The Role of Europarties in Ukraine: the invisible EU membership facilitator?

Författare: Öhlén Mats

The European party federations – Europarties – have built alliances with many Ukrainian political parties. Dr Mats Öhlén assesses the role of this cooperation in supporting Ukraine’s democratic development and its EU-membership aspirations, against the background of previous enlargements. (2023:7epa)

The European Union has long been important to Ukraine, and Ukrainians. Whether the country should forge a deeper partnership with the EU rather than with Russia was an important issue in the ‘Orange’ revolution of 2004-05 and the major theme of the revolution of 2013-14 – often called the ‘Euromaidan’.  And Ukraine has long been a significant neighbour and partner for the Union, and the extent of Ukraine’s importance (in terms of resources, security, values) became all the more apparent following Russia’s illegal and brutal full-scale invasion in February 2022.

EU support for Ukraine following that invasion has taken various forms: economic, military, diplomatic and political. The culmination of the political support, so far, was the formal approval of Ukraine’s candidacy for EU membership in June 2022. This measure – like the sanctions packages, the programmes to support Ukrainian refugees, and the transition away from Russian gas supplies – has been the focus of much popular and academic attention.

Another form of support by EU actors has been the subject of much less attention: the cooperation between Europarties and Ukrainian political parties. Already active before the invasion, two major political families in the EU – the centre-right EPP and liberal ALDE – have stepped up their cooperation. ALDE, for example, has accepted President Zelenskyy’s ‘Servant of the People’ party as a full member. During previous enlargements of the EU in 2004 and 2007, such transnational party contacts were an important part of the transitions towards full membership and representation in the European Parliament.

In this new analysis for SIEPS, Dr Mats Öhlén (Dalarna University) presents the Europarties and the political landscape they are navigating in Ukraine. It asks why parties seek to cooperate in this way to begin with, how they decide who to cooperate with, and assesses the effects of the cooperation on the Ukrainian party system. That system has for many years been characterized by vague ideological identities, unstable party formations and weak anchorage in civil society. While transnational party cooperation has so far not led to significant changes of the Ukrainian party organizations and political culture, the author finds that contacts have nevertheless played an important role in supporting Ukraine’s progress towards EU membership. With their experience and political networks, the Europarties can, for instance, help Ukraine in making the necessary reforms and promote its EU-membership aspirations.

The author presented his analysis at a webinar on 31 May, where it was discussed by experts from Ukraine and representatives of EU political parties.