EU Foreign Policy – The school report says “Could do better”

Well, following on from yesterday’s post relating to Russian soft power and how it affects Ukraine, it is only right to look at the other geopolitical actor seeking to influence the nation, the EU.

Today those very clever people at The European Council on Foreign Relations publish their annual scorecard on EU foreign policy relating to various actors and across numerous spheres of policy.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, various bloggers and journalists were sent advanced copies if this years report on the understanding that reference to it or links to it were not to be made until today which coincides with its release. Well today that embargo is now lifted and I can link to the “ECFR_SCORECARD_2012” without further delay.

Whilst it is all jolly interesting and covers many of the main actors, such as relations with China, the USA, Turkey, MENA and Russia (and within the Russian section Ukraine naturally gets a few mentions), for those in Ukraine, Section 47 that deals with the Eastern Neighbourhood is of most importance.

The scorecard for the Eastern Neighbourhood? A very poor Grade C in the areas most applicable to Ukraine.

As many a schoolchild knows, Grade C is almost always accompanied by “Could try harder”, “Could do better”, “Easily distracted”, “Does just enough”, or “Has the ability but fails to apply fully to the subject” etc. etc. This is a particularly poor grade when most of the failure falls within the human rights sphere which is the “silver thread” that is supposed to run throughout all EEAS/EU foreign policy according to Baroness Ashton. As regular readers know, I have written about the “silver threads” and EU foreign policy failure in the EaP nations before.

We must recognise however, that the Grade C allocated for the EaP nations is an overall grade and not specific to any individual nation. There is therefore the possibly distorting influence that is the basket-case of the Belorussian authorities who are gradually tacking up the mantle of a dictatorship some MENA nations would recognise, regardless of sanctions and other soft power EU tools employed to try and encourage meaningful engagement.

There is also Ukraine which is exceptionally unlikely to follow the Belorussian dictatorship model and also exceptionally unlikely to suffer any form of sanctions or EU funding cuts despite the incarceration of Ms Tymoshenko and others to the annoyance of the EU.

One quite likely scenario from the Ukrainian authorities is to comply with numerous ECfHR rulings still outstanding, progress on many Council of Europe/PACE recommendations and also to fully engage in many other EU institutionally encouraged reforms whilst retaining the “red line” over Ms Tymoshenko’s incarceration.

One can see the on-going investigation into the UESU/UESI/Somolli Ent/Lararenko money laundering, tax evading, outstanding debt to Russia case finding her guilty on actual criminal charges rather than politically criminal charges such as misuse of office for which she is currently doing time for.

After all if the US found Lazarenko guilty and jailed him for 9 years mentioning Ms Tymoshenko by name and UESU and Somolli Inc (over which she had full control) numerous times in their case, there is every chance that Ukraine will find sufficient evidence (much of which will have been used in the US case against Lazarenko) to reach a guilty verdict as well.

That may well lead to the removal of the misuse of office sections from law under which she has already been found guilty, the quashing and expunging of her record under those offences, but ultimately leave her in jail nonetheless.

As PACE/Council of Europe recently pointed out, whilst they have concerns over the justice system and procedures that jailed Ms Tymoshenko for misuse of office, no politician can be above the law and the on-going investigation into the UESU affair is a matter for Ukraine.

Should this scenario play out and Ms Tymoshenko technically have her conviction for misuse of office overturned, (but remain in custody for money laundering, tax evasion, theft and fraud in the UESU case) then there is wriggle room for both the EU and Ukraine to move forwards on the assumption that the October parliamentary elections are free and fair (despite Ms Tymoshenko not taking part but on the premise of a genuine criminal conviction rather than a politically perceived conviction).

That maybe enough to put Ukraine and the EU back on the right path without crossing any red lines in both the Ukrainian and EU camps (particularly if lesser political public figures are released, one way or another).

There is a necessary caveat to make and that is despite the EU (and others) believing the President has control of the parliament, that is not necessarily as true as it may appear. The President has vetoed numerous laws that have reached him having passed through parliament. This implies that the President is no more a rubber stamp for parliament than parliament is a rubber stamp for the President despite popular assertions. Those within and behind the ruling Party of Regions do not always necessarily agree with Mr Yanukovych or he with them.

Quite what the EU thinking is with regards to Azerbaijan remains unclear. Despite a heavy handed policy relating to protesters, there has been little public reaction from the EU. One can only suppose the need for energy caused a different response for the leadership in Baku to that of the leadership in Minsk. That said, what goes on behind closed doors between Brussels and Baku we are never likely to know.

One of the most interesting issues on the horizon (discounting the Ukrainian parliamentary elections in October) relate to Georgia. All things being equal, President Mikheil Saakashvili should not remain in power in 2013 having served two terms as President. One has the horrible sense of foreboding that he will “do a Putin” and swap Presidency for the role of Prime Minister in an effort to remain in power. This would be a tremendous kick in the teeth for democracy and how the EU will react to that is unclear. For certain the Georgians I know in Odessa anticipate this happening despite a clear desire to see the back of him.

The situation with Moldova and Transnistria also seems to be slowly plodding along after a period of stagnancy. This week Odessa welcomed the new “President” of Transnistria in an effort to get some momentum to this frozen conflict being resolved. Time will now tell whether the German decision to abstain from the Libya vote at the UN as part of a deal to get the Kremlin to move on Transnistria will pay dividends, or whether there was any significant progress at the recent meeting in Odessa. All eyes will be on the next official meeting involving all negotiating partners in Ireland very soon.

The ultimate question will be whether Russia has more interest in Transistria than the newly forming troika with Germany and Poland, and how easily it can diplomatically disengage from Transnistria and the Russia favouring leadership without being seen to abandon this pro-Russia enclave. Very sensitive.

On the question of sensitivity, Visa-free travel is also a difficult issue. Not from the perspective of technology or security but politically in Eastern Europe (notwithstanding internally amongst the EU itself). To say Russia was miffed at Ukraine joining the WTO before Russia is an understatement. Should Ukraine become Visa-free with the EU before Russia it will be equally if not more miffed than over the WTO issue.

That is not to say Russia has any problem with Ukraine having Visa-free travel with the EU, it is purely a matter of national pride as far as the Russian leadership is concerned, as to which nation gets it first. Historically Russia likes to be seen as the leader in this region and if the WTO issue was a slight, coming second to Ukraine over Visa-free travel with the EU would be a bloody nose that would not be shrugged of by the Russian populous as easily.

This has not gone unnoticed within the EU naturally, and led to a joint Polish/French/German letter being circulated at a meeting of foreign ministers in 2011, encouraging the EU to treat Russia differently when it comes to the requirements of any road map to Visa-free travel for its citizens in a favourable way.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but as far as Ukraine is concerned, the EU border service based in Odessa has Ukraine on track with the road map it was given. Given its current momentum, Ukraine is likely to meet all requirements and pass necessary audits within 18 months at the most. The fly in the ointment currently is the recent Presidential veto on biometric passport legislation. That legislation is to be redrafted and resubmitted this year I understand.

Anyway, have a read of the European Council on Foreign Relations report, whether your interest is in EU/China, EU/Turkey, EU/US, EU/Russian or EU/EaP policy, it is well worth a read.