Alternatives to EU membership: The Norway model in light of Brexit

By Emma Myhre

Out of all non-EU countries, Norway is the one that is the most involved with the EU. Norway’s membership in the EEA means that it has full access to the single market, and very limited barriers to trade with the EU. Furthermore, people from across the EU are free to live and work in Norway, and vice versa. Norway is exempt from EU rules on justice and home affairs, and also on policies on agriculture and fisheries, as it is not part of the Common Agricultural Policy or the Common Fisheries Policy. Most other policies, however, are adapted. These include the four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and people [1]. The idea of a “Norway model” for the UK has been brought up as a possible plan B for Brexit because of the harsh resistance in the UK parliament to the draft agreement signed off by the EU and UK [2]. The model is relevant because it is as close as a country can get to the EU without membership. Hence, some would consider it a valid option to keep trading relations as tight as they currently are.

However, the Norway model is not perfect. Perhaps the biggest problem with Norway-EU relations is that Norway has no formal say in EU policy-making, because it has no representation in any of the main European institutions [3]. This point has been a cause of discontent among Norwegians towards the current deal. Although the EEA is the most important way for Norway to access the EU single market, Norway finds itself in a suboptimal situation in which it has no vote in the electoral processes that determine EU policies that Norway ultimately has to adopt.

Many Norwegians recognize that the current model is not ideal, but the political parties are at stark disagreement on how to improve it. While some parties wish for Norway to join the EU as a full member, others think it is a better idea not just to reject EU membership but to withdraw from the EEA entirely and form a new set of agreements with the EU. Those that want to join the EU argue that Norway should have a say in EU decision-making and secure Norwegian economic interests by being a member of the union. Another important point the advocates for membership bring up, is the fact that the world needs more cooperation to tackle global challenges that exceed country borders [4]. However, those opposing membership point to democratic problems within the EU and the importance of having politics at a close distance, as well as a clash of values when it comes to international and domestic solidarity and questions of climate [5].  

For the UK to adopt something like the “Norway model” would be difficult. Adopting the four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and people, would be a tough sacrifice. The British government’s desire to retain control over its own borders and a say in who it lets into the country is an important factor in its relations with the EU [6]. Moreover, being only on the receiving end of policy-making, and following EU rules without voting on them, will raise skepticism among many Brexiteers because it takes significant control from London over its own economic policies. Another important point is the issue with Ireland. To avoid a hard border, the UK would need to have a customs agreement with the EU, pointing towards a so-called “Norway-plus” option. Such a model could further limit the UK’s ability to settle its own trade deals [7].

There are also aspects of the model that are attractive to Brexiteers. Apart from it being a way for the UK to keep its close ties to the EU and the single market, it would give London the ability to set its own policies on important sectors, the way Norway does on its large fishing and agricultural industries [8]. Additionally, it would allow the UK to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries [9].

The very fact that the Norway model has been discussed by politicians and scholars to such an extent proves that it holds significant relevance. However, there is much more to the solution than just picking some kind of a premade package with a guarantee of success. The UK adopting the Norway model would come with significant costs, something the parliament has also recognized. It is also undeniable that the UK and Norway are different countries with different (although overlapping) interests in the international system. Hence, it is not perfectly realistic for the UK to follow suit of Norway. A more pertinent approach would be to look at Norway as an example of an alternative, although perhaps suboptimal solution to EU membership, and make whatever adjustments necessary to produce the best case scenario in the UK context.

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Unique Britain – Brexit and the Distinct Characteristics of the British Political System

By Norbert Rebow

If you have been following Brexit developments recently, you may have been struck by some of the distinct ways the British political class and the country’s institutions have handled this process. In this article I will try to dispel some of the confusion and mystery surrounding the British political system to help you make sense of the drama emanating from London.

One distinct area of the Brexit process have been the passions in the debate about the  possibility of a second referendum. The opponents of a second vote argue with intense conviction that asking the public again would be overturning ‘the will of the people’ and be dangerous to democracy. How does the British political system influence this debate? Two related points are of particular importance – historically referenda in the UK have been rare and there is a different theoretical approach to the source of power. There have been only three national referenda – the 1975 European Communities membership referendum, the 2011 referendum on changing the electoral system to alternative vote and the 2016 EU membership vote. Prominent politicians including the prime ministers from both the Conservatives and Labour including Margaret Thatcher and Clement Attlee have criticised the use of referendums as being tools of dictators.

Unlike in most European democracies, where written constitutions explicitly state that the people are the source of sovereignty, in the UK where the constitutional set-up consists of ordinary laws and conventions, sovereignty originates from the Queen and is exercised by Parliament. This is why you may have heard parliamentary sovereignty being mentioned in Brexit debates over the last few years and especially in recent weeks as MPs have sought to take control of the agenda.

Taken together these two elements mean that the British political class is inexperienced and uncomfortable in dealing with the outcomes of referenda. The sheer rarity of these votes gives them a prominence that make their results difficult to ignore – indeed many British politicians who campaigned on both sides of the 2016 referendum have expressed deep concern about the consequences for faith in democracy if Brexit is not implemented. Recent polls do show an increased support in the British electorate for solutions to the current constitutional crisis with some stark methods – more than half are in favour of the country being led by ‘a strong leader willing to break the rules’ [1]. The importance of parliamentary sovereignty also helps explain why the party manifestos are mentioned so frequently in the Brexit debates – historically votes for a party in a general election have been interpreted as endorsements of the full policy platform. This is strained in a situation where the electorates of both major parties are divided on the issue of EU membership.

Many Europeans have also been shocked that it is only in the last weeks, as the Article 50 period has been extended, that the two major parties have started talking about a common approach to Brexit. This lack of coordination arose partly out of the particular style of democracy and electoral that the UK employs – it is an adversarial system where coalitions are extremely rare. In the British conception democracy is maintained by the electorate choosing from a range of manifesto proposals, then judging the party that won at the next election on whether it has fulfilled its promises. The first-past-the-post system that Britain uses to elect its Members of Parliament usually returns the overall parliamentary majorities that allows this understanding of democracy to function. The country is divided into 650 constituencies which each elect one MP who takes up a seat in the House of Commons – to be elected a candidate needs to get the most votes in the constituency but not a majority. On the national scale this means that large parties and parties that have their supporters concentrated in specific parts of the country, have a higher share of seats in parliament than their share of all votes cast. In almost every election since the Second World War this has resulted in one party having an overall majority – the exceptions were February 1974, 2010 and in 2017, when the current House of Commons was elected.

The 2010 election led to Britain’s first coalition government since 1945 and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government passed a constitutional change that influences events in the British Parliament today. Before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act became law in 2011, while each parliament could last a maximum of 5 years, the prime minister could unilaterally call an election earlier. In order to avoid David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister of that coalition, arranging a snap election when the polling was good for his party, the Liberal Democrats insisted on changes that brought in the requirement for a supermajority of 2/3 or for 2 weeks to pass after a vote of no confidence in the government for a new election [2].

The 2017 election also did not deliver a majority for any party. Theresa May formed her current government with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party. She thus leads a minority government, something that is also almost alien to the British political system The DUP is a party from Northern Ireland that is the main representative of unionists – supporters of Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK. It backed Brexit in the referendum while 55% of people in that part of the UK voted to remain. The DUP is concerned about anything that might undermine the link between Northern Ireland and Great Britain over the course of the Brexit process [3]

In short, therefore, as Britain makes decisions on the largest reorientation of the country since the Second World War, it does so in a political situation that is not suited to its constitutional traditions. It is also showing how distinct its political culture is on the European scene.


Sources used in this article

  1. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/04/08/uk/hansard-strong-leader-brexit-poll-gbr-intl/index.html
  2. https://www.ft.com/content/17eda04e-ea24-359a-8c7e-d0caed79cb5e
  3. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-news-latest-dup-article-50-theresa-may-a8847041.html

After a spiky past of EU-UK military cooperation, what could Brexit change?

By Nicolai Santaniello

As far as the EU and UK go back there have been controversies in various fields of policy. The UK was primarily understood to have originally wanted to join the EU for economic reasons, and it was facts such as these that pushed France to vetoing Britain’s accession to twice. The UK and the EU had their disagreements on a number of issues after their entry such as budget allocation and certain aspects of monetary policy [1], and there was a general feeling that the UK was not as conceding as other European nations to the loosening of their sovereignty [2]. This could be especially noticeable when they didn’t sign the Schengen Treaty, or adopt the Euro currency gaining an exemption, together with Denmark, at the Maastricht treaty. However one thing which had divided the UK and Europe since even before they joined the EU was defense policy – something which could also be a key issue post Brexit.

The European Defense Community was one of the first projects for European common defense coordination projected after the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949. The plan was sponsored strongly by the French, even though in the end it was rejected in their National Assembly in 1954. The British however had not been supportive of the project until intimidated by the US, and even then they were far from aligned with the ideas of the EDC [3].

The UK had been supportive of the creation of the Western European Union in 1948, which created a defense pact amongst UK, France, and the Benelux countries. However the organization was mostly dormant and mostly coordinated with NATO, with the UK never really openly supporting EU autonomous military capabilities. Things however did seem to change in 1998 when the UK signed the Saint-Malo declaration with France, promoting EU defense coordination and autonomous military forces.

Recently however growing Euro-skepticism, and in 2016 the vote to exit the EU on behalf of the UK, have led to two important developments. First the UK is again distancing itself quite decisively from ideas of more integrated EU military cooperation, speaking against ideas such as the French sponsored EU army proposal – which would be the second biggest army in the world. Secondly the UK will want to participate in some kind of European military cooperation, probably promoting ever more cooperation with NATO [4].

With the exit of the UK the EU could really take another more federalist approach to their military cooperation, even though this can be increasingly hard in the current context. On the one hand with Trump as US President and his controversial statements on NATO collective defense the EU member states should be looking for a concrete solution to their defense problems which could be found in some kind of federalist military cooperation. However the nationalist wave which is spreading across Europe is seeing popularity amongst beliefs of less federalist powers and more sovereignty with nation states. With Brexit the EU could find a way to get past many of its past obstacles to closer military integration, but there could be new problems right when the old one end.


Sources used in this article:

  1. William Wilson, “Love ’em or Hate ’em – Britain’s Rocky Relationship with the EU,” BBC News, last modified April 1, 2014
  2. Robert Skidelsky, “The UK Was Never Truly Part of the European Union,” Financial News – Setting the Agenda for the City, last modified July 17, 2018
  3. Ari Turker, “The European Defence Community,” SAM | Center for Strategic Research, accessed April 11, 2019, http://sam.gov.tr/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/6.-TurkerAri.pdf
  4. Jacopo Barigazzi, “Britain Digs in Against ‘EU Army’,” POLITICO, last modified September 28, 2016

The Netherlands: Will the Port of Europe endure a hard Brexit?

By Antonia Schräder

Brexit is on its way, and a no deal scenario is becoming more realistic. The Netherlands is one of the countries that will be most affected – the reason being its strong bilateral relations with the UK as the UK is the third largest destination for Dutch goods [1]. Illustratively, approximately 200,000 jobs in the Netherlands are bound to trade with the UK.

The Netherlands also plays a bigger role in Brexit than most European countries as it is home to Europe’s largest port, the Port of Rotterdam. Officials of the port complain that they need more clarity in order to prepare in the best possible way for any Brexit outcome. Each year 40 million tons of goods arrive from the UK at the Port of Rotterdam [2]. In close cooperation with the Brexit Taskforce of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of The Netherlands, the port is preparing for a no deal outcome, which in the worst case would mean a WTO scenario. A WTO scenario implies control on every single item coming from the UK and entering the EU [3]. In this case, the port will firstly have to limit the number of transit issues to an absolute minimum. And secondly, what Mark Dijk (Manager of External Affairs of the Port of Rotterdam) presents, is a new community system for the port, called PORTBASE. This system has developed a program to automate all custom formalities.

Dijk explains that they expect some businesses to be insufficiently prepared and organized in the first six to eight weeks. In that case, they will be refused at the gate of the ferry terminal until they have their paperwork properly arranged. After this cumbersome phase, Dijk expects all businesses to have registered with the Dutch port community system Portbase, connecting all parties in the logistics chains of Dutch ports [4]. This would hopefully allow for continued smooth trading with the UK in the future. “Brexit is coming and we cannot change that. The only thing we can do is join forces to ensure that trade continues as well as possible. We’ve done this by creating Portbase. All that we ask of the businesses is that they register with Portbase, so that the system operates smoothly and our port is properly prepared for Brexit.”

Despite the aforementioned inconveniences, Brexit could give the Netherlands some benefits. Because of the recent strong economic performance of The Netherlands, firms that used to have their headquarters in the UK are moving to The Netherlands such as Unilever, Mitsubishi Financial Group, Tradeweb and MarketAxess. Yet, the voices from domestic economists are concerned. Though the Netherlands is prepared and may become more attractive to some firms, the benefits Brexit may bring will not be able to weigh up for the costs of the changes and preparations The Netherlands have to take on in order to minimise the disorder that WTO regulations on British products would create [5].

EUSA presents: Brexit??

Brexit was se too take place the 29th of March this year, three years after the referendum that staked out a new course of action for the United Kingdom and the European Union. However, no such thing happened, deadlines were extended, and for now the UK remains in the EU. But what now?

In this time of confusion and uncertainty EUSA is here to provide a little bit of clarity. The 24th of April we invite you all to join us when we host a guest lecture and discussion with Dr. Maxine David and Dr. Matthew Broad on the hottest topic of Europe today: Brexit. Dr. David and Dr. Broad are both British professors at Leiden University, specialising in respectively Russia and EU foreign policy, and international relations. Together they will engage in a discussion with the audience, reflecting on how far we have come and where we will go for now.

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The event is open to all, and we hope to see as many as possible present.

Time: 24th of April, 17.00

Location: Room A051, KOG, Leiden

EUSA presents: Norwegian Ambassador Martin Sørby

On Wednesday the 10th of April, EUSA will hold a very special event with the Norwegian Ambassador to the Netherlands, Martin Sørby. We will discuss EU-Norwegian relations, the special position of Norway from an EU perspective and play a Kahoot to learn more about Norway and Norwegian matters in an informal and down to earth setting.

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Together with the Ambassador, EUSA is aiming to show that also Ambassadors are regular people up for an interesting chat, hence why the event will be held in the ESN common room. We are happy to welcome you all, and are looking forward to an interactive evening with interesting discussions.

When: 10.04.19, 19.00

Where: ESN common room, the Beehive

 

EUSA presents: Deputy Head of Mission Marija Boskovic

On the 2nd of April we organise a lecture with Ms. Marija Boskovic as our guest speaker. She is currently Deputy Head of Mission and Political Officer at the embassy of the Republic of Serbia to the Netherlands. She will discuss with us the accession process of Serbia to the EU, possible future enlargement and development of the European Union as well as the current relationship between Serbia and the EU.

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When: 2nd of April, 17.30

Where: room 3.48, Wijnhaven, The Hague

When the borders open: the EU rebuilding roads connecting Eritrea and Ethiopia

By Antonia Schräder and Emma Myhre

In September last year, the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia opened, two months after Eritrea’s president Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed signed a peace deal which declared the official ending of the war between the countries[1]. It was a shock for most of the international community. After 2 decades of a hard border and war between the countries, newspapers showed a smiling Afwerki getting keys handed over to the Eritrean embassy from former rival Ahmed[2]. These pictures will be historic, but they also bring up a lot of uncertainties and questions. Will the peace be sustainable? What impact will open borders have on Eritrea as a totalitarian regime? Will open borders cause a decrease in emigration? These questions are taken seriously by the EU, wishing to play a key role in assisting Eritrea towards a better future for its citizens.

There will be many obstacles to overcome. What we see right now in Eritrea is a government that reconciled with its neighboring country, but never with its own population. With all the hope Eritreans have for a peaceful future, human rights abuses are still very present. Though borders have opened and the first planes are flying from Addis Ababa to Asmara, the people of Eritrea still live in a dictatorship.

The EU is committed to accommodate economic growth as a first phase of getting Eritrea on a path to a brighter future. In february of this year, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica visited Eritrea to launch an initial €20 million project to rebuild the road connection between the Ethiopian border and Eritrean ports. Mimica expressed his hopes on the project:

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“The European Union is committed to support Eritrea and Ethiopia in delivering their historic peace agreement, which ended twenty years of conflict. To back this, we are launching a €20 million programme to rebuild the roads connecting both countries. This will boost trade, consolidate stability, and have clear benefits for the citizens of both countries through the creation of sustainable growth and jobs.” [3]

The programme is part of the EU’s approach to foster political dialogue with Eritrea and hence encourage political and economic reforms. Being committed to human rights, the EU aims to see improvements throughout its cooperation with Eritrea which has a long history of human rights abuses. In short, tackling root causes of poverty and supporting the peace agreement with Ethiopia is at the heart of the EU’s newly launched project[4]. The coming years will show how successful such projects will be in giving Eritrea a better future.

Perspectives on future relations between the EU and the EAEU

By Emma Myhre

Russia has been harshly challenged on its foreign policy ambitions since the failure to make Ukraine part of its Eurasian integration project. Despite Ukraine’s turn to the West, Moscow remains assertive, and Russian integration efforts in the post-Soviet space has produced the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Established in 2015 by Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, the union has since been joined by Kyrgyzstan and Armenia[1]. With internal struggles in the EU and previous tensions between the EU and Russia, it may be difficult to imagine close cooperation between the two unions. However, as the EAEU are keeping their ambitions high and seeing success in various sectors, there has been an increased interest in and recognition of the EAEU[2]. Discussions on the matter are important to ensure the EU does not miss a vital opportunity before Eurasia drifts too far east and hence out of reach.  

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Potential future relations between the EU and the EAEU will get nowhere without a formal dialogue between them. However, to do so, a powerful global objective is needed[3]. Perhaps the possibility of a common economic space in Eurasia is motive enough to spark this debate among negotiators. This may be especially true for Eurasia, with its aspiration to gain trade privileges within the mature system of agreements the EU has with other countries and regions. Yet such a dialogue would not be easy. Historical factors contribute to a view of Russia in the EU that may only allow for two options: competition or cooperation. The former includes urging EAEU members to turn away from Russia and develop integration projects with the EU. The latter holds an expectation of profound change in Russia bringing it back to what the EU views as an acceptable course of development[4].

The question of how any type of cooperation between the unions could take place still remains. The most important precondition is to overcome current problems and tension, particularly that of Ukraine. Mutual understanding around the situation in Ukraine should become a turning point in restoration of trust between the EU and Russia. Additionally, the EAEU needs to have attractive political and economic premises. The restoration of a stable economic growth as well structural reforms in Russia and Kazakhstan leading to more openness and competitiveness in the EAEU might be a place to start[5].

Some would agree that it is a stretch, but given the fast-changing realities on the ground, it may be time for Europe to take the EAEU seriously and even recognize the union as a partner, to hinder Eurasia in continuing to shift towards the East and increase the divide between the two regions.

 

A New Reality And Difficult Decisions – Ukrainian Presidential Elections 5 Years on from the Euromaidan Revolution

By Norbert Rebow

On the 31st of March Ukrainians will vote in a presidential election in a month that marks five years since the Russian annexation of the Crimea and Sevastopol. As the country prepares to head to the polls, there is a great opportunity to look at the impact of the Euromaidan revolution and the Russian intervention, and to ask where Ukraine is heading now.

The European Union has featured prominently in the momentous political developments in Ukraine in recent years. The protests that led to the 2014 revolution were triggered by the decision of then President Yanukovych to not sign the Association Agreement (AA) and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU that his government had negotiated. The adoption of those treaties by the post-revolution authorities has tightened the relationship between Ukraine and the EU and its Member States. The agreements have helped develop the EU’s position as Ukraine’s biggest trading partner and have provided visa-free access to the Schengen area for short stays to Ukrainian citizens. Meanwhile, many Ukrainians have come to live and work in some Member States with Poland alone registering over 1 million people from the country as residents[1].

This has been in sharp contrast with country’s relationship with Russia in the same period. Not only has Crimea been annexed, a bloody separatist war supported in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions but more recently the Russian Navy has been attempting to restrict the access of Ukrainian naval and merchant vessels to the Sea of Azov which hosts the port of Mariupol which is key for Ukrainian industrial exports. On the other hand, Kiev has responded by supporting the breakaway of the Orthodox Church in the country from the Moscow Patriarchate and by constructing a border fence with Russia.

Where do these radical developments leave Ukrainian politics in the run up to its presidential elections? In short – fractured. Thirty-nine people are registered in the race and opinion polls suggest that whichever two candidates progress into the second round they are unlikely to have little over 20% support each. Currently, three candidates seem to be within a chance of being in that runoff – actor Volodymyr Zelensky, sitting President Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yuliya Timoshenko. One element does unite most of the candidates in the field – support for continuing the course towards integration with the EU and NATO and this includes this top three. This is a fundamental change from previous Ukrainian elections when candidates supporting a vision of integration with Russia would regularly gather a large section of the electorate. This is not surprising given the non-participation of Crimea and the separatist areas of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions – even in the Ukrainian independence referendum of 1991 these parts of the country recorded much lower rates of turnout and support for separation from the Soviet Union. Together with the outrage and damage caused by the Russian interventions, the Ukrainian electorate is coalescing around the broad pro-European direction the country should take.

However, that agreement obscures the development of other divisions and the deep dissatisfaction with the economic state of the country and continued problems with corruption among many parts of the society. Who are then the main contenders for the presidency and what are their policies. The frontrunner Volodymyr Zelenskiy is perhaps the clearest manifestation of dissatisfaction with the progress of the current political establishment. Though he supported the Euromaidan protests, his campaign for president is his first foray into formal politics. He rose to national prominence by portraying, in a TV programme, a teacher so dissatisfied with the Ukrainian political class that he decides to run for office and eventually is elected to the presidency. Zelenskiy is trying, seemingly successfully, to bring his onscreen persona into the real political arena. The political party set up to support his campaign bears the name of the programme that brought him to prominence – Servant of the People[2]. His political stances and background are not without their controversies however – his description of negotiations with Russia as ‘inevitable’ has angered some on the Ukrainian right and despite his attempts to portray himself as a man of the people his relationship with Ihor Kolomoisky, the businessman who owns the TV station that broadcast ‘Servant of the People’ has been queried.

Zelenskiy has sought to chart a middle course in a debate that the other two main contenders have staked out strong positions – the relationship the country has with the International Monetary Fund. The incumbent president, Petro Poroshenko, has argued for Ukraine to stick to existing agreements on its debt repayments whilst former prime minister Yuliya Timoshenko has argued strongly for renegotiation[3]. These two candidates are both well established on the Ukrainian political scene – Timoshenko was a leader of the first Maidan revolution in 2004 but her subsequent premiership was mired in controversy by conflict with the then-president Viktor Yushchenko and her role in negotiating a natural gas contract with Russian suppliers that was seen by some as disadvantageous to Ukraine – politics may have been fast-changing in recent years in the country but much of the electorate seems cognisant of this candidate’s past[4]. The incumbent president meanwhile has faced criticism linked to the pace of reforms, especially on slow progress in the fight against corruption and the perception that oligarchs continue to play a key role in the political system. Support for his handling of the conflict with Russia has also drawn criticism and through much of 2018 support for his re-election was consistently in the single digits[5]. Recent months, especially since his backing of the aforementioned split of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Moscow Patriarchate have seen a revival of his fortunes as he now vies with Timoshenko for the other spot alongside Zelenskiy in the second round of the election.

This article could only be a cursory glance at the realities of Ukrainian politics five years after the Euromaidan revolution and the Russian annexation of Crimea and it could not cover the myriad of nuances. Two things are clear, however – Ukraine is a changed country with now a clear European course but that journey is difficult and the details of it will be contentious for years to come.