Ukraine protests: ‘Pros and cons of EU deal not evaluated, just emotions’
RT:We've heard it so many times that association with the EU is good for Ukraine in the long run. Why isn't there much talk of what it would cost the people to implement all this in the short term? And what it would be like?
Jeffrey Sommers: It's going to be painful in some regards, of course, and we have to wonder what is going to happen with social expenditures, with pensions and other similar kinds of social programs. The cuts that could be forthcoming could be very severe and of course they would be dealt to the population, which is already very much at risk and really can’t afford to have much more in the way of any kinds of cuts – they are already just barely existing.
RT:Are the hundreds of thousands on the streets over the last couple weeks fully aware of this? Has the full picture been painted, with all the pros and cons?
JS: I don’t think so. And I think the issue is somewhat of an emotional one at this point. Many of the protesters are motivated by what has been very ineffective Ukrainian government over the past 20 years in the post-Soviet period. There hasn’t been much economic development, there hasn’t been much capital formation, much of the money that is resident in the country has been sent offshore by its oligarchs, so it’s gone to banks in Riga, Latvia, Cyprus, etc. and hasn’t been used at home to invest into the country.
RT:Should the Ukrainian government that is so sure that the EU deal is so against the country's interests be doing a better job of explaining that to the hundreds of thousands out on the streets?
JS: To a certain extent they brought the situation on themselves because of their failings. I think those who are seeking a better situation by entangling themselves with the European Union are unfortunately looking at fool’s gold. I don’t think it would deliver medium prosperity, I don’t even think it’s going to deliver prosperity in the long term.
RT:There’s no argument that Ukraine needs to reform and modernize. What are the options there?
JS: Unfortunately, the options are ones which would be very difficult to implement but, nonetheless, are necessary. What we need to see is a wholesale change in the economic development model. Again one which would keep capital at home, capital formation needs to take place, we need to see investments occurring in local enterprises. Until this happens we are not going to see a transformation of Ukraine’s economy. Frankly, I don’t even think that we will see this with the European Union either. In other words, I’m seeing both choices as being not very attractive. They may appear attractive to the protesters but I don’t think in a long run it’s going to serve the Ukrainian people well to continue with a current model nor to become part of the enlarged European Union, which is, by the way, on a very strong neo-liberal trajectory.
The old social model that people are looking at when they think about the European Union is the one which is being euthanized as we speak, but people don’t see that. It’s like with US in 1980s when people from the Soviet Union looked at what they were essentially seeing was an old Franklin Roosevelt “New Deal” America and they associated that ironically with Ronald Reagan, the guy who was in fact euthanizing, killing it. So we see the effects now of Reagan’s policy in United States today. In other words, a kind of mess that we have now, with financialization and economic dis-functionality, were planted in the 1980s. I think now we are starting to see something very similar with the European Union. People look at it as a model to follow but what they don’t recognize is the direction that it is going.
RT:Have people in the EU been painted the whole picture? I’m sure they were told that Ukraine would be a huge market for European goods, if Ukraine comes closer to it. But of course there also will be millions of Ukrainians who want jobs in better-paid Western Europe. Is the EU ready for that?
JS: Well, people certainly are not. You’ll see the massive number of people that would constitute a veritable precariat, who will live in very precarious existence in very low-wage service sector jobs.
RT:What jobs do these guys get when they go from the Eastern Europe to West?
JS: Construction or working in restaurants, service-type jobs, anywhere where the standards are not that strong in terms of labor protections and where, unfortunately, labor can be exploited. We’ve seen this already and we know about the famed Polish plumber of course in the United Kingdom, or people coming from Lithuania or Latvia and going to the UK and Ireland. I would say these experiences have been very bad for those people and I would say that Ukraine is suffering from a demographic crisis already, with very low birth rates. So what will happen when all people of childbearing age move out?
RT:You’ve mentioned Poland, we see Polish politicians on the streets urging Ukraine to join the EU. Why are they involved?
JS: I think it’s cultural vicinity with Western Ukraine, so they would be much happier with a Ukraine that is [closer] to the European Union. And of course Poland, let’s be honest, doesn’t like Russia and it would be more comfortable with Ukraine which would be more firmly in the European Union camp. I think it partly explains this.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.