1. Has the EU’s Eastern Partnership Been a Failure?

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*From Prague to Riga and backwards

Developments in Eastern Europe have received renewed attention in the EU in the past couple of years. With Russia’s intervention in politics of its neighboring states, the EU’s role in the region is now seen differently and so its previous policy requires reassessment. This paper will take stock of the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP) policy.

Taking stock of the EU’s Policy in the Eastern Neighborhood

The Eastern Partnership was established in 2009 within the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) and included six former Soviet Republics in Eastern Europe and South Caucasus, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

The Prague Declaration that officially launched the EaP stated that the policy is to be based on ‘shared ownership and responsibility’ of all parties and ‘will be developed jointly’ by the EU, its Member States (MS) and six Eastern European countries.

The document established two tracks of engagement among the partners. The bilateral track covered issues such as New Association Agreements, EU technical assistance in institutional building matters, visa liberalization agreements, as well as energy securityThe multilateral track was envisaged as a broader framework for information sharing and cooperation among all partners in the areas of democracy and good governance, sustainable economic development, energy security, and people-to-people contacts.

Despite the official rhetoric about ‘joint ownership’ of the EaP, in practice the EU has been the sole agenda setter. The policy itself was initiated by Poland and Sweden – two EU member states – and its entire budget has been coming from the EU’s pocket.

Despite a rather dubious record of democratic transformation in Eastern Europe all parties to the EaP, including the EE countries committed themselves ‘to the principles of international law and fundamental values – democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms» – another proof that the whole policy framework was established by the EU.

While the politics towards the EE countries largely drew on the EU’s previous experience with democratization in Central Europe – by far the biggest achievement of the EU’s normative power- unlike the Central European countries, the EaP countries were never offered an EU membership prospect. The outcomes of the EaP were also rather poor It can be argued that neither one of the partner countries has become a full-fledged democracy. Corruption and lack of rule of law are still wide-spread and all EaP countries but one currently have territorial disputes with Russia.

The theories of conditionality and socialization that view the EU as a sui generis normative power are commonly applied to explain the Union’s democratization impact. Conditionality approach holds that the EU plays a role of an incentives provider. It offers lucrative economic and political cooperation to other countries in exchange for democratic transformation.

In his account of the EaP achievements, Buşcaneanu concludes 

that only half of the EaP partner countries (Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine) have attempted to carry out certain democratic reforms. However, the success of these attempts is also debatable. 

Buşcaneanu argues that one of the reasons for such a poor performance was the EU’s inconsistency in its incentives approach. The principle ‘more for more’ was steadily applied only to Georgia and Armenia, while, for instance, Azerbaijan kept receiving increased financial aid despite the lack of democratic progress. At the same time, Ukraine was treated unfairly, having been provided little increase in benefits despite significant democratic transformations it had accomplished.

Dominik Tolksdorf, a TAPIR fellow, argues that one of the reasons for the lack of political will to reinvigorate the Partnership was dismay among the EU decision-makers at the slow progress on reforms in the EE countries.

Another factor was a concern over Russia’s reaction to enhanced cooperation within the EaP. After all, Moscow has always viewed the EaP as an infringement on its legitimate sphere of influence Another factor that accounts for the EaP’s decline is little attention the EU pays to construction of identity ties with the EaP countries, ‘whereas Russia does not lose any opportunity to evoke ‘fraternity’ with the people in the neighboring countries.

More broadly, the ‘Russia factor’ and the EU’s handling of the crisis in Ukraine, primarily done by by Angela Merkel rather than Frederica Mogherini, seriously undermined the Union’s credibility as a unified actor.

Among other reasons that weakened the EU’s image in its neighborhood was the financial crisis and its harsh consequences for Greece that revealed that the EU was not a ‘panacea for progress’.

Finally, the EU’s ‘enlargement fatigue’ and rise of Eurosceptic parties on the domestic scene of many member states have also contributed to the decline of the EU’s soft power in the near abroad or, in words of Menon, exposed the EU’s ‘hard powerlessness’ as ‘normative delusions’.

Thus, the intrinsic flaws of the EaP coupled with the exogenous political factors have resulted in the Partnership gradually losing its significance. Some experts argued that after the Riga Summit the EaP would start to slowly dismantle until it eventually transforms into six bilateral tracks of relation.

The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: http://e-ir.info

 * * *


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  1. As the opportunities for stepping up political co-operation are limited, we should not expect any breakthrough in the relationship between the European Union and the Eastern Partnership countries. In order to increase the efficacy of European actions and avert the ultimate failure of the Eastern Partnership initiative, it will be necessary to achieve some tangible progress, especially in the three crucial areas of economic integration (the signature and implementation of the Deep And Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements, increasing investments and trade exchange levels), visa liberalisation (abolition of the Schengen visa regime for those countries that have made the most progress) and the development of the partners’ institutional potential.

  2. Unlike the Central European countries, which in the 1990s staked everything on Euro-Atlantic integration, European integration s not the only option for the Eastern European states. Other actors, including Russia in particular, occupy important positions in their foreign policies. Russia has initiated its own Eurasian integration project, which is intended to be a rival undertaking
    to European integration and poses a geopolitical challenge to the European Union.

  3. The shape of EU policy towards the countries of Eastern Europe and the Southern Caucasus has evolved gradually since the 1990s. In the beginning, those countries were not regarded as the European Union’s neighbourhood. Rather, they were seen as belonging to the post-Soviet area in which Russia played a dominant role
    The first stage in the evolution of the EU policy instruments addressing the countries which are now participating in the Eastern Partnership consisted in the conclusion of Partnership and Co-operation Agreements (PCA), which were signed with all the former Soviet countries except for the Baltic states and Belarus.

  4. The objectives of ensuring stability in the neighbourhood, in which the involvement of the United States was decreasing, and of strengthening EU influence, reflected the Union’s faith in its own
    power and an ambition to play a key role in international politics.

  5. Still, the Union has been largely reactive in implementing its neighbourhood policy: changes were always introduced in response to developments, and never anticipated events. The ENP
    was launched because of the EU’s eastward enlargement and the pressure from the new Central European members.

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