Negotiating, understanding what the other party wants…it seems clear by now that Western powers are not willing to risk an all-out war to help Ukraine. In addition to the good idea of strengthening ties with Ukraine through a new version of the Marshall Plan, a diplomatic solution is needed that appears a win-win for the belligerent parties Russia and ‘the West’. It will not help Ukraine immediately as much as sentiments would like, but if realpolitik is to win, why not use, for instance, the December 2006 EU enlargement absorption criterion? It was meant as an additional condition for a country’s accession to the EU: it can only be allowed if it does not compromise the EU’s effective functioning and development (as a reminder, this was shortly after the accession of former ‘Eastern Bloc’ countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia, and before Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia joined). The EU admits that it has to take a hard look at which EU countries actually meet the EU’s basic conditions of good governance and democracy. With as much fanfare and rhetoric as is now used in the battle, make clear that some EU members do not meet the criteria and should leave the EU after all, or, better, become part of the slower part of a two-speed EU. If necessary, use Guy Verhofstadt to explain. And then let the leaders in Poland, Hungary, or whoever else is addressed on the basis of core values, make choices between belonging to a powerful EU and consistent EU of values, or join Putins dream of ‘Russian empire’. It sounds terribly complicated to really get this all done, but that is part of the point: it gives time, costs less than an arms race, Putin can boast of achieving an EU that considers its place on the border with his own dream, and perhaps helps to put the relations within the EU back on a clear footing. It may help to show that ‘soft power’ is very different from weakness.
Willem van de Put, founder of Culture for Change, former director of HealthNet-TPO, research fellow at the Institute for Tropical Medicine Antwerp and Fordham University New York