Author: Kakha Gogolashvili, Senior Fellow at Rondeli Foundation
On May 7, 2019, the Eastern Partnership had its 10th Anniversary. The Eastern Partnership Initiative was founded through a joint declaration adopted by the European Union and six Eastern European states at the Prague Summit in 2009. The main aim was to create appropriate conditions for political association and economic integration between the partners. It was supposed to strengthen stability and multilateral cooperation in the region, deepen ties between the countries, facilitate reform, quicken the social cohesion and economic development of the region.
On May 14, at a high-level conference in Brussels dedicated to ten years of the Eastern Partnership, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, among other achievements, underlined the signing of Association Agreements with three partner states as well as the establishment of visa-free travel with them; a 75% growth of trade between the countries of the region and the EU; the participation of over 80,000 youngsters in EU education programs and so on. European Commissioner for the European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, underlined the multiple-billion participation of EU financial institutions in projects for developing transport and energy ties in Eastern Europe. The Eastern Partnership is considered in the EU to be the eastern dimension of the European Neighborhood Policy. The Eastern Partnership did not appear in an empty place – it arose from the midst of the European Neighborhood Policy which had been functioning since 2003.
Both the financial instruments and the political principles of the European Neighborhood Policy became the servants of this new policy. The author of the initiative was the European Union itself. Eastern European governments were involved in its formulation process only on the level of consultations. The 2007 proposal voiced by the governments of Sweden and Poland at the request of the EU Council was presented in the 2008 communication by the Commission. EU member states approved the communication on June 22, 2008, later initiating it at the 2009 Prague Summit.
Why was the Eastern European dimension separated from South Mediterranean one within the European Neighborhood Policy?
Placing the EU’s Southern and Eastern neighbors in one basket in terms of the European Neighborhood Policy in 2003 was not a properly thought-through step and this format of regional cooperation required revision sooner or later. These two regions with completely different geographic, political, social, historical and cultural characteristics could not have remained a venue for a unified EU approach. It can be said without any exaggeration that the political transformation of Eastern Europe and the establishment of functional democracies there seemed like a difficult, yet more prospective endeavor, than in the case of the Southern Mediterranean states (excluding few of them).
By creating the Eastern Partnership, the EU resolved the following strategic tasks:
- Designating space for the further development of political goals, tactical maneuvers and relations with these two regions, obtaining more freedom of action in the process.
- Creating a two-dimensional format – for multilateral and bilateral cooperation. The “Differentiation” between partners within the European Neighborhood Policy was somehow restricted. The Eastern Partnership, however, put multilateral and bilateral relations in different tracks, opening up prospects for a varying pace of approximation with certain more motivated states.
In 2009, the EU member states and institutions could already see the differences between the Eastern European states which would be creating future barriers for maintaining the same pace and direction for developing relations with all six of these countries.
It is important for the EU to maintain regional stability and deepen cooperation in the neighborhood and, therefore, the multilateral relations with these countries also have a goal of intra-regional integration. For the EU itself, it is much simpler to conduct a unified policy with countries of the region being traditional to its institutions and instrumentalism – in this way, administrative resources are conserved in a significant manner. If the models used for bilateral relations are mainly institutional in nature and require meeting obligations by the partners (Association Agreement, visa-free regime), the multilateral cooperation format relies much more on the “socialization” method – less obligations, yet more relations, cooperation, sharing of ideas and principles and so on.
Policy results are mainly 1) measured through the degree of implementation of the declared goals although they can also be assessed through 2) considering possible alternative outcomes which means determining what kind of reality we would have if the aforementioned policy had not been implemented. Hence, let us discuss the results delivered by the Eastern Partnership in the past decade through the lens of the aforementioned two aspects:
1) First, let us try to see the picture of the implementation of the Eastern Partnership’s main declared goals:
Regional integration and political association of the countries in the region. Three of the six states – Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova – have signed the Association Agreement (including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the European Union – more powerful than any other countries or groups of countries. Armenia, despite its membership of the Eurasian Union, managed to sign the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the EU in 2017. In 2017, the European Union started initiating dialogue on human rights with Belarus and negotiations on a new cooperation agreement with Azerbaijan. In terms of multilateral cooperation (the so-called Thematic Platforms and Panels), there has been no tangible progress; however, as Flagship Initiatives, the projects for connecting SMEs are quite active and there are also modest results in norm approximation in the fields of regulating the energy market, energy efficiency, environmental protection, prevention, preparedness and response to natural and man-made disasters, digital market.
Freedom of movement of individuals. Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine received the right of visa-free travel for short-term visits. Armenia signed the agreement for the simplification of the visa regime and is holding a dialogue to also obtain visa-free travel.
Establishment of good governance. The governments that receive grants and credits for their public management field from the EU have become more accountable to the European Commission and have significant progress in both the financial discipline as well as the transparency of decisions (this said, the 2016 corruption scandal in Moldova has raised some questions). The institutional capabilities of these countries changed significantly with the help of the EU with the qualification of civil servants also increasing. Even in the countries where the progress is slow, the desired development goals are compatible with the Prague Declaration principles which means that they are aimed at reducing poverty and inequality as well as boosting social and human development.
Stability and conflict resolution. In this direction, the Eastern Partnership factor did not turn out to be very strong. Despite this, there are no confrontations between the countries of the region (apart from the old conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan). Furthermore, despite attempts, Russia has failed to involve Belarus in a conflict with Ukraine or Armenia with Georgia. The Eastern Partnership states refuse to participate in geopolitical conflicts.
Intra-regional cooperation. Despite Russian attempts to divide the Eastern European realm into two, apart from Azerbaijan-Armenia, countries of the region continue to develop peaceful cooperation with one another. However, the intra-regional trade figures are still low. Despite Russian propaganda and frequent hybrid attacks on the EU and its partners, none of the Eastern European states are participating in these provocations. It must be underlined that for the past two years the Eastern Partnership countries have also been cooperating on the issues of hybrid threats in multilateral formats.
2) Let us look at what kind of challenges Eastern Europe has been facing for the past ten years and what the role of the Eastern Partnership was in this context:
At the May 14 conference, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, pointed out that the Eastern Partnership is not a geopolitical project and, therefore, is not directed against anyone. One cannot disagree with this statement; however, it is also beyond doubt that the implementation of the policy was followed by important geopolitical implications. The announcement of the Eastern Partnership idea coincided with the beginning of Russia’s fight for “restoring its legitimate rights” in the region (in some cases – with the use of military force). If it were not for the EU’s open and strong support for the sovereignty and independence of the countries of this region, we could have had an entirely different picture today. Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova would have even greater external or domestic problems, while Armenia and Belarus could have become parties involved in Russian provocations. The European Union could not have led a compromise-based game with Russia which would have meant ceding half of the “common neighborhood” to it as EU’s aim has never been confronting Russia for territories in Eastern Europe.
The EU is clashing with the “last empire” on the ground of principles. In this context, the new “Yalta” is impossible. If any of the Eastern European states choose the Russian road themselves, the EU will not attempt to influence their geopolitical choice. The EU was also not involved in the 2013 choice made by the people of Ukraine; however, the prospect of the Association Agreement and, hence, the existence of the Eastern Partnership itself mostly determined the people’s priorities in that case. We do not know what would have happened in Armenia had it not been under the radar for the EU and Russia had been given a full carte blanche for its action there! We do not know whether the people of Armenia would have believed that it does make sense to fight for the rule of law had it not been for the support to civil society undertaken by the European Union in Eastern Europe. How would the Revolution of Dignity have ended? Without EU soft power and its factors, which is most of all represented by the Eastern Partnership, Belarus would have even failed to play the “double game” and it is clear what the fate of its democratic opposition would have been.
The Eastern Partnership factor significantly reduces the probability of Russia’s indiscriminate and severe interference (like in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) in the beneficiary states. The weakening of EU support and influence on the countries that are not yet ready for association with it would doubtlessly have caused them to be distanced from the European integration process as a whole. This factor would negatively influence the European aspirations and integration prospects of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Hence, we can conclude that the Eastern Partnership significantly facilitated the development, peace and stability in the region.