In the current turmoil of the European Union it is easy to forget why the organization was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize two years ago. Today, Ukrainians are demonstrating against their governments decision to delay a free-trade agreement with EU. This is reminder of why the EU won the Peace Prize, and why co-operation is worth fighting for.
By: Frederik Einshoej
Here’s a short lesson in European conflict history:
- Europeans have been fighting each other since the Dorian Invasion, circa 1104–900 BC
- Napoleonic War casualties (1799-1815): 3.5 million – among them French, Italian, Russian, Prussian, Austrian, Spanish, Portuguese and British
- WWI casualties (1914-1918): 21.2 million – 1.75% of the total population
- WWII casualties (1939-1945): 60 to 85 million – 3.17 to 4.00% of the total population
Imagine being an European in 1945. If you are a young man, you probably fought in the war, just like your father did a generation earlier. You are so used to constantly fighting the other European countries, that it has become a natural part of your country’s culture. Europe is a continent of enemies fighting over resources and land.
The EU was created as the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950 with the aim of ending these bloody wars between neighbors. Since then, Europe has lived through the cold war, seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, and in 1998, the introduction of a shared currency. The same European countries that 60 years ago had been fighting for centuries, are now close allies. There is really no doubt that we owe this to the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1951.
In Ukraine, protests began on the night of 21 November last year with protesters demanding closer European integration. The protests were a result of the government suspending preparations for signing an Association Agreement and a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, announcing it will renew active dialogue with Russia. The protests has since escalated into a violent crisis, claiming almost 100 lives.
Why are Ukrainians dying for this cause? An agreement is sure to flood the market with high-quality EU imports, making business though for domestic manufacturers. The other alternative is to join the custom union of former Soviet republics, led by Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. Mr Putin has suggested that opening the Ukrainian market to European goods would be met with tighter custom controls into Russia.
On the other hand, an agreement with the EU would have been a significant step towards membership in the Union. In addition, the agreement would include a significant sign-on bonus for the country that is currently struggling to climb out of a second recession in five years.
The EU has, as we have seen, a proven track record for not only bringing trade and prosperity to membership countries, but also peace. This is the union that the Ukrainian people are fighting to become a part of. They are fighting against the corruption, rigged elections and the dependency of Russian gas.
Russia is Ukraine’s largest trading partner, with 25.7% of exports and 32.4% of imports in 2012. The EU is the second largest, accounting for 24.9% of exports and 30.9% of imports. The country is rich in mineral deposits and is the world’s tenth largest steel producer. Other important exports include chemicals, arms and agricultural goods.