Will the EU Elections Change Anything in Ukraine?
24 May, 2019

While Ukraine is in-between its two most important elections – presidential and legislative – another one, which can have implications for Ukraine, is taking place in the E.U.

Called the most important European Parliament election in a decade (due to the E.U. being ravaged by far-right forces, populism, migrant crisis, Russian interference, and economic instability), it can result in a shift of the E.U.’s position on Russia and, subsequently, on the conflict in Ukraine.

Hromadske takes a look at whether the outcome of the European Parliament elections can change anything in Ukraine and, most importantly, how.

Ukraine & EU

Sofia Shevchenko from the western Ukrainian city of Rivne studied in the E.U. and now lives in Brussels. She is an intern at the German Marshall Fund. Last year, she was the head organizer of the Model United Nations conference in Warsaw, Poland. These days, she continues to organize the event in other E.U. cities. She outlines their main mission as to encourage people to vote.

Sofia Shevchenko, a Ukrainian intern at German Marshall Fund talks to Hromadske in Brussels, Belgium on May 13, 2019. Photo: Andriy Novikov / Hromadske

“As a Ukrainian, I worry about the future of Europe. If something happens to it, then, unfortunately, Ukraine will have no chance of being the same as it is today,” Shevchenko said.

This echoes the views of many others in the country. Ukraine is a key partner for the European Union and the E.U. is one of the main strategic partners of Ukraine. During the tenure of the previous European Parliament, Ukraine signed the association agreement, was granted a visa-free regime to travel to the E.U. states and had received assistance of approximately 12 billion euros in three main areas – reforming the public finance system, anti-corruption, and reforming the gas market. Therefore, changes in the E.U.’s leadership can also mean changes for Ukraine.

READ MORE: European Parliament Approved Visa-Free Regime For Ukraine

The Russia Issue

One particularly important area for Ukraine is sanctions against Russia. Although the voices within the E.U. in favor of the cancellation of sanctions are not prevalent, it is feared that Russia-friendly parties from Italy, France, Germany, and other states – if elected – will make these voices louder.

“A considerable risk is the friendship of many of these right-wing groups with Putin. [Marine] Le Pen (leader of  the far-right French party Rassemblement national that's considered pro-Russian, - ed.), Matteo Salvini (Italy’s deputy Prime Minister, leader of far-right, pro-Russian Lega Nord party, - ed.) are, among other things, campaigning to abolish sanctions against Russia,” says InterNews Ukraine and Ukraine World expert Maksym Panchenko.

However, other experts are skeptical about such changes.

“Russia’s friends in the E.U. are weak countries that need its support. Yes, Russia has friends, but good news for Ukraine is that they are weak friends and [Ukraine’s] friends are slightly stronger,” says Rikard Jozwiak, the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty European affairs correspondent in Brussels.

RFE/RL European Affairs correspondent Rikard Jozwiak talks to Hromadske in Brussels, Belgium on May 13, 2019. Photo: Andriy Novikov / Hromadske

Also, the right-wing populist parties are largely divided on Russia. While Le Pen and Salvini do not hide their sympathies to Vladimir Putin and his authoritarian regime – with Le Pen even considering the annexation of Crimea legal and justified – the far-right parties in eastern part of the bloc are largely opposed to the pro-Russian stance, especially in countries like Poland. Poland's ruling Law and Justice party is distancing itself from the Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedom, which includes Salvini and Le Pen, because of the alliance's pro-Putin stance.

Another obstacle for such far-right alliances may be the disagreements between the leaders. “The trend of such movements is very charismatic leaders, who simply cannot agree among themselves,” Panchenko notes.

“International alliances of nationalists sounds like oxymoron,” says Jozwiak. “These parties hate the E.U. but then they realize that they also hate each other”.

Ukraine, EU, & Eastern Partnership

Jozwiak notes that Eastern Partnership, an E.U. initiative established in 2009 to promote healthy relations with its eastern neighborhood, is on “life support”, following its 10th anniversary meeting on May 13 in Brussels.

“It [Eastern Partnership] should be disbanded, because I don’t think it makes sense anymore, to put countries such as Georgia and Ukraine in the same group as Belarus and Azerbaijan, it’s completely stupid,” Jozwiak says.

READ MORE: Rebecca Harms on What the EU Expects from Ukraine's Presidential Elections

According to the journalist, Ukraine is “an important, big partner” of the E.U., the two of which have a very strong bilateral bond, including the E.U.-Ukraine summit.

A refusal of the Ukrainian government in November 2013 to sign the association agreement with the E.U., a key initiative of the Eastern Partnership, during a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, led to massive protests in Ukraine, known as Euromaidan, which ousted the government at the time. A new, post-revolution government finally signed the agreement following the revolution.

European Parliament headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. May 7, 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/Stephanie Lecocq

“Ukraine can live without Eastern Partnership, there is no doubt about that,” Jozwiak emphasizes.

European Parliament elections take place on May 23-26 in all 28 of its member states.

/By Džiugas Kuprevičius and Liuda Korneivich