Does the EU’s involvement in Ukraine amount to a form of colonialism?

Brussels is playing a role in Kiev which must be open to question

Share

Just a few months have passed, but it seems an age ago now that Ukrainian protesters were encamped in the streets of Kiev, waving enormous European Union flags, and demanding the EU Association Agreement that their then flailing president had refused to sign. When individual protesters were asked by reporters why they were so desperate to join Europe that they remained on the square in sub-zero temperatures and snow, their replies were almost endearing in their naivety.

They saw Brussels as a force that could rescue them from the corruption and maladministration of their government, create order, clear rubbish and introduce Western living standards. To them, it was as though the European Union could wave a magic wand and bring Ukraine, fully formed, into the first world practically overnight.

Brussels could, it if had chosen, have cited a few facts to temper that illusion – hard truths about Brussels and the limits on its power, but mostly hard truths about Ukraine. Ukraine was, and is, as we are now seeing so graphically, divided between those who look east and those who look west. A decade ago, following the Orange Revolution, Ukraine had an ardently pro-Western president in Viktor Yushchenko, yet it failed to take a European course. And Ukraine’s living standards and prosperity, in terms of per capita GDP, place it well behind not only the poorest of the new EU members, but behind Russia.

Even if Ukraine were united, which it is not, it has a long and hard way to travel before EU membership is anything like a possibility. On the quiet, though, something akin to Brussels waving a magic wand has been happening. Yesterday, it transpired that the UK, along with Sweden and Poland, was  proposing what was variously described as a “police” or a “justice” mission to Ukraine to “build up its law enforcement bodies.

The mission, to be discussed by ambassadors and then foreign ministers next week, would come within the framework of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy. We only know this because some of a draft document was – deliberately? – leaked. Why the reticence? Presumably because not all EU members are so enamoured of the idea as London, Stockholm and Warsaw – some of the most enthusiastic proponents of the Association Agreement, as it happens. Perhaps also for fear of how such interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs – for that is what it is – would be regarded by Russia.

Plans for a police, or a security, or a justice mission, however, are not all that is afoot between Brussels and Kiev. In Brussels last weekend, I picked up a newspaper which reported on its front page that the EU’s anti-fraud body, known as OLAF, already had a “large delegation” in Kiev, led by the Enlargement Commissioner. It would appear to be already going through Ukraine’s books, with a view to introducing – or imposing? – far-reaching reforms intended to root out corruption, transform procurement and speed the country into Western ways.

Now there are several observations that could be made here.  One is that if Russia keeps quiet, which it has done so far, its annexation of Crimea might be treated as Russia’s consolation prize for accepting the loss of Ukraine. Another might be to ask how proper such intensive intervention is, given that the legitimacy of the Kiev government is disputed and a presidential election is but weeks away. 

A third would be more theoretical, but also more sweeping. More than a decade ago, the British diplomat Robert Cooper, who now advises Baroness Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy supremo, wrote a provocative paper that argued for a new style of colonialism. This came at a time when international agonising about “failed states” was at its height. But the principles are equally applicable to Ukraine’s Westernisers, whose desperation to join Europe was pre-eminently a plea for someone, anyone, to bring order.

A debate can be had about whether this is a role that the EU should be playing, in Ukraine or elsewhere. But some would argue that, since the last expansion, the EU is already as much about a new form of colonialism as it is about a union of sovereign states.

The latest annual report from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development identified a new and maybe disturbing trend. It noted that, after an initial spurt, the economies in many of the “new” EU countries were stagnating, with the result that the gap between the “old” and the “new” EU economies was widening. This is not what was supposed to happen. The whole purpose of the EU’s regional fund was to narrow the gap, as had happened after earlier EU expansions.

At least one eminent scholar – Prof David Lane at Cambridge – suggests that some of the “new Europeans”, at least, have become not partners, but “dependencies”. If Ukraine is – as it appears – on the way to becoming an EU protectorate in all but name, and a costly one at that, it is time to recognise that the European Union is changing. No longer just a union of equals, it may be turning into a new sort of colonial power – for better, or as Nigel Farage and Ukip would surely see it, for worse.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Robert Fisk
 

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape