Full-scale war with Russia has led to the emergence of new EU-Ukraine cooperation formats and instruments.
Some of them already started to transform from EU crisis regulation instruments to long-term and ambitious frameworks for Ukraine’s European integration.
The "Solidarity Lanes" project that Ukraine and the EU started implementing in March last year as a response to the blockade of Ukrainian ports.
And since that time EU anti-crisis project evolved to an instrument that makes a genuine contribution to Ukraine’s European integration.
EU response to the Black Sea blockade
Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has included the blockade of Ukraine’s ports at the Black Sea.
During the first months of war, the total blockade was total, and led to a sharp increase of grain prices all over the world, since Ukraine fully supplied 10 percent of all volumes of wheat and corn to world markets (90 percent of these volumes were exported through the maritime route).
According to the estimates by the United Nations, the interruption in the supply of Ukrainian grains negatively affected the food situation for 345 million people in 82 countries of the world.
The deepening of the food crisis was largely prevented by the famous Grain Deal, involving Ukraine, the UN, Turkey and the Russian Federation, which, despite constant manipulations by the Russian Federation, lasted for a year – from July 2022 to July 2023.
As of October 2023, Ukraine managed to resume exports from three above-mentioned ports via a new corridor that leads to Turkey through the territorial waters of Bulgaria and Romania.
Nonetheless, the maritime route is not the only one that Ukraine grains reaches world markets.
The reason is that EU-Ukraine "Solidarity Lanes" become ever more significant. De facto measures to intensify the export of Ukrainian grains through EU countries began in March 2022. Already in May 2022 the Commission introduced the communication on "Solidarity Lanes", whereby a strong emphasis was made on the restoration of Ukrainian grain exports amidst then still complete blockade of Ukrainian ports and overcoming logistical obstacles thereto.
Among these challenges stakeholders pointed to the well-known problem of the difference in the width of a rail gauge (Ukraine uses a broad gauge – 1520 mm, and EU Member States – 1445 mm), the insufficiency of transshipment capacity at ground border crossing points, as well the lack of lorries for road transportation and the ineffectiveness of border checks.
Against the background of these challenges, the Commission suggested an array of short-term measures to intensify Ukrainian exports through "Solidarity Lanes".
Some of these measures were of a purely technical nature, for instance, the call for private actors to increase the quantity of technical equipment for transporting and transshipping goods. In contrast, other measures we will discuss below promote Ukraine’s integration to the EU in a long-term perspective.
The "Solidarity Lanes" initiative, especially its impact on Ukraine’s European integration, should be considered from a multidimensional perspective.
Thus, realizing the whole potential of the initiative requires synergies with the measures aimed at the abolition of tariffs on as many goods as possible and support programmes for private sector and farmers.
Alongside this, "Solidarity Langes" involve three aspects that promote both European integration and the strengthening of Ukraine’s economy.
This is, first of all, the liberalization of road transportation that signifies the cancellation of permits for ensuring bilateral and transit EU-Ukraine road transportation.
Despite the fact that the respective agreement was adopted for the one-year term in summer 2022 and prolonged for a year, there is a potential for its improvement and permanent use. Except for this, the EU-Ukraine Agreement on the carriage of freight by road promoted the liberalization of road transportation between Ukraine and other countries of the region that are not EU members but are economically connected thereto, such as Norway and North Macedonia.
Secondly, the launch of the "Solidarity Lanes" gave an impetus to Ukraine’s and Moldova’s integration to the Trans-European Transport (TEN-T) Network that brings together infrastructure and transport services for all kinds of transport, namely, the railway, inland waterways, air, and multimodal ones.
For the time being, the network includes nine corridors, and Ukraine’s and Moldova’s integration thereto will mean organizational and infrastructure changes for four of them, namely, the Nordic-Baltic and Baltic-Black Sea-Aegean corridors, as well as the corridors Rhine-Danube and the Baltic Sea-Adriatic Sea. Integration to the TEN-T network will help Ukraine to get an array of benefits, namely, eliminate existing barriers for conducting logistical operations and decreasing logistical expenses.
Moreover, the realization of such an ambitious project will promote the inflow of investment and the creation of new working places in Ukraine, simultaneously contributing to the EU’s multilevel response to economic challenges, caused by Russia’s invasion.
The last argument can be brightly illustrated by the recent opening of the "Connecting Europe" for Ukraine (the facility was created in 2014 for investments into projects in the domains of transport, infrastructure, digitalization and telecommunications. The sum of investments under the fund can reach 33 billion EUR, promoting integration of Ukraine’s logistical routes to the TEN-T network and developing their capacity, which is now especially topical for ports on the Danube.
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While public attention in Ukraine is focused on the political aspect of European integration and potential opening of negotiations on Ukraine’s accession to the EU, there are important technical processes taking place that practically contribute to Ukraine’s EU integration.
By the example of "Solidarity Lanes", we see that such processes are supported by the EU’s integrated approach to conflicts in third countries, especially its focus on multiphase engagement, integration of various policies and instruments, as well as the involvement of various actors, including private sector.
The material was created under the Jean Monnet Module INTEGTRADE, funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are, however, those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Commission. Neither the European Union, nor the European Commission can be held responsible for them.
Senior Lecturer at the Department of International Relations at the National University of "Kyiv-Mohyla Academy", coordinator of the INTEGTRADE project