With Ukip heading for possible victory in the European elections and anti-EU fervour growing across the continent, it is hard to imagine a country where people are so desperate to join the EU that they are prepared to take on water canon in order to make their point. But that country is Ukraine. The violence which has been brewing for weeks and which erupted yesterday has its source in many tensions in the country, but one issue defines the two sides: protesters who are looking westwards towards EU membership and a government which rejects this and looks eastwards towards Russia.
Maybe President Viktor Yanukovych and Nigel Farage should make a pact: if Nige were to make an address in Independence Square perhaps the protesters would slope off home, concluding that their fight for EU membership wasn’t worth it after all. But I doubt it. The affair is a stark reminder of just how differently the EU is seen across Europe: in Britain and in a growing number of western countries as an interfering presence in national life; in the east, a route to freedom and prosperity.
The case for a wider but shallower EU has never been so great. Granting EU membership to former Soviet bloc states in Eastern Europe has made future domination by Russia unthinkable. Year by year countries from Estonia to Bulgaria, which within living memory marched to Stalin’s every word, are becoming more stuck in the values of Western Europe. That is a huge gain for our economy and security. And yet what is good about the EU is simultaneously undermined by excessive interference in national affairs by an overbearing and anti-democratic Brussels bureaucracy. If the EU was functioning well, British citizens would welcome the prospect of yet another former Soviet satellite, Ukraine, being torn away from Putin’s grasp. As it is, the thought of Ukraine joining the EU will fill many people with the dread of yet more millions being eligible for British welfare – and Westminster being able to do nothing about it.
This is a point which David Cameron and William Hague need to seize in their much-vaunted but so far somewhat unenergetic campaign to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU. We should cheer Ukrainians who look westwards to our democracy as a model for their future – and condemn the EU’s aloof hierarchy whose contempt for the voice of the people compromises that democracy.