Glory to Ukraine; Radek Sikorski for High Representative!

February 25, 2014



Looking at the Ukrainian and EU flags waving proudly in front of the White House, one is reminded that the Transatlantic one is a community of values. That despite all strains, spooks,  our inability to live up to our very expectations, our heed of European values unite us. It is a strong acknowledgement of the sacrifice the people of the Maidan made for these. Ukraine now has an opportunity to join a Europe, and an America, that stand united. 

As Britain was first to declare its readiness ‘with a chequebook’ to help ‘rebuild’ Ukraine and, most urgently, avoid a default, it became clear how important a lesson Euromaidan has been for Europe. 

An inherently European issue, Ukraine’s turmoil has shed light to the deepest dividing line seen in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Russia, which considers Ukraine its top foreign policy priority, has gone impressive lengths in terms of aggressive, expansive, inward-looking power politics. The EU, startled, realised that it has to move beyond good-boy-politics—not compromising, of course, the values at the core of it.. At the level of member states at least, it has realised it has to, if not flex its muscles, but stand up for itself. It has realised it has to make—as much as this word is detested in Brussels—geopolitics. 

It would, of course, be much better for everyone if it wasn’t a zero-sum game. If the EU and Russia could work together on ‘Lisbon to Vladivostok’, a ‘cooperative Greater Europe’, both establishing free trade with Ukraine. That way, Ukraine itself could integrate, keeping happy Russian-leaning east and Western-leaning west alike. And Europe and Russia could integrate, politely avoiding the awkward topic of values, and ensuring long-term security and prosperity—whether for the many or the few.

But at present, it is not the EU’s lack of practical action that is posing an obstacle to realising this dream. It is Russia’s government that is still painting a picture of a Europe working against Russia’s interests. Logically, it has to stand up for them. In the first instance, through securing its sphere of influence. No matter the means.

Against this backdrop, large EU member states promptly realised the European nature of the conflict, their common interests and their common leverage. Leaders have made a number of strong statements, worried telephone conversations with Yanukovych and with Putin, and were apparently ready to impose sanctions on Ukrainian officials responsible for last week’s bloodshed before the revolution won this weekend. What we saw was common European foreign policy being made, albeit through the cooperation of individual member states. 

This juxtaposition is to blame for the EU’s slowness to act and the softness of its eventual action. Victoria Nuland is no newbie to international relations, and worse things could be said about the EU in this context than she did in her phone conversation, tapped and leaked by the Russian secret service. What the EU still needs, now more evidently than ever, is a strong High Representative to forge, not just manage, the EU’s common foreign policy.

The European Union needs a new face as its foreign policy chief. It needs to be someone with a vision and strategic thinking; someone whose allegiance to European ideals is unquestionable but who is a realist and not ashamed, or worse, afraid of geopolitics. Someone who will rethink and re-calibrate the Eastern Partnership, acknowledging its geopolitical nature. Someone who can make it fit the new reality shaped partly by a self-assured Russia, protective of its sphere of influence and as disinterested in modernising trade and security cooperation with Europe as in modernising its own economy or its foreign policy toolkit. 

Photo: PAP/Paweł Supernak

Fortunately, a change of EU leadership is looming this summer. Even more so, Ukraine’s crisis has been, to an extent, a foreign policy talent-show. 

A great candidate for the job could be the current Polish foreign minister, Radosław Sikorski. Managing the preparation of, and then the talks on, Ukraine’s Association Agreement together with his Swedish colleague, Carl Bildt, he has shown considerable devotion to the cause of Ukraine’s (European) future and the EU’s global standing. His management of the November Vilnius fiasco and subsequent events in Ukraine, constantly energetic and showing the way for his counterparts across Europe, up to the (albeit doomed) deal brokered last Friday have revealed his deep understanding of today’s international relations and European politics. Through his record in Ukraine, Sikorski has displayed a strong commitment to European values and, importantly, that he is a superb communicator, excelling at classical diplomatic tasks whilst leading the way in e-diplomacy, too.

The wider context seems set for Sikorski’s appointment, too. It has been widely noted that 2014 could be the year that someone from a new member state takes one of the top jobs in Brussels. Poland’s position as the largest, and most powerful, EU actor in East-Central Europe make it the likely home country of such an official. And while its Prime Minister, Donald Tusk has been mentioned as a possible candidate of the European People’s Party for the post of Commission President, his poor English and Poland’s non-eurozone state make his nomination unlikely. By making Sikorski, a non-divisive political figure, High Representative, member states would make a gesture to Tusk, his Poland, the East-Central European region and, importantly, the people of the Maidan. 

If their sacrifice is to bear fruit, Ukraine’s flag can rent a permanent spot among those of the EU and America, alluding to its place in the community of European values. And, importantly for Europe, this Ukrainian revolution has proved the need, and indeed the scope for a true, comprehensive, common European foreign policy, fit for 21st century opportunities and realities. Radek Sikorski might be just the man to build that.

Follow me on Twitter @radnotiandras
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