Academic journal article Romanian Journal of European Affairs

Ukraine, the European Union and the Democracy Question

Academic journal article Romanian Journal of European Affairs

Ukraine, the European Union and the Democracy Question

Article excerpt


Recent political developments in Ukraine call into question its democratisation process. For this reason, it is important to consider EU relations with that country as offering a possible protection against full democratic inversion. Two problems are considered: the continuity of EU policy towards Kyiv; and, the scope for EU influence in furthering democratic standards. In the light of patterns since the Orange Revolution in 2004, the political outlook for EU/Ukraine relations appears unpromising.

Keywords: Orange Revolution, democracy, European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), membership, Eastern Partnership, Ukraine.

Recent political developments in Ukraine increasingly suggest a case of democratic inversion, whereby regime change in favour of a new democracy is checked then redirected towards some non-democratic model, though not necessarily reverting to the previous type of authoritarian regime. There are some significant other examples of this particular tendency in post-Communist Europe, including Belarus under Lukashenka and of course Russia under Putin. Such inversion has usually occurred in former Soviet republics, suggesting a commonality of more difficult Communist legacy problems for démocratisation compared with those states in East-Central Europe (ECE) that have joined the EU and achieved democratic consolidation. Ukraine may be turning into another such example, although the international jury is still officially out on this matter. But that country has differed from Belarus and Russia in that it has advanced along the path of European integration as the frontrunner within the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Eastern Partnership, both EU programmes aimed at developing closer links with Eastern European countries outside the EU's borders following the enlargements to post-Communist countries in 2004 and 2007. One dimension of those programmes has been the furtherance of democratic standards in the countries concerned.

In its Freedom in the World rankings for 2011, Freedom House downgraded Ukraine from "free" to "partly free", a significant change as until then Ukraine had been the only nonBaltic former Soviet republic to enjoy the category of being "free". The recently published report by Freedom House on the state of democracy and human rights in Ukraine (April 201 1 ) summarised the main international concerns:

'a number of actions and developments since Yanukovych became president suggest that the country is heading away from a democratic consolidation. Concentration of power, selective prosecutions of political opponents, a more intrusive SBU [Security Service of Ukraine], the absence of checks and balances and the politicisation of the judicial process are the main concerns observers cite. . . At the same time, it would be premature to write off Ukraine as a hopeless cause' (Freedom House, 2011: ii and 17).

Similarly, the European Commission's country report on Ukraine for 2010 concluded a month later that 'as regards the political domain, there are fewer positive signs', indicating that ' Ukraine has experienced a deterioration of respect for fundamental freedoms notably as regards the freedom of the media, freedom of assembly and democratic standards' (European Commission, 201 1 : 3).

If this new political tendency since Yanukovych's replacement of Yushchenko as President in February 2010 is confirmed in the future, it would represent a further redirection in Ukraine's non-linear even zigzag course in regime change since the end of the Soviet Union, two decades ago. Yushchenko's own election as President at the time of the Orange Revolution in 2004 represented a dramatic attempt to restart démocratisation following the hybrid regime (i.e. semi-authoritarian) practices under his predecessor Kuchma; but now, some of the latter's forms of repression have reappeared.

Given the EU's evolving relationship with Ukraine, especially from the Orange Revolution and Ukraine's own repeated aim to join the EU, it has to be asked in the light of these regime change redirections whether EU policy towards that country has changed significantly - a relevant question in the light of the ENP's and the Eastern Partnership's requirement of democratic standards. …

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