The European Union has woken up, or so it seems, if the European Parliament’s Feb. 25 resolution on Ukraine is anything to go by. It’s no secret to people here that Europe has been steadily losing influence in Ukraine over the past couple of years. Viktor Yanukovych’s victory may in part be attributed to Ukrainians feeling they had nothing to lose by moving eastwards again. Brussels was perhaps hoping that they could rely on Orange Revolution politicians to bumble on without burning their European bridges. Well not any more, unless Yanukovych is taking a clever and calculated gamble.
For pro-Europeans here, the European Parliament’s declaration is the most encouraging noise to come out of the EU for some time. Experts have often pointed to Article 49 of the Maastricht Treaty which seemingly enshrines the right of any European country, provided it fulfils the union’s criteria, to apply for membership as reason to give Ukraine hope. But, in practice, Brussels representatives have often ducked the issue (or simply pointed out that Ukraine had not fulfilled the terms of previous EU-Ukraine agreements). The Strasbourg-based parliament is not the primary driver of EU policy, but it is far from being the easily-ignored talking shop of a few years ago. They have real power to put issues on the agenda. The process towards being granted a "membership perspective" (in EU parlance, a clear signal to begin the lengthy accession process) may not be granted quickly. But the continued legitimization of the issue builds up over time, as can be seen in the cases of the Balkans and Turkey.
Contrast this with the vague statements made in the May 2009 preamble of the Eastern Partnership, which sought even to avoid the phrase "European countries" in reference to the six former Soviet states that sit between the EU and Russian Federation, for fear of raising membership hopes, with references to visa facilitation also watered down. The declaration’s statement that Ukraine has the right to apply for membership, and mention of a “road map” with the end objective of visa-free travel to the EU looks like quite a turnaround from what we’ve seen previously. Perhaps the EU is realizing it will actually have to do something to keep Ukraine strung along.