It’s Time to Face the New Reality: Is Europe Ready for It?  

72 years ago, on April 18, 1951, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg signed the Schuman Declaration which marked the beginning of the European Coal and Steel Community, which later evolved into the European Union we know. In the aftermath of World War II, instead of continuing to be dissociated by political differences and opinions, the leaders made a visionary decision to unite. 

Five years later, in November 1956, when Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest, the director of a Hungarian news agency sent a message to the world saying “We will die for Hungary and Europe.” It is interesting how Hungary evolved from such a mood to the current politics of Orban.

In 2013, citizens across Ukraine took to the streets after the government chose not to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. Millions of voices spoke out to make it clear that they are in control of their own destiny. Since that time, Ukraine has been the only country which is proving to be worthy of joining the EU while shedding blood of its finest people.

At first glance, these events may appear unrelated. However, they share a common aspiration for a society based on freedom, unencumbered by conflicts over resources, power, and influence, and instead focused on collective growth and the enhancement of individual lives. Because one drop in the ocean may not change anything, but the oceans and seas consist of such drops.

The reality has changed

After World War II, Europe faced countless obstacles that could have perpetuated disarray. Nonetheless, leaders accepted the new reality and were compelled to forge a path forward. One unifying trait among them was a commitment to freedom, as emphasized in the Schuman Declaration: “…Europe remains open to all European countries that have freedom of choice.” 

While being buried under tons of bureaucratic regulations and standards, it’s easy to lose sight of the fundamental requirement for EU membership – freedom of choice. Ukraine has it. Georgia and Moldova have it as well. The paths might be different from the other European countries but all of us have faced the brutality of war because we dared to stand up for our freedom of choice. 

Since February 24, 2022, the biggest war since WWII and a genuine genocide have been going on in the centre of Europe, with hundreds of thousands killed, wounded, raped, deported and tortured. And yet it might not be enough to receive concrete guarantees of Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic perspective. 

There may not be a better context or chance for the West to welcome Ukraine into the EU and NATO. Russia will not suddenly disappear from the map of the world. It would not also wake up one day saying they give up all their forces from Ukraine and are ready to capitulate. Therefore, Europe should accept that there is no longer business as usual, and the sooner it accepts the new games rules – the better.

Ukraine has accepted these rules and the new reality. It happened in the early morning of February 24, 2022. You could understand it from millions of people who were protesting all around the world and in occupied cities. dedication of teachers who taught from gas stations and supermarkets, wherever they could access the Internet and electricity during the winter. You can see it in the resilience of your Ukrainian colleague who joined the call shortly after a missile attack because this is not the reason to take a break from work. This determination is demonstrated by both big and small businesses who continue to operate, donate and volunteer because “who if not us?”  And it definitely is shown by the men and women who traded in their daily routines for military camouflage, knowing that it is up to them to defend their country.

We know what we are fighting for. It is not the EU or NATO membership, it is the right to exist and the freedom to choose how to live your life. The world was surprised by the heroism and resistance of Ukrainians, and a lot of words were said about it in the world. At the same time, millions of Ukrainians were preparing ‘Bandera-smoothie’ a.k.a Molotov cocktails on the first days of the invasion ready to meet the tanks and fight the occupiers. No one even thought how ridiculous this might look – to fight a tank with a Molotov cocktail. The only idea we had was to protect what’s ours. Protect our freedom. Protect our country.

It may seem strange in the 21 century when the world is moving towards globalisation and it trying to wipe out all the borders to fight for the territory you’re living in. Well, this is what happens when your neighbour is an imperialist who wants to see you either conquered or dead. While globalisation was once thought to be the key to preventing conflicts, the drawback of this optimistic and tolerant approach is that it leaves one vulnerable to imperialism, nuclear blackmail, and invasions of sovereign states.

Psychologists suggest that the key to a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship is trust, predictability, and respect for each other’s boundaries. Therefore, it is essential for the states to be pragmatic and conduct business with countries that can be relied upon and not deceive us. Unfortunately, we had to learn this lesson the hard way.

The European leaders of the past accepted the new reality and united for steel and coal, it’s high time for the leaders today to do the same and unite for freedom and democracy.

Democracy is not a unicorn

Democracy is not a unicorn, it does not appear out of nowhere; it requires effort and cannot tolerate bullies. Similarly, Europe is not just about the regulations for the form and shape of vegetables or discussions on clean energy while the biggest country in Europe is recognised as the most mined territory in the world. It’s just missing the forest for the trees. 

The world enters a phase of conflicts and wars, and when such states as Russia see that the West is afraid of a possible escalation, they perceive it as a weakness.  Democracy is about being assertive, having the courage to stand up to bullies, and protecting one’s boundaries, even if it means fighting to the death. It may be easier for some to debate whether Ukraine meets all the European standards and values from the comfort of a bright office in Brussels, but today, the Bakhmut trenches hold more European values than any office ever could. 

Ukraine does not fight to enter the EU, it’s fighting for its country and the values we all share. If we stay on the battlefield alone, we will continue fighting no matter how hard it will be. To be honest, we do have some experience in it. But only by standing together can we become agents of change for this turbulent world, instead of becoming mere pawns.

And we possess all the necessary elements to achieve this goal.  The EU member states have a wealth of experience in building democratic institutions, and the countries such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia can undoubtedly benefit from their expertise and knowledge to implement it in their respective countries. At the same time, Ukraine has the strongest army which is the only army in Europe which has actual combat experience. For those in Kharkiv or Odesa, hearing bureaucrats from Brussels outline the extensive list of requirements and endless paperwork needed to join the EU or NATO may seem not only ridiculous but also surreal. There is no other country in the world that contributes to the security and safety of the continent more than Ukraine.

Is Europe ready to accept the new reality?


Oleksii Goncharenko is the Ukrainian MP for Odesa