Author: Rusudan Zabakhidze
Tbilisi State University, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, International Relations
This paper provides an analysis and evaluation of the current issues that the Eastern Partnership is facing, and determines how the partnership needs to be altered to gain the best possible outcomes for all involved. Firstly, the Eastern Partnership is summarized and evaluated as a means for furthering integration. Secondly, this paper argues that the high level of economic dependence on the Russian economic market has resulted in several Eastern Partnership countries being less willing to integrate further with the EU. These countries are Belarus, Azerbaijan and Armenia. On the other hand, Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine are more resistant of Russia and continue to anticipate further integration with the EU and this is illustrated by the signing of Association Agreements. Thirdly, the EU’s approach to the Eastern Partnership has necessarily taken a divided approach and now seeks to explore relations based on these two groups. Furthermore, the implications of Russian aggression and the annexation of Ukraine and question the EU’s influence in the region. This paper finds that the 2009 Eastern Partnership is no longer a satisfactory method of integration. This paper proposes EU relations with the Eastern Partnership countries should be taken on a more differentiated and bilateral basis.
Since the launch of the Eastern Partnership in 2009, the countries involved have gone through the EU approximation process at different speeds. Since the formation of the Eastern Partnership in 2009 there have been many changes to the political, social and economic climate within and around Europe. This has had a fundamental impact on the approach in which the European Union must take with the Eastern Partnership Countries. One of the most important recent developments has been that of Russia’s aggression and annexation of Crimea in Ukraine. This has resulted in a question of the value of the Eastern Partnership without reform and indicates the need for an alternate approach. A pursuit of bilateral relations has begun and due to the changes over the past few years it is likely to continue. A differentiated policy approach to each country will ensure that each country, and the EU, benefits and integrates at the most appropriate level.
2014 was the milestone for three countries in the Partnership: Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova signed the Association Agreements including DCFTA which opened a door of new opportunities for economic, political and social integration. This proves that circumstances have changed over the years which bring a need for the EU to rethink its policy towards Eastern Partnership countries in order to build new approaches to suit the new reality. Therefore the relevance of this issue to the modern European Agenda is quite high. Because of the other changes in the EU neighborhood, including the refugee crisis, the focus of the EU has shifted towards the Middle East, but I think that the topic of the effectiveness of the Eastern Partnership is not something that should be left apart. There has been a discussion about the diversity in the positions of the Eastern Neighborhood countries. The progress of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova require the continuation of the “More for more” approach, while new approaches should be made for remaining three countries, experiencing the Russian pressure.
This paper examines the theoretical aspects of the Eastern Partnership and the positions of the EU member as well as the EaP states. For representing a full picture it is necessary to separately analyze the opinions of the certain countries in the EU and the factors that contribute to their interest towards extension or subtraction of EaP. Therefore, the paper will try to find the answers to the questions such as if this policy is still valid and whether it represents the strengthening mechanism of the European Integration, also where are the gaps and touching points between the EU member states’ opinions and the aspirations of the EaP countries. I will examine the patterns of the development in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus regarding their relations with EU.
Theoretical aspects of the Eastern Partnership
“Eastern Partnership” – a strategy for the development of EU relations with six countries of Eastern Europe and South Caucasus aimed at building common space on the basis of shared values. Its appearance was due to the following factors:
- ENP, covering 16 nearest neighbors (Israel, Jordan, Palestine, State of North Africa, Eastern Europe and South Caucasus), does not take into account the peculiarities of relations with individual EU neighboring countries and needed revision towards regionalization. This led to the emergence of initiatives to create Mediterranean Union, and later – “Eastern Partnership”;
- previous attempts to develop a single format EU relations with involving all the countries of Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region (including Turkey and Russia) were unsuccessful. As an example, mention ineffective “Black Sea Synergy”(Snigyr O, 2010).
Introducing the “Eastern Partnership” as part of the European Neighborhood Policy, the EU reacted to the external request strengthen integration component (from the Eastern European countries) and domestic demand to strengthen Eastern dimension of its own foreign policy. During the search for effective eastern strategies EU debate on reformatting ENP appeared two basic approaches – German and Polish.
- The German approach is based on a wide coverage of the EU Eastern policy, which had included policy towards Russia as the central component and was to be aimed at the formation of the cooperative manner in the United Europe.
- Polish approach was focused on Eastern Europe and focused on their approximation the European Union to the extent that would allow them to avoid a return to the Russian sphere of influence (Ferrero-Waldner B, 2004).
At the time of founding summit in Prague in 2009 the EU adopted to transfer relations with all six countries of Eastern Europe and South Caucasus into a single format of the Association Agreement with the creation of the deep and comprehensive free trade area and multilateral dimension place regional cooperation in a number of sectoral cooperation mechanisms.
However, the most important part – the recognition membership prospects Eastern European countries in the EU – was excluded from the project, and the level cooperation in practical areas was not clearly defined. This significant conceptual limitations predetermined by the need to find a common approach among all EU member states, taking into account the significant differences in their foreign policy priorities (Joint Communication to the European Parliament, 2001).
Today, the goal of understanding the operation and further development of the “Eastern Partnership” EU member states adhere to many common positions and have not smaller list of differences. First, among the European countries reached consensus that the EP serves as a functional platform for programmable EU interaction with the countries of Eastern Europe, to ensure the stability which has to European Community is not less important than resolving internal problems.
Given the different integration intentions of participating in the Eastern Partnership and their formats cooperation with the EU, willingness and ability to carry out reforms, initiatives format anticipated introduction of principles:
- Individual approach to each country;
- Choice of each member of the depth and pace of integration.
Achieved among European countries identified for compromise “rewards” that the EU can offer to partners in the East:
- Association agreement and deep and comprehensive free trade agreement;
- Sectoral integration in the European market;
- Visa liberalization;
- Size distribution of regional integration and cooperation at civil society (Snigyr O, 2010).
The current political and economic situation in the EU is not favorable for further enlargement of the European Union. However, the EU needs extension its political and economic presence. This will not only strengthen the political and EU economic impact, but also provide a greater level of stability and security in Europe. This problem can be solved through political association and economic integration of partner countries with the EU. Political association in this case involves unilateral Association Partners with the legal framework of the European Union.
The European Union says that it sees no problem in how different countries are united initiative. But experts believe this is one reason for the failure of “Eastern Partnership”. Thomas de Waal and Richard Youngs center of Carnegie Europe think wrong of six countries in a single project, “just based on the factors of geography and proximity to Russia.”
You must define individual targets for each country based on their own political purposes (for example, if a country wants to join the EU or are only interested in the cooperation).
According to Associate Professor of the Estonian State College defense Villar Vebel, EU Neighborhood Policy was based solely on the idea of partnership and does not take into account the possible competitive countries in the region or even military struggle. Moreover, according to the analyst, it is not only a factor of, but that at the southern borders of the EU was militant “Islamic state”, which also need to react. In the EU there is no unity on what is a primary problem: some countries geographically closer and more dangerous ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine, the other – the seizure of new territories and the huge flow of refugees.
Villar Vebel considers it necessary to review the EU policy framework and clearly defined so that the EU can offer its neighbors, who – possible membership, and who – more cooperation. And based on this – to regroup the state participating in the initiatives of the EU. Moreover, the expert calls for efforts to limit domestic social reform in countries that are not even interested in potential EU membership.
The Eastern Partnership countries
Before we start to analyze the positions of the EU member states towards the validity of the agreement, we should go back to 2009 when Sweden and Poland first initiated the creation of the different platform for the Eastern neighborhood countries. The EaP revolves around establishing visa liberalization, border security, energy security and etc. The Commission has delineated four key areas to serve in encouraging multilateral cooperation: democracy and good governance, economic integration, energy security, and the promotion of civil society exchange. Both Brussels and individual EU countries have repeatedly made statements assuring that the initiative is not in any way directed against Moscow. While Russia is not a member of the EaP, it could be involved in projects on a case by case basis. (Boonstra, Shapovalova, 2010)
The diversity between the Eastern Partnership countries and Russian influence plays an important role to objectively evaluate the validity of the Agreement for the current agenda. Not only the countries are different in terms of economic development or ruling system, but their aspirations towards having ties with Europe vary from country to country. Unfortunately due to the high economic dependence on Russian market, most of the Eastern Partnership countries have not lately been active to step forward on the European way. Only Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine continue to fight and stay resistant against obviously stronger Russia with great economic and military potential. Being supported, allied and partnered with EU creates a hope for these countries for further development in the transition process, deepening economic, political and cultural relations, which will be concluded with the full integration in the EU, expressed in a membership.
As mentioned above, the existing differences among EaP countries creates a need of further researching internal and external factors that determine their foreign policy towards EU.
Azerbaijan: It is a fact that Azerbaijan has a great importance for EU’s energy security. The agreements reached regarding the Trans-Anatolian and Trans -Adriatic gas pipelines has been considered as success but on the other hand Azerbaijan is a country of controversies where the human rights have recently been disregarded by its government. The freedom of media is reduced to the minimum, while the number of the political prisoners is increasing. Azerbaijan has paralyzed the civil sector, violating the human rights constantly. Azerbaijan refused to sign the Association Agreement or the DCFTA. The Baku’s reduced interest towards European integration was already visible in 2013, during the EaP Vilnius Summit when it expressed an interest in replacing the AA with Strategic Modernization Partnership Agreement. One of the main factors that define Azerbaijan’s approach towards the EU and its EaP policy is the frozen conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh. The lack of the progress in this conflict also affects the EU’s image in the region.
Azerbaijan is the only EaP country which is rich in energy resources and fits the classic description of the political economy of oil-rich states. EU’s energy interests lower the expectations towards the deliverables from Azerbaijan’s performance.
Non-state actors see the EaP as a missed opportunity for the EU to empower civil society and democratic institutions in Azerbaijan. This empowerment would be possible if a differentiated approach were implemented not “according to the country’s specific needs and ambitions”, as expressed by the ruling elite, but to address individual obstacles to reform. The pragmatic nature of EU–Azerbaijan relations risks further undermining democracy in the country, unless the EU stands firm in protection of its values and principles and integrates this into its new strategy and instruments.
Armenia: Armenia is one more country in the EaP which has taken the steps backwards from the EU. On January 2nd, 2015, Armenia joined the Eurasian Economic Union, along with Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. This move also had several negative repercussions, ranging from a new perception of the Armenian government as insincere and incompetent, to a weakening of the course of reform and the political marginalization of pro-European reformers within the Armenian government (European External Action Service, 2014).
Despite Armenia’s decision in September 2013 not to sign the Association Agreement with the EU, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (AA/DCFTA), Armenia and the EU continue their political and trade dialogue in areas where this is compatible with Armenia’s new obligations to the EEU. The EU and Armenia have successfully completed their joint scoping exercise for a future legal agreement compatible with Armenia’s new international obligations.
According to European Council of Foreign Affairs, the outlook for Armenia’s position within the Eastern Partnership (EaP) and the future of the Armenian relationship with the EU has two main impediments: (1) a combination of Armenian indecision and an absence of strategic priorities, and (2) hesitation in the face of a possible reassertion of Russian pressure on Armenia, resulting in even less room for maneuver and fewer options for Armenia (Giragosyan, 2015).
Belarus: Regardless its close geographic location with the EU member states, due to its track of development, condition of human rights, lack of democracy, non-existence of the rule of law makes EU-Belarus relationships complicated in many ways. According to the Dzimitry Halubnichy’s article (2015) for European Council of Foreign Relations the main problems between Belarus and EU involve:
- The presence of political prisoners in Belarus. According to Human Rights Center “Viasna”, an NGO, there are seven, including 2010 presidential candidate Mikola Statkevich.
- Unrecognized elections and an illegimate president. During the 2010 elections there were clashes between the opposition and the authorities in the course of which many presidential candidates were jailed. The EU did not recognize the elections.
- Absence of the Belarusian Parliament from EURONEST. Belarusian membership of Euronest was automatically suspended after the OSCE declared the 2010 elections flawed.
- Sanctions against officials, journalists, and the private sector including representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
EU and Belarusian officials have begun to implement a new format of dialogue known as the Interim Phase, or “consultations on modernization”. This is a joint project to analyze common approaches to modernization primarily through cooperation in the fields of investment and trade.
Georgia: The Eastern Partnership was widely welcomed in Georgia as this policy was initiated shortly after the Russo-Georgian war in the August of 2008. Therefore the new policy proposed in 2009 was considered to be the EU’s response to Russian Aggression (Sharashidze, 2015). Georgia has moved forward to the European Integration way by signing the Association agreement including the agreement on Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade. In the EU approximation process Georgian government enjoys the support from most of the Georgian population, as well as the EU member states and donor organizations targeting their projects on this region. Georgia remains the only state in the South Caucasus which does not reconsider its relations with EU and continues the meeting with the principles of conditionality.
Thanks to the Eastern Partnership several issues have been solved recently. For example, bigger emphases have been put regarding the human rights, personal data protection and border security. Because of the Association Agreement the EaP has been considered as success from Georgian perspective.
Ukraine: The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), launched in 2004, did not offer the prospect of membership for Ukraine – even after the Orange Revolution the same year which clearly manifested the democratic and European choice made by the majority of the Ukrainian people.
According to Dmytri Shulga (2015), for bilateral Ukraine-EU relations, the Eastern Partnership has provided no real added value – unlike with the other countries in the region to which the EU extended offers already tested with Ukraine. For society, Europe has not been a factor in domestic policies until very recently. The Russian factor was much more evident in political debates, touching the complex question of Ukrainian post-Soviet identity. Until 2014, Ukrainian population overall had a very positive attitude towards Russia and this is why there was a distinct lack of domestic support for NATO membership (in 2002-2010).
Shulga later states that the most people who stood on the Euromaidan in the winter of 2013-14, knew little about the EU or the AA. The progressive part of society came to protest against the abandonment of the last hope for a democratic, accountable and responsible government – Europe. In essence, this was a protest against a corrupt regime which was only tolerated for as long as there was any hope of a long-term prospect of a European model of development.
Crisis in Ukraine made Eastern Partnership more important to the certain political figures in Europe. Ukraine’s ambitions to fulfill the responsibilities of the Association Agreement and DCFTA and its progress has become an example for other EaP countries.
Moldova: Moldova represents another successor in the EaP countries with Ukraine and Georgia. Since 2010, the European Commission had repeatedly called attention to how well the AA negotiations with Moldova were going, especially with respect to the pragmatic and proactive attitude of authorities in Moldova in comparison to other EaP states. However, even before the eruption of Moldova’s governmental crisis in January 2013, the EU had announced that the AA could no longer be ratified in 2013 due to administrative delays. This caused great disappointment among senior government officials in Chisinau where it had long been clear that success at the summit in Vilnius was imminent.
Unlike the AA negotiations, the DCFTA negotiations between the Republic of Moldova and the EU were tied to a number of reform conditions. One of the main incentives for Moldova’s involvement in the EaP is visa liberalization with the EU. Since 2014, Moldovans have had freer and cheaper access to the EU. There has been a visa-free regime in place since April 2014 for those with biometric passports. Since then, Moldovans made 460,000 trips to the EU; just 1,355 citizens were not allowed to enter the EU and 2,379 overstayed the 90 days’ term. By April 2015, almost 76,000 people in Transnistria had received a Moldovan biometric passport (27,357 passports were issued last year). With the 2012 signing of the agreement on a Common Aviation Area with the EU, low-cost flights to and from Moldova have started. Moldova’s inclusion in Erasmus Plus has expanded categories of citizens who can benefit from the programme (not only students, but also lecturers) (Rinne, 2013).
Considering the above provided information, we can group those countries in two categories. The first group of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are countries which are considered to be willing and intend on continued closer relations with the European Union. Arguably, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are continuing to be actively seeking the same benefits that other east European states have gained once joining the EU, such as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, and finally Croatia. Although, according to Sakwa, for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia ‘ there is no longer the same coincidence of domestic aspirations and geopolitical orientations’ (2015: p. 559). The EU would need to actively seek to reinforce the ambition of a wider Europe. The issue of enlargement and widening of the European Union is a contested topic with some member states actively seeking to claw back powers from the EU and possibly leave the European Union. Full membership for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia doesn’t appear to be a possibility in the very near future; however the European Union remains persistent on good relations with these countries.
The second group in made up of Belarus, Azerbaijan and Armenia, as they are arguably less willing to further integrate with the European Union. Belarus and Armenia have become members of the Russia’s Eurasian Union, which limits the possibilities of further political or economic integration with the EU (Walker, 2015). Furthermore, controversy over Azerbaijan’s human rights record also undermines its potential to further integrate with the EU. The EU needs to be careful in its approach to these countries as their relationship with Russia has implications. Russia has had open objections to the further integration of the Eastern Partnership countries into European and its alignment with the West, with distrust of NATO’s expansion eastwards. ‘The Kremlin has exerted pressure on the Eastern Partnership countries, imposing trade restrictions on westward- leaning countries and at the same time offering assistance to those who decline to sign an AA and establish a DCFTA with the EU’ (European Parliament Rethinking, p.18). In the Joint Declaration of the Eastern Partnership Summit ‘the participants of the Summit stress that the Eastern Partnership aims at building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, stability and increased cooperation and is not directed against anyone.’ (Gromadzki, 2015: p.2). The EU is aware of trying to not provoke Russia. Borzel and Lebanidze argue that ‘Russia’s intensified attempts at destabilizing EaP countries increasingly threaten to undermine the closer integration of EaP countries with the EU’ (2015: p.26) The Caucasus are a region which have significant geopolitical and strategic competition. The EU’s enlargement to the region means that this region remains significant. In addition, Azerbaijan provides an alternative gas route for the EU, the energy interests mean the EU should continue to help promote good relations (Paul, 2015: p.3).
The existence of the southern and eastern dimensions of European neighborhood policy requires the different approaches taking into consideration the regional needs and demands. The positions of the EU member states have been stated during the subsequent summits – in Warsaw in September 2011 , in Vilnius in November 2013 , and in Riga in May 2015 – discussing the progress achieved in the framework of the Eastern Partnership and specified priorities for furthering the cooperation.
The Eastern Partnership launched in 2009, which applies to six countries: Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan and Armenia with the purpose of deepening cooperation with these countries in various fields and promoting their prosperity and stability. Typically, it is a political association, economic convergence (free trade area) and on visa liberalization (up to a visa-free regime). The EU also allocates money to support various programs in partnership.
The essay attempted to annalize the format “closer to the EU”. eeven though this fortmat does not offer any of the possible prospects of membership for countries of the Eastern Partnership, three of the six countries initiative, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, declare their intention of joining the EU in future. But the fact that from the very beginning of this project did not provide for membership, it was just about to strengthen and stabilize the situation at the borders of the EU and there have predictable and reliable partners.
Paper states that signing an Association Agreement by Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine make this countries forerunners of the whole ENP. Therefore the differentiated approach is needed to fully consider the needs of each country. Since the European integration is based on the voluntary principles, countries with further progress and ambitions of the European Way stress the importance of the new format.
It is obvious that the Eastern Partnership faces the serious challenges nowadays which derive from not only EU side but from the Eastern countries as well. The EU can play a decisive role in stabilizing the situation of EaP countries and in their development, so it should not hesitate to engage more.
As the recommendations to make existing Eastern partnership more effective EU and the EaP countries should fight against increasing Russian propaganda in the region which deters the European Integration process of these countries. Creation of mechanism to reduce the negative effects of propaganda, increase of NATO and EaP state cooperation in new hybrid wars and granting a visa-free regime for Georgia and Ukraine will positively affect on the sustainability of the European way. Since the process cannot be forced, it is important to have a public support. Therefore it is essential to continue and strengthen the policies of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership, with a specific focus on supporting civil society in order to strengthen European values, establish mechanisms to decrease the negative effects of propaganda at state and public levels. Also, regardless the current challenges that the EU faces nowadays, EaP agenda cannot be left behind. Stake holders need to continue pushing the agenda in order to keep the interested states at the table.
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