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Op-Ed

Ukraine Needs Europe More Than Europe Needs It

Steven Pifer

Editor’s note: Steven Pifer writes that a path towards EU membership for Ukraine would boost economic prosperity, cut rampant corruption and build a modern democratic state.This article was originally published by Room for Debate at NYTimes.com, as part of a discussion in response to the question, “Does Europe Need Ukraine?”. Read the full debate »

The enlargement of the European Union and NATO over the past two decades has helped to shape a more stable and secure Europe. Integrating a democratic Ukraine into European institutions would contribute to that goal. But does Europe “need” Ukraine?

If by “Europe” one means the European Union, the answer would appear to be no. Europe’s most significant political and economic institution wants Ukraine. But it apparently does not believe that it needs Ukraine — at least not so much that it is prepared to lower its standards.

Had the European Union needed Ukraine, it would have gone ahead last year and signed the E.U.-Ukraine association agreement, which provides a road map to bring Ukraine closer to Europe and includes a free trade area. Instead, E.U. officials insisted that the Ukrainian government first meet certain democracy criteria.

When Ukrainian officials at the last moment called for huge sums of financing to ease implementation of the agreement, the European Union might have begun bidding. Some financial assistance is on offer, but E.U. officials see little reason to pay Ukraine to take steps that are in its own best interest.

But while it may not need Ukraine, the European Union very much wants to have on its eastern flank a stable, democratic state.

It is unclear whether President Viktor Yanukovich appreciates this difference. He appears to believe the European Union needs Ukraine (lest it otherwise drift toward Russia) and thus might accept Ukraine on his terms. That is a major miscalculation. E.U. officials understandably want a neighbor that embraces European norms and values.

A pro-E.U. path for Ukraine would boost economic prosperity, cut rampant corruption and build a modern democratic state. Yanukovych needs to see that it is not Europe that needs Ukraine, but the other way around.

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