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Opinion

EU should welcome Ukraine as a partner for Europe's own good

Ukraine is important to Europe as a source of economic growth and energy security, as well as a bridge to Russia. Western interests and values are best served by engaging Ukraine as a solid European partner.

By Romano Prodi / April 2, 2013

Vitali Klitschko, chair of Ukraine's opposition party Udar, attends a rally in front of the parliament building in Kiev April 2. Several thousand demonstrators rallied to demand a mayoral election and to complain that the city was slow to clean up after last month's blizzard. Op-ed contributor Romano Prodi, Italy's former prime minister, writes: 'A partnership with Ukraine offers the EU new markets.'

Sergei Chuzavkov/AP

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Bologna, Italy

For all the troubling news from Europe – economic uncertainty and political instability – conditions were much more threatening after World War II. During that anxious era, the United States and other Western democracies responded not by pulling back but by reaching out to former adversaries and vulnerable allies with economic assistance and international alliances that contributed to stable democracies, prosperous economies, and a lasting peace.

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Now, the Western nations have the opportunity to make another pragmatic and courageous decision in the tradition of the policies that provided for postwar peace and prosperity. Ukrainian leaders recently concluded talks with the European Union about moving forward toward an EU Association Agreement (a treaty between an EU and non-EU country). The agreement would expand trade and travel and pave the way for closer Ukrainian integration with the EU.

Having overseen the addition of eight Central and Eastern European nations in 2004 – the largest single enlargement of the EU – I remember that at the time some expressed concerns about these countries on the basis of their post-Soviet legal regimes, their economies, and their cultures. Some of these recently admitted EU members were in a worse position than Ukraine is in now.

Yet today these nations, including former Soviet bloc countries, are vital and well-established members of the EU. Especially during difficult economic times, some EU members may be tempted by authoritarianism. For instance, Hungary has adopted a constitution and additional laws that endanger the free press and the independent judiciary. But EU membership serves to restrain anti-democratic impulses.

Similarly, Ukraine is important to Europe as a source of economic growth and energy security, as well as a bridge to Russia. On the economic front, Ukraine’s 46 million citizens are highly educated, including expert software engineers, skilled industrial workers who power the country’s commercial export industries, and capable farmers whose work allows the nation to be the breadbasket of Europe.

Indeed, Ukraine’s information and high-tech industries can help continue Europe’s transformation into the knowledge center of the world. With continued economic progress, a partnership with Ukraine offers the EU new markets and new investment opportunities, as well as new workers.

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