09/12/2013 11:14 GMT | Updated 07/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Ukraine at a Crossroads: Why the Country Still Has a Future in Europe


Good fences are not the only things that make good neighbours. It is also about showing interest and offering support when needed. This also applies to the EU and its neighbours. What is happening in Ukraine won't only affect people in that country, it also will have an impact on those living in Britain and the rest of the EU. It is in everyone's interest to show there is an alternative to business as usual and that Ukraine can still enjoy mutually beneficial links with other European countries while still trading with its traditional partners.

Daily protests started in Ukraine after the government announced it would put an association agreement with the European Union on ice and instead look for closer ties with Russia. The agreement, which had been in the making for years, was due to be signed at a summit in Vilnius on 28-29 November. It would have led to better trade conditions and the easing of travel restrictions.

On 10 December the European Parliament will debate Ukraine's decision with Commissioner Štefan Füle, responsible for enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy.

The EU launched the European Neighbourhood Policy to establish closer links with its neighbours to the south and the east. They receive financial assistance in return for agreeing to reform their economies and strengthen the democratic process , often to improve human rights within the country.

Although the European Parliament has always supported better relationships with neighbouring countries, it has always stressed the EU should reward progress on a case-by-case basis, with the rewards being in line with the progress made. The EP felt that a failure to follow this strategy would mean the policy was no longer be credible and would lack the leverage needed to inspire reforms.

For MEPs respect for the fundamentals of democracy have always served as a red line on which the EU should never compromise. The Parliament has done its part by, for example, inviting Ukrainian opposition leaders to debate the situation with MEPs.

Meanwhile, Russia has done its best to prevent the countries to the east of the EU from developing closer ties, for example, by blocking imports from a major Ukrainian confectionery producer and banning imports of wine and spirits from Moldova.

Its tactics have led to Armenia changing course and joining the Russian Customs Union, which is incompatible with a free trade deal with the EU, as well as Ukraine postponing the association agreement. MEPs passed a resolution in September calling on Russia to respect former Soviet countries' right to seek closer ties with the EU.

However, all is not lost. At the Vilnius summit both Georgia and Moldova initialled association agreements, an important step towards signing the agreements later on. It is also telling that so many people protested in Ukraine after the government announced its decision. This shows there is a real appetite for change in the country. Elmar Brok and Jacek Saryus-Wolski, the two MEPs responsible for the Eastern Partnership Policy, warned Ukrainian authorities not to use force against pro-Europe protesters.

It's too early to say what will finally happen to Ukraine but perhaps the debate this Tuesday in the European Parliament will clarify some of the options.

Thank you to Stuck in Customs for making the photo available