Ukraine - Why They Want to Be In

19/12/2013 17:03 GMT | Updated 18/02/2014 10:59 GMT

Politicians regularly trot out clichés - mostly we don't mean to do it, but it happens nonetheless. However, on a very rare occasion it's appropriate and recent events in the Ukraine have shown that it is truly at a crossroads. The country is split in two with half of the nation looking to Europe and the other half towards Russia. The Orange Revolution, the Tymoshenko trial and president Yanukovich's recent electoral victories have all shown that a battle is ongoing for the country's soul.

Every time I watch the news and see scenes of hundreds of thousands of protestors on the streets, I feel we are witnessing something very important. What is remarkable is that they are protesting for closer and deeper ties with the EU, their anger sparked by president Viktor Yanukovich's spurning of an association agreement with the EU last month.

The association agreement is essentially a stepping stone to EU membership. It would allow Ukrainian exports of goods and services to be traded more easily and more cheaply to the EU, and vice-versa, giving Ukraine better access to a consumer market of over 500 million people and helping to transform the Ukrainian economy and living standards. In doing so, Ukraine would align its trade regulations with the EU's, revamp public procurement, competition policy and intellectual property rights, and introduce political and constitutional reforms to support democracy, good governance and to fight corruption.

This is the EU's soft power in action. Mundane rules which so infuriate so many UKIP supporters are revolutionary in countries like Ukraine where a transparent, clearly defined set of procurement rules means the difference between widespread corruption in lucrative public contracts and open, transparent processes that benefit the Ukrainian people and taxpayer.

It is easy to get lost in the hysterical UK debate and lose perspective on the EU but we must remember that Europe remains a beacon for hope for millions of people in countries like the Ukraine and in autocratic Belarus. Little noticed amongst the Ukrainian drama was the news that Georgia and Moldova initialled their association agreements with the EU and have taken a leap forward in closer ties towards Europe and away from Russia. This is the same process that saw Spain, Greece and Portugal throw off dictatorships, Slovenia and Croatia overcome the tragedy of the Yugoslav conflict and Eastern and Central Europe reject communism.

The chance to repeat these successes is why Ukrainians are on the streets and it is our job to support them. I'll be pushing our government to do all it can to help the protesters. We need to stand up and say that the EU they are fighting to join is one that we must fight to stay in. Yes of course, it must reform, must change and must adapt but the passion of the people in Kiev to join the EU is something that must light a fire in every single person who thinks that we are better in the EU than out.

We shouldn't shy away from this battle, it is something we can and must win. I'm proud my party, the Liberal Democrats will fight next year's European Election as the party of 'In'. To hear people protesting to join Europe, to join a club working for peace, prosperity, human rights and a better economy for millions should remind us all of the importance of Britain's EU membership.