For Ukraine, the EU remains an inspiration

Viewed from the point of view of Ukraine's economic crisis and constant threat of renewed war with Russia, the challenges facing our European Union (EU) neighbors seem like minor disturbances to an otherwise hugely successful economic integration project.

With all of the pessimism surrounding issues such as Greece's finances and youth employment, one could be forgiven for losing sight of the big picture that the EU's total gross domestic product of almost 14 trillion euros ($16.07 trillion) is among the world's highest, ahead of China's $10.3 trillion output last year but just shy of the U.S.' $17.4 trillion.

While the EU is one of the world's leading economies, its real strength lies in the quality of its democracy rather than its wealth.

Long-term EU members have the world's best quality of life in terms of health, education and public safety as measured by international organisations such as the United Nations and World Bank. This remarkably successful quality of governance is taking hold even in newer EU members bordering Ukraine, such as Poland and Slovakia. And now, Ukraine is setting out on this path to prosperity.

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Kiev, Ukraine.
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Kiev, Ukraine.

Ukraine's Revolution of Dignity last year rejected the notion that democracy was an idea backed by only a very small number of people at the very top of the system..

Thousands of ordinary Ukrainians took to the streets of their capital city Kiev carrying European Union flags to stand up to a president who had been pressured by Russia to abandon his country's European path. Contrary to some reports the people who fought for democracy and human rights in Kiev, and are still defending the east of our country, are not "fascists" but are often educated doctors, lawyers and auditors who know that there is no future in Kremlin-style capitalism.

The year and a half since Ukraine's revolution has been exceptionally challenging. Russia's annexation of Crimea and role in the conflict in the east of Ukraine has cost thousands of lives and a fifth of Ukrainian GDP. But already signs of recovery are evident. Key economic indicators such as inflation, bank deposits and national reserves all show that the country has passed its lowest point.

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The 95 percent of Ukraine's territory which is at peace is home to hundreds of thousands of top-quality graduates in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects which are in such demand throughout the world. Ukraine's reputation as the "bread basket" of Europe is a cliché but bears a lot of truth, although we also export huge quantities of grains to the Middle East and Asia.

If a modern emerging economy had to choose two fields to be strong in, information technology and agriculture would top the list. Luckily, Ukraine has massive potential in both these sectors and with average salaries of $1.50 per hour, despite being one of the most educated workforces of any emerging market, the costs of doing business here are highly attractive.

As Ukraine undertakes the painful process of developing its new identity as a modern, inclusive democracy, the long-term economic successes of our European neighbors are a true inspiration.

Ihor Shevchenko is President of the Ukraine Trade and Investment Agency. He is founder of the Ukrainian Bar Association and is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.

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