March was an interesting month, and for a minute it felt like Europe was the centre of attention for the entire world: President Obama visited Belgium for the very first time, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited numerous EU countries, and Brussels was busy with the preparations for the EU-Africa Summit scheduled for early April. March also saw several extraordinary Councils on Ukraine and an extremely rare NATO Summit under Article 4. The removal of Russia from G8 also put the spotlight on Brussels as the selected location of the next G7 meeting. Finally, the publication of the ‘satirical’ cartoon of Obama in the Belgian daily De Morgen also made international press headlines, turning the world’s attention to a country “famous for chocolate and beer”.
The end of March also witnessed one of the most interesting conferences on foreign affairs in Europe – the Brussels Forum, an annual high-level meeting of the most influential North American and European political, corporate, and intellectual leaders. This year’s edition was spectacular and attracted an amazing crowd, including speakers such as Lady Ashton; Andrii Deshchytsia, Acting Foreign Minister, Ukraine; Heinz Haller, Executive Vice President at Dow Chemical Company; Toomas Ilves, President of Estonia; Vitalii Klychko, Chairman, Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms; President Herman Van Rompuy; Robert Zoellick, Chairman, International Advisors, Goldman Sachs and many others.
Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine
Although the Brussels Forum showcased a number of discussions on Belarus, emerging economies, Pakistan, Afghanistan, energy issues and China, they were definitely overshadowed by the recent developments in Ukraine. In fact, some of the attendees partook in the Council meeting or travelled from Ukraine and Georgia. This made the discussion at the Brussels Forum quite heated and sometimes personal towards Russian representation present in the room.
So why do people care so much about our Eastern neighbour? President Obama described it in his Brussels speech: “To be honest, if we defined our interests narrowly, if we applied a cold-hearted calculus, we might decide to look the other way. Our economy is not deeply integrated with Ukraine’s. Our own borders are not threatened by Russia’s annexation. But that kind of casual indifference would ignore the lessons that are written in the cemeteries of this continent”.
Ukrainians are currently preparing for the 25 May elections, which will be a crucial step towards leading the Ukraine out of the country’s deepest political crisis since 1991. “Our goal is to live in a new way. To form Ukraine in a way that there will be rich, free and honest citizens happy to be Ukrainians and to live in a country respected by the whole world,” said Petro Poroshenko, the current front-runner for the Ukrainian presidency.
So, it’s been an interesting month and some of the quotes above might spark further reflection. Most definitely March left us with a lot to consider.
*Photo: Ewa Abramiuk Lété
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