Ukraine and the EU: History is Not Destiny

Daniela Schwarzer is director of the European Program of the German Marshall Fund. Constanze Stelzenmuller is Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the Fund.

This comment is excerpted from a report,"What is At Stake in Ukraine," published by the German Marshall Fund on March 20, 2014.

BERLIN -- Whichever way the conflict with Russia over Ukraine turns, it has proved once more how important European unity and resolve are when faced with an aggressive external challenge. Capitals remain important, as the first response to the Ukraine crisis by the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland showed. But subsequent events made it clear that a few big states alone cannot bring the EU together and lead it for the long term. And for the EU to act as one effectively, it needs joint strategic analysis, a common position and the closest possible coordination.

This crisis is an opportunity for the EU to strengthen itself internally, and to enhance
its capacity to project soft and hard power in its neighborhood.

An impending test of its determination will be the nomination of the next high representative, following Catherine Ashton's departure after the next European elections. The events in Ukraine should urge the member states to choose a candidate who has the political clout and experience to get member states to close ranks in times of crisis, and to bridge conflicting national positions. He or she should also be able to ensure that the internal analytical and strategic capacity of the office is improved. All this could help to substantially strengthen the EU's external representation.

Likewise, the crisis is an opening to review and reinforce not just EU-NATO relations, but the transatlantic alliance in general. It proves the strategic relevance of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade negotiations, and the need for overcoming the current impasse about intelligence competition. Finally, it is a powerful argument for Europe and the United States to do more together to keep the international order peaceful and free -- because Russia, and other powers like it, will not.

What the world is now witnessing in Ukraine is a political struggle between two different visions of modernity, good governance and a decent society. It is an echo, 20 years later, of what happened in 1989 and thereafter in many Warsaw Pact countries. They are now mostly members of the European Union and of NATO, living proof that history is not destiny. There is no reason why it could not happen now in Ukraine, in Russia. . .and elsewhere. The choice is for Ukrainians, Russians and others to make. But Europe and the United States should be there to help.

Read the full report here.