2. Europe’s East Faces an Unsettled West

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  * From the DGAP-Gemeinschaftspublikation Eastern Voices: Europe’s East Faces an Unsettled West 

Demand for More Western Engagement and (Co-)Ownership

With these considerations in mind, we asked authors from eastern Europe and others focused on the issues and concerns of the region to offer their own perspectives. What is strikingly clear from their essays is that the societies and elites in throughout the region are uncertain what they can expect from the EU and the United States at this time of rapid change and ongoing vulnerabilities. Growing frustration is the result. Many authors warn against growing fatigue and populism in these countries.

S. disengagement under President Obama as well as Donald Trump’s unpredictabilty and disinterest has strengthened this perception.

The deep identity crisis of the European Union, and the trend toward renationalization among many of its member states, limits the EU’s soft power and capability to act.

Self-doubts within European societies, as well as the lack of credibilty of European leaders to reform the EU and their countries, challenge the EU as a role model also in its eastern neighborhood.

The West’s unwillingness or inability to act offers the Kremlin opportunities to destabilize the common neighborhood. Although the Russian leadership has no functioning social, economic or political model to offer, it is able to use the weakness of the West (and of its post-Soviet neighbors) to make short-term gains and prevent substantial reforms in the region.

At the same time, vested interests in the six countries in the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP)—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine—are the best insurance for Russia that reforms will proceed only sluggishly, if at all.

But our authors all agree that without substantial Western support, EaP countries are unlikely to advance sustainable reforms or substantial progress toward modernization.

In Ukraine, the current leadership has put the reform process more or less on hold, despite ongoing pressure from within society. EU member states lack both the will and a viable concept that could enable them to take more ownership in the Ukrainian reform process. Yet there will be no substantial reforms in the country without a “sandwich” strategy that can leverage pressure from inside and outside Ukrainian society.

Individual Ukrainians need to be able to identify reform measures directly with tangible results that have a positive impact on their personal lives. The introduction of visa-free travel to the EU in June 2017 is a prominent example. While such travel is still too expensive for many Ukrainians, most understand that Ukraine’s turn to the West and reforms related to it have given them one more important liberty—that of freedom of movement.2 Additional practical measures, clearly tied to the reform process, will remain important.

For Ukrainain society it is also crucial that the United States and the EU stick to the sanctions they have imposed on Moscow related to the Kremlin’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and Russia’s military intervention in parts of the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donezk and Luhansk.

The EU’s decision to extend sanctions until at least mid-2018, and the Trump Administration’s decision to impose additional sanctions on Russian individuals and companies, are strong signals of support.

Angela Merkel’s May 2017 meeting with Vladimir Putin in Sochi confirmed that the Russian leadership is not contemplating any compromise or flexibility in the Normandy negotiations addressing these issues.

While EU leaders are likely to reward any positive signal from Moscow in eastern Ukraine with concessions, Vladimir Putin sees no reason to compromise. The Minsk process is at a stalemate, and Ukrainian security remains under threat. Continued military assistance to Ukraine thus remains crucial.

The reform process in Ukraine would also receive a positive jolt if a clearfinal destination—forinstance the perspective for eventual EU membership—were visible. An EU commitment to this effect remains elusive, however.

In the meantime, Ukraine has yet to find a way to make reforms irreversible. In her chapter, former Ukrainian finance minister Natalie Jaresko argues that “fatigue, populism, and vested interests” are the primary challenges for Ukraine.

Igor Burakovsky contends that successful reforms will depend not only on ongoing pressure from civil society, but on co-owernship of reforms by the EU. At the same time, the EU and international financial institutionslike the IMF have to deal with the absorptive capacity of the recipient country.

This is also true for other countries of the region. Overcoming vested interests is the main challenge for reforms in all EaP countries. Moldova, which lacks sufficient economic and human resources to change the rules of the game while an oligarch owns the country, is the “bad practice” example of state capture in the region.

Corrupt Moldovan politicians claiming to be “pro-European” have discredited the term among the broader public, and the EU accepted this charade because it needed a success story.

Martin Sieg explains in his chapter how Moldovan elites use the geopolitical polarization between Russia and the EU to distract from their internal power struggles and to preserve their own vested interests.

He points out that Moldova is not able to overcome this situation on its own.

Its most critical need is to develop the human capabilities necessary for an effective reform agenda.Yet as long as the young generation continues to leave the country for work, either to Russia or the EU, the country is left with insufficient domestic pressure for change, and lacks the critical mass of human expertise necessary to implement meaningful reforms.

Sieg recommends putting the transformational agenda at home ahead of geopolitics. In addition to offering financial support under tough conditionality, the EU has to assume much more active co-ownership of the reform process.

Priorities include focusing on game-changing reforms and creating institutions that can challenge vested interests. He cites as an example the Romanian anti-corruption directorate, which was established with the strong support of the United States during the accession process to the EU, and which has the necessary power and capabilties to conduct and control the whole process of investigation and prosecution. Legal reforms, the quality and independence of courts and judges, and strong rule of law are the backbone of any sustainable reform process.

* 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: dgap.org

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  1. Wann realisiert ein Frommer, dass es seine Gottheit nicht gibt? Wenn das Leben aus seinem Koerper entweicht… So die Menschheit… man macht weiter wie bisher, (beschaemend, auch ich!) wie wenn nichts geschieht.. und ist dann wohl verwundert, wenn alles zusammenbricht. Nun, das mag “morgen” sein, nach uns.. aber es wird passieren.

  2. Eigenartig diese Einschätzung. Noch nie gab es so wenig Kriegsopfer und die Klimaerwärmung war in den letzten 20000 Jahren auch schon extremer. Die schlimmste exponentielle Kurve ist die Entwicklung der Bevölkerungszahlen, in CH als auch weltweit. Das scheint aber niemanden zu interessieren, obwohl fast alle anderen Probleme eine Folge davon sind.

  3. Wenn man die Ausmasse der atomaren, chemischen und biologischen Arsenale nur ansatzweise einschätzen kann, wundert man sich, dass wir überhaupt noch leben. Eigentlich ist es schon lange 5 nach zwölf….

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