Author: Kakha Gogolashvili, Director of EU Studies Center at Rondeli Foundation
The general society would probably know little about the Eastern Partnership, were it not the case that its summits are held biennially and generate quite a lot of excitement. There is a view, that nothing is actually decided on the summits and they are a mere formality. Perhaps, this is true; however, if there were no summits, there would be no preparation and the process of preparation is when acute discussions are held about the most important issues, intensive work is on-going for displaying the achievements at the summit, compromises are sought between distinct positions and the institutions are working energetically. Usually, the most important results of the summit are reflected in the joint declaration, which is adopted by consensus among the six Eastern European partner states and the European Union. A declaration, as you are aware, is not an international legal document and therefore the non-implementation of its provisions is not punishable. It should also be noted that neither the Eastern Partnership itself, nor the other forms of cooperation defined by the neighborhood policy of the European Union are under any institutional framework. Despite this, their influence on the process of reforms and the transformation of the state are enormous. Hence, the declaration of the Eastern Partnership Summit is usually considered as a program document for the participating states and greatly influences the direction of the Eastern Partnership’s development. The previous summits – Warsaw, Vilnius and Riga are good examples of this. For example, several points of the declaration adopted at the Vilnius Summit formed a basis for the European Union’s attitude towards the Eastern partners for the years to come. Specifically, as a response to Armenia’s refusal of the Association Agreement, a phrase that “any partner has a sovereign right to define the ambition and goal of its relations with the European Union “was added to the declaration. This provision was automatically transferred to first the Riga declaration and now the Brussels declaration as well. What result does the existence of such a phrase in the declaration deliver? The result is clear – it is the European Union’s “liberal/tolerant” attitude towards the refusal of European aspirations by certain partners. It should be noted, that the declarations of almost all Eastern Partnership Summits are attempts to ensure the equal and maximum involvement of all partner states. It does not matter what results the spent resources and efforts yield – it is important that all six states are involved in cooperation with the European Union, which affords it soft and normative influence. Why does the European Union need to maintain these influences if some of the countries not only do not aspire the membership of the European Union, but are practically in the opposing camp in the new geopolitical struggle taking place in Europe and are members of the structures which exclude future “political association and economic integration” with the European Union, as the goals of the Eastern Partnership state? The answer is that the main interest of the European Union in the Eastern European region is not its economy or resources (in this regard Russia could be more interesting to it), but the necessity of long-term stability. And it would be impossible for it to achieve such stability without developing the rules of democracy and European governance. The “soft power” of the European Union, which is a normative (value based) and transformative force, distributes its abilities almost evenly (even in the case of “more for more” principle) everywhere, where even small improvement can be made. For example, the declaration of the Brussels Summit underlines the new EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and the progress achieved with Azerbaijan with regard to the creation of a new framework agreement, as well as the critical involvement with Belarus represented by the EU-Belarus Coordination Group and dialogue on human rights and trade issues, as highly important and presents it in almost the same way as the achievements with the associated countries. External observers including the general public of these countries fail to notice the difference between the relations of the European Union and its associated partners on the one hand and the relations of the European Union and the Eastern European partners with no European aspiration on the other. European Union managed to veil these differences rather successfully at the 2009 Prague Summit by introducing two dimensions of the Eastern Partnership. Two dimensions make the differentiation between the countries fully possible. Countries which have signed the Association Agreement have also received the visa-free travel regime. They have the opportunity to fully participate in European Union’s programs and agencies and have significantly different goals for their political dialogues, as compared to any other formats.
Further Differentiation of the Format
The declaration underlines this exact possibility, when it states, delicately and carefully of course, that “the Summit participants welcome the achievements of the Eastern Partnership to date and the strengthened differentiation in bilateral relations between the EU and each of the partner countries.” This, of course, means the enactment of the Association Agreements with three Eastern European partners and the beginning of visa-free travel with Ukraine and Georgia. This differentiation is caused by two factors – “…partners’ ambitions and needs, as well as the pace and quality of reforms.” We should not forget that this declaration is signed by all partner countries, which means that they do not (or no longer) harbor any pretenses towards such a differentiation.
The Issue of the European Perspective
As is no secret, the issue of granting “the European Perspective” to three associated states, which could not be achieved during the negotiations for the Association Agreement, was being actively discussed during the preparation phase of the Summit. The European Parliament adopted a supportive resolution about this issue back in 2014, remarking that “Georgia as a European state” has a European perspective and can apply for the membership of the European Union. Article 49 of the 1957 Rome Agreement of the European Community speaks about such a perspective, confirmation of which turned out to be highly necessary in our time for the European countries that have European aspirations. However, the resolution by the same European Parliament about the same issue, adopted just ten days before the Summit (15 November 2017) does not use the term “European perspective” in the similar context and indicates only the recognition of “European aspirations”. We consequently also have a similar provision in the Summit declaration as well where it says that the “Summit participants acknowledge the European aspirations and European choice of the partners concerned”, by which they simply reaffirm their obligations set forward in the Association Agreement. However, such a statement does not include any kind of obligation that would require the European Union to facilitate the institutional integration of these countries, which would not be the case if the “European Perspective” were to be recognized in the declaration. Such a wording by the European Union would practically mean the recognition of the associated states as potential candidates, which would generate certain responsibilities for the Union to at least discuss the issues connected with the future membership of these countries. In the interviews before the Summit, the leaders of some of the member states and institutions of the European Union were quite forward with regard to this issue. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, for example, said that this Summit is not the “enlargement summit” by which he excluded the possibility of discussing the “European Perspective”. Before the beginning of the Summit, President Macron also clearly emphasized that the EU is currently busy with resolving its own problems and talks about accepting new member states are excluded. The positions of all other leaders were almost the same, including the Baltic leaders. It would appear that a consensus has been reached between the member states of the European Union regarding this issue; however, discussions about this topic were underway in the pre-Summit period and some Central and Eastern European states, especially Lithuania and Estonia, were supporting the “European Perspective” provision.
Basis for the EaP+ Project has been Created
There is an almost unnoticeable phrase in the Summit declaration, which has a very high practical importance for the future differentiation of the Eastern Partnership program. Specifically, it says that “…while preserving the inclusivity of the EaP, it is timely to engage the AA/DCFTA partners in joint discussions on the progress, opportunities and challenges concerning the association-related reforms, as requested by these partners”.
In order to fully appreciate the importance of this provision, we should look at its origins. Talks about the fact that it was possible to further differentiate the format in the Eastern Partnership program had been on-going in the academia before. Differentiation is already a given in its two-dimensional model; however, the issue of creating a separate multilateral format for the three associated partners has not been discussed before. In this context, the need for the new approach was discussed in the resolution of the European Parliament published prior to the Summit (15 November 2017). The resolution directly demanded the creation of the EaP+ format specifically for the three associated states, granting the preferences important to them, including the right to participate in the Schengen Area. The Summit declaration presents this idea in a much more veiled form; however, it quite adequately makes it possible for the three associated states and the European Union to meet in terms of the Eastern Partnership format, without the presence of the remaining three states. This is a very important breakthrough in the European Union’s approach, creating a prerequisite for the further differentiation of the Eastern Partnership.
No Direct Indication about the EEA+
A gradual creation of a separate format for the three associated states and its expansion will create the basis for the implementation of the EEA+ idea. This idea was officially mentioned in several documents of the European Union, including the 2016 EU Global Security Strategy. The Brussels Summit declaration, unfortunately, says nothing about the creation of such an area; however, there was an indication to it in the 2015 Riga Summit declaration. It says that the gradual integration of the associated states will facilitate the creation of an “economic area” within the internal market of the European Union. The “economic area” refers to the 1992 bilateral agreement between the European Union and EFTA member states, granting Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland a privilege of full participation in the internal market of the European Union, including exercising all four European freedoms. The creation of EEA+ would enable close economic integration between Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia on the one hand and their economic integration to the European Union on the other, which would double the possibility of the future ambition of the European Union to enlarge towards this region.
It would seem that the governments of the three countries could not form their positions about this issue and failed/did not wish to lobby it.
Functional Integration Elements for Everyone
Above in the paper, the focus was on the topics which seemed to be the most interesting for our public; however, the largest part of the Summit declaration does not present something unexpected or new, as its logic is based upon the document authored by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union – 20 key deliverables for 2020 for the Eastern Partnership, aimed at the close cooperation of the Eastern European partners with the European Union and their multi-directional integration. Of course, the realization of the goals mentioned in the declaration, including the clause about cooperation in terms of the protection of human rights, close connections of the Eastern European are with the European transport corridors, involvement in the European energy networks and the creation of a single energy union, participation in the green economy, as well as the Defence and Security Policy of the European Union, development of green and sustainable economies in the partner countries, facilitation of the growth of the “endurance” of the countries and joint discussion about avoiding hybrid and new types of threats, harmonization of the digital markets and the establishment of the electronic commerce around the whole area, facilitating the maximum involvement of the civil society, cooperation between the partner countries in the fields of culture, education and science and many others, will facilitate peace, cooperation and development in Eastern Europe.
In Place of a Conclusion
The 2017 Eastern Partnership Summit was mainly dedicated to the issues of further approximation of the European Union with the Eastern European partner states and the practical tasks of functional integration with them, as well as the establishment and announcement of the obligations connected with the implementation of these tasks.
Politically, the Summit was significantly successful, as even the countries such as Azerbaijan and Belarus agreed to maintain the clauses about human rights and functional democratic development in the text of the Summit declaration. Hence, the on-going bilateral work with the three less Europe-aspiring countries has also been presented as successful. The agreement signed with Armenia underlined the necessity and possibility of cooperation in Eastern Europe, even when certain countries are joining opposing and competing political-economic alliances. In total, the Summit revealed the strength of the attractiveness of the European Union, which maintains a serious influence in the neighborhood even in the times of crisis. Finally and what is very important for the fast movement of Georgia and other associated states towards European integration, the Summit declaration remarked the need of creating a separate, multilateral format with these three countries, which enables their further integration with the European Union.
It should also be underlined that it is an absolute interest of Georgia for all six countries of the Eastern Partnership program to get actively involved in the process, with the elements of their positive transformation, modernization and Europeanization. Hence, it is welcome that the declaration names maintaining the inclusiveness of the format as a prerequisite for the differentiation of the Eastern Partnership.