Friday, 27 June 2014

Ukraine takes one step forward

This morning in Brussels Petro Poroshenko signed the European Union Association Agreement.

This was the agreement his predecessor pulled out from signing at the last minute back in November deciding that he still had issues with the detail who then hot footed it over to the Kremlin to sign a deal with a smug looking Putin.

At the time large groups gathered in Kyiv to protest at the none signing but as the cold days passed the mood seemed to be resigned and fatigued that the brief glimmer of hope for progress was once again snubbed out.

Then in the early hours of one November morning just as the protesters seemed to be running out of steam someone gave the order to use force to break up a small crowd.

In my mind this was the spark that led to the mass surge of support and protest which escalated the agenda leading to the government losing control of the capital and fleeing the country.

The current conflict in eastern Ukraine while difficult to fully understand is a direct consequence of that November night in Kyiv.

So what does the signing of the European Union Association Agreement mean then?

I would be lying if I said I knew or understood the detail but what I believe it represents is an opportunity for Ukraine to catch up with the other ex-soviet EU club members who have seen their economy and their standard of living improve over the last decade.

I’m an agronomist not an economist so how do I know the living standards have improved?

If you spend some time in Poland and Ukraine as I have done and are fortunate enough to be able to travel freely across the border, the difference is jarring.

The infrastructure, the roads, the houses, the hospitals, attitudes, the police, the authorities, the smell, even the smell is different.

We would give an audible sigh of relief as we crossed the border in to Poland and immediately feel slightly more relaxed with the opposite true as we passed back in to Ukraine.

This is not a criticism of Ukraine people or culture but an attempt to communicate the differences between two neighbouring countries that were in broadly similar conditions back in 2004 and how they now find themselves as a result of political action and inaction.

Coming from a Ukraine which has spectacularly failed to progress as a nation (although individuals have done inexplicably well) the European Union looks like a pretty good idea to me.

To be blunt 20 odd years of whatever passed as governance before failed so the EU can’t be any worse.

Lets hope Ukraine doesn't take two steps back.