to lose faith in the EU.

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  • Andrew Allison

    This is disappointing. The EU should be thanking the Dutch for pointing out, as if it had not been obvious for the past few years, the the Association Agreement was an enormous mistake. Ukraine is a failed state which Russia will never permit to enter the orbit of the EU.

    • JR

      From what I am hearing, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have gotten fake Polish papers and got the f*ck out of Ukraine.

      • moderate Guy

        There is a million Ukrainians in Poland legally, and probably as much again illegally.

  • Fat_Man

    If the Europeans don’t care, there is no reason for Americans to care.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Even if the Europeans do care, there is no reason for the Americans to care, and less reason still for us to support their empire building. The time has come to stop underwriting the power fantasies of Brussels, and refocus (and rededicate) our resources to protect and defend our interests. The Europeans have had a free lunch for long enough.

  • Tony

    This is outstanding. The oh-so-smug Europeans will not help another European country – but the US is expected to? Forget it. And forget the Europeans. They’ve made a national sport of mocking America and Americans, while we’ve risked nuclear war for their defense. To hell with those people.

  • hispanomexicano

    There isn’t any “EU capitulation to Dutch demands”. The EU is the Union of 27+1 sovereign states, and whatever the EU does is the common will of its Member States. If hte Netherlands has a problem with the Ukraine Agreement, it is only natural that the other Partners leave the Dutch some room to save face

  • Arkeygeezer

    Ukraine was the reason the West imposed sanctions on Russia. The people of Crimea voted to leave the Ukraine and join Russia. Russia took control of Crimea. The people of the eastern part of Ukraine wanted to join Russia. Europe and the U.S. feared Russia so much that they supplied the Ukraine with weapons and sanctions on Russia.

    Ukraine is a failed state with “incessant corruption” as is stated in the article. The EU doesn’t want the Ukraine and it is not in America’s interest to get involved. Apparently, President Elect Trump sees this, and wants to reach a deal with Russia. We will see how this proceeds.

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