2. Eastern Partnership fatigue

in Crisis 2017 · Danube 2017 · Economics 2017 · EN · Europe 2017 · EX-USSR · Germany 2017 · Great Britain 2017 · Moldova 2017 · Nation 2017 · Politics 2017 · Polska 2017 · Skepticism 2017 · Ukraine 2017 244 views / 6 comments
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*The EU seems to suffer a “Ukraine fatigue”, a “Moldova fatigue” or an “Eastern Partnership fatigue”.

  1. 3. Don’t look for friends or enemies, look for partners

Everybody likes to have friends. And the EU likes supporting those who call themselves “pro-European”, whether they are governments or NGOs. But most of the time, granting preferential treatment and extended honeymoons to whomever presents themselves as an EU ally does little good. One only needs to look back at the supposedly pro-European Yuschenko administration in Ukraine, which failed to enact any substantial reforms. Or Moldova’s Alliance for European Integration, under whose watch the country saw the biggest state-orchestrated theft in its history. While well-intended, Brussels’ support was often mistaken by local leaders as a carte blanche for their domestic politics.

In this way, the EU has “accentuated divisions and reproduced a fragmented and instable social order”, according to one study. It also judges that the EU’s “positive and partisan assessment and support of change agents and weakening of the opposition (as actors of oversight), has […] opened the way for abuse of power, including the instrumentalization of law, state structures and oversight institutions”.

In other words, when the EU takes sides on the basis of simplistic divisions, it deepens the polarisation in the region. This in turn undermines the EU’s credibility in the eyes of the population, reducing its influence and room for manoeuvre. Europe needs an unpartisan approach rooted in an understanding of the local possibilities: it should partner with those actors that can deliver reforms, irrespective of their current label.

  1. Remember face-saving? It is important.

The EU often talks about win-win solutions – but when it comes to the EaP, it has been stingy in providing them. The case of Yuliya Tymoshenko’s imprisonment is most illustrative: Brussels made the release of Ukraine’s opposition leader, jailed on dubious legal grounds in 2011, one of the key factors determining the future of the country’s relationship with the EU. For then-President Yanukovych’s perspective, this created a zero-sum choice between his domestic political interests and Ukraine’s foreign policy goals. The EU’s position was morally right and understandable – and it indeed it was Yanukovych’s own flawed decision that has put him in that situation. In the end, however, it was the EU that backtracked and was willing to sign the Association Agreement even with Tymoshenko in prison. This would have further damaged its credibility.

Of course, win-win solutions are not always available; for example, membership in a Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union is simply not compatible with Ukraine or Moldova’s free trade agreement with the EU. But even here, the EU’s interests would be better served by transition periods and financial support that allow face-saving.

Finally, the EU needs to take a better note of domestic political realities in the region. In some cases, the EU’s reform demands resemble a Christmas wish-list made by a child oblivious to their parent’s financial means. Brussels is right to demand high standards and the best reforms possible, but it must be more aware of domestic political constraints: there are few reformers in the region and even those do not live in a political vacuum. Would an EU leader substantially increase the pension age or hike energy prices shortly before elections?

The EU should not drop its reform requirements, but demands and expectations should be adjusted to the local context. This will not provide an instant solution to the region’s many problems – which needs to come from the region itself. But it can help ease the EU’s long-suffered Eastern Partnership fatigue.

* 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://ecfr.eu

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  1. Who exactly are these “critics” who insist that the EU should have “done more for Ukraine”?!It seems to me, that this kind of deluded thinking is exactly what led to the problem in the first place.

  2. The lessons that the EU need to draw here is:

    A: Ukraine is none of our business. They’ll never become EU members anyways, and lie firmly in Russia’s sphere of interest.

    B: We need better relations with Russia. The Cold War is over, and the EU got enough on its plate without reviving ghosts of the 80ies on our Eastern borders.

  3. The “12 billion” headline number is highly misleading.

    EU did provide about 1.5 billion of direct aid to Ukraine, and about 1.6 billion in lines of credit. The remaining 8 billions are an accounting trick that include loans by EIB and EBRD – however, these loans mostly amount to holdings of Ukrainian corporate debt; one can argue that they provide lower rate than available on the market, but by this account pretty much any corporate holding can be classified as “development aid”, while in reality it is good old foreign investment.

  4. Funny how the Ukrainian people don’t exist at all in this article. They wanted to break free from Moscow and they have. Ukraine will never again be a Russian province.

  5. The EU needs to do everything possible over the next 20 years to make the Ukrainian experiment in westernization succeed, because that is what will show Russians that the exact same thing is possible in their home. In some ways the events of 2014 are as momentous as those of 1989 and 1991. Long live free Ukraine.

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