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Should Ukraine join the EU?

Summary:
Is Ukraine’s possible entry into the European Union a good idea? Yes, but on the condition that the European project is also redefined at the same time. In short, it should be an opportunity to redefine the EU as a political community serving the rule of law and democratic pluralism; and to break away from the economic religion of free trade and competition as the solution to all problems, which has dominated the construction of Europe for several decades.   The defence of Ukraine from Russia is vitally important, and this is first and foremost for political and democratic reasons. Unlike its Russian neighbor, Ukraine respects the principles of electoral democracy, democratic alternation, separation of powers and peaceful conflict resolution.   Ukraine’s entry into the EU must

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Is Ukraine’s possible entry into the European Union a good idea? Yes, but on the condition that the European project is also redefined at the same time. In short, it should be an opportunity to redefine the EU as a political community serving the rule of law and democratic pluralism; and to break away from the economic religion of free trade and competition as the solution to all problems, which has dominated the construction of Europe for several decades.
 
The defence of Ukraine from Russia is vitally important, and this is first and foremost for political and democratic reasons. Unlike its Russian neighbor, Ukraine respects the principles of electoral democracy, democratic alternation, separation of powers and peaceful conflict resolution.
 
Ukraine’s entry into the EU must be an opportunity to define strict standards guaranteeing pluralism in all its forms, both in terms of organizing electoral life (with legislation that is, finally, ambitious in terms of campaign and party financing) and regulating the media (with solid guarantees of independence for editorial teams, and real power-sharing between journalists, citizens and shareholders, both public and private).
 
Europe likes to present itself to the world as a near-perfect democratic club, a guiding beacon for the world. However, while the practice of electoral democracy is, in some respects, more advanced here than in other parts of the world, its institutional foundations remain no less fragile and incomplete. The challenge is not only to defend transparency in Kyiv and challenge Ukrainian oligarchs’ political stranglehold on elections and the media; but also to reduce the power of French, German, Italian, Polish or Maltese oligarchs, and to promote new, more democratic, pluralist and egalitarian forms of political participation throughout the EU – protected from the powers of money and private interests.
 
The adoption of more ambitious European democratic standards must also be an opportunity to break away from the free-trade and competition-oriented economic religion that has stood in for a European philosophy since the Single European Act of 1986 and the Maastricht Treaty of 1992.
 
In other words, to prevent Ukraine’s entry into the EU from causing further social and environmental damage, notably as a result of exacerbated competition in the agricultural and industrial sectors, it is crucial to act simultaneously on two fronts. Firstly, it is imperative to do everything we can to establish, as quickly as possible, a core group of countries within the enlarged EU that would be prepared to adopt stricter social, fiscal and environmental standards by a majority vote. This could be achieved, for example, through the draft treaty on the democratization of Europe, with the creation of a European Assembly drawn from the national parliaments of those countries that are ready for closer integration. Other solutions are conceivable, on the condition that they can be implemented by a small number of willing countries, without any possibility of being blocked by the other countries.
 
Then, while awaiting the establishment of such a core group – and also in order to sustainably complement its actions – it is vital that each country provides itself with the means to set conditions on continuing trade with other countries, including its European partners.
 
A particularly clear example concerns tax dumping. The problem with the minimum corporate tax rate of 15% negotiated at the OECD and EU level, apart from the fact that it contains numerous loopholes, is that it is ridiculously low. Given the requirement for unanimity in the current rules, this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
 
The simplest way to break the deadlock on the situation is to take unilateral action. For example, if a country like France considered that the appropriate rate of tax on profits was, let’s say, 30 %, then it could very well decide that imports from countries where the rate was lower would have to pay the difference when the goods and services are sold on its territory. As the EU Tax Observatory has shown, such a measure would bring in €39 billion in revenue for France – in other words, considerable resources for investment in healthcare, education and transport.
 
Advocates of generalized dumping will cry « protectionism, » but the truth is that this is totally different: It’s simply a matter of making companies that export goods and services to France pay the same rate as that paid by producers based in this territory, which should have long been considered a minimum condition for fair trade.
 
The same logic could be applied to health standards or carbon emissions. In this respect, it should be remembered that the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, adopted by the EU in 2022, has been calibrated to bring in barely €14 billion a year from now until 2027, or the equivalent of customs duties that are lower than 0.5% of the total amount of non-European imports entering the EU (and just over 2% of total amount of Chinese imports). To be clear: To have a significant impact on trade flows between Europe and the rest of the world, the sums involved would have to be multiplied by 10 or 20. Here again, unilateral action is the only way out of the current deadlock.
 
It is by re-establishing our social and economic room for maneuver that we will be able to convince public opinion of the advisability of a new European enlargement, based on shared democratic values – and not on a liberal economic religion that benefits the richest and drives the middle and working class ever further away from the European ideal.
 
 
 
Thomas Piketty
Thomas Piketty (7 May 1971) is a French economist who works on wealth and income inequality. He is a professor (directeur d'études) at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), associate chair at the Paris School of Economics and Centennial professor at the London School of Economics new International Inequalities Institute.

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