|Author: Rafał Sadowski|
THE EASTERN PARTNERSHIP: TWO YEARS LATER
The Eastern Partnership summit, which is to be held in late September 2011, provides a good opportunity to summarise the first two years of this initiative. The Eastern Partnership (EaP), which was launched in May 2009, is the main instrument for developing European integration and bilateral relations between the EU and the countries of Eastern Europe & the South Caucasus. Its implementation has so far raised some controversy. Critics allege that the EaP has not achieved any spectacular or quantifiable successes; that it is an initiative which lacks much real political significance; and that it has not led to any real integration of the Eastern European countries with the European Union (EU). On the other hand, it must be stressed that the EaP is an initiative which is calculated to proceed for many years; which has introduced specific mechanisms to implement the European integration processes in the Eastern neighbourhood, and has opened up opportunities for rapprochement with the EU to those countries from the region which are really interested in achieving this. At the same time, it is a very complex initiative, which includes a number of innovative instruments, and operates in several different areas: political, economic and social development. It will thus take time to achieve measurable results.
In the light of these different assessments, this text will present the working practices of the EaP and the state of its implementation two years after its launch, in order to then assess it and reflect on the challenges facing this initiative’s future.
The EaP’s fundamental assumptions
The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is a European Union initiative directed at six Eastern European countries, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Its overall objective is to deepen mutual political relations and economic integration. It operates under the EU's European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which covers 16 countries bordering the EU in the East and the southern Mediterranean. Although the EaP is an EU initiative, and is the instrument of EU policy towards its eastern neighbours, it was launched at a summit in Prague on 7 May 2009 as a joint initiative between the 27 member states of the EU and the six countries of Eastern Europe, an assumption which is intended to emphasise these nations’ co-ownership of the project.
The EaP has been designed as an instrument to stimulate positive cooperation between the EU and the partner countries in various areas (including political, economic, business, social and regional issues), with the aim of producing concrete results. However, the EaP does not directly concern the issue of the Eastern European countries’ eventual membership in the Union. On one hand, the EU has not extended the prospect of membership to the states in the region (nor is it the case that implementing the EaP’s objectives will lead to membership); but on the other hand, the prospect has not been ruled out.
The EaP is an initiative which introduces mechanisms to achieve three specific objectives:
However, it should be noted that the EaP is only one part, albeit the most important, of the EU's actions towards its eastern partners; and it does not cover all areas of mutual cooperation. For example, issues concerning regional security, frozen conflicts and crisis management are not included in the EaP, as they are covered mostly by another EU policy, the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). In addition, a large part of the EU’s funding for the partner countries will be disposed of outside the EaP programme. Of the €4 billion for the years 2007-2013 designated for the countries of Eastern Europe under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI), the EaP's budget together with its launch amounted to only €600 million, which was later increased to €1.9 billion for the period 2010-2013. Also, some instruments of bilateral cooperation are being implemented outside the structures of the EaP, such as the annual summits between the EU and Ukraine.
How does the EaP work?
The operation of the EaP is based on three elements; namely, its bilateral and multilateral dimensions, and its instruments for the EU’s financial and technical support of the partner countries.
The main idea is to deepen the bilateral dimension of the relationship between the EU and each partner country. The principal tools for achieving this goal are negotiating and implementing the Association Agreements (AAs) and the establishment of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTAs). In addition, the bilateral dimension also implies the liberalisation of the visa regime, and in the long term, the abolition of Schengen visas for the partner countries. Each of the partner countries negotiates all these contracts (the AAs, the DCFTAs, and the visa facilitation) separately.
The AAs are intended to form the basis for the development of cooperation in several areas, and to bring the EaP countries closer to EU standards. They relate to four broad areas: 1) political dialogue, foreign and security policy; 2) issues of justice and democracy; 3) economic and sectoral cooperation. The fourth area is the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, whose implementation is one of the most important instruments of integration within the EaP. It assumes not only the abolition of tariff barriers and trade quotas, but most importantly, the partner countries’ introduction of EU standards and EU legislation into the field of trade (in other words, the harmonisation of their laws with EU laws). As a result, implementing a DCFTA allows for the real rapprochement and integration of the partner countries’ economies with the EU market. A prerequisite for starting talks on a DCFTA is membership of the WTO, which two EaP states, Azerbaijan and Belarus, do not meet.
One of the major issues from the partner countries’ perspective is liberalising their visa regimes with the EU. Full visa liberalisation as a long-term goal was recorded in the Prague Declaration establishing the EaP. However, this process is carried out over several phases. First of all, it assumes that agreements on visa facilitation (including facilitations for certain groups of people, and a reduction in the cost of visas) and readmission will be signed. The next step is to start a ‘visa dialogue’, within which certain conditions are specified for the abolition of Schengen visas. The detailed conditions and necessary actions to this end are determined in a Plan of Action for the abolition of visas. However, meeting these conditions does not automatically mean visas will be abolished; that is also dependent on the level of illegal migration, and above all on a political decision by the EU countries.
Cooperation within the EaP’s multilateral dimension is focused on developing regional cooperation between the EU and the EaP countries, as well as among the partner countries themselves; this is also aimed at supporting the objectives of bilateral cooperation. The EaP’s multilateral dimension has quite a complex structure; on one hand, it concerns the interaction of structures at the level of governmental administration, and on the other, involvement in the processes of European integration for other actors – NGOs, local authorities, business, or parliamentary representatives.
In the first case, special EaP institutions have been set up which at the highest level, of biannual summits of EaP heads of state and annual meetings of foreign ministers, decide the policy directions of the activities undertaken within this initiative. In turn, at a lower level of multilateral platforms and working groups, ongoing tasks primarily related to the transfer of experience & know-how are implemented, as is the exchange of information and opinions related to implementing the reform processes in partner countries.
The EaP has also set up institutions whose aim is to develop cooperation on other levels than the administrative and the official. These bring together a variety of non-governmental actors from the EU and the partner countries. These include the Civil Society Forum, which includes more than 200 civil society organisations; the Euronest parliamentary assembly, which brings together delegations of parliamentarians; the EaP Business Forum, to be launched in September; and the local and regional assembly of Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus.
Financial support within the EaP is provided primarily through the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI). The financial support provided by the EaP is primarily allocated to implementing the following programmes:
The status of the current EaP’s implementation
The first two years of the EaP have been taken up by the launch of this initiative and the establishment of its institutional structures; also, the first actions have been taken and the first projects have been implemented.
The activities in the bilateral dimension are most advanced. Negotiations of Association Agreements have begun with all the partner countries except Belarus, because of human rights abuses by the authoritarian regime in Minsk. So far, negotiations on the DCFTA agreement have only been started with Ukraine (in 2008); these should be completed before the end of 2011. In turn, Moldova and Georgia are at an advanced stage of preparation to begin negotiations on the DCFTA, and could start them in 2011 or 2012. As for visa issues, agreements on visa facilitation and readmission agreements have come into force with respect to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. In addition, Ukraine and Moldova have reached a more advanced stage of negotiations; they have started the visa dialogue, and been given Plans of Action for the abolition of visas.
As for the multilateral dimension, all the institutions have begun operating, apart from the Business Forum and the assembly of local governments (which will be launched in September 2011). Most actively in progress is work on the multilateral platforms and working groups. Also, the Civil Society Forum is up and running; in November 2011 its third plenary session will be held, and in addition it has been working actively on an ongoing basis within its own structures.
Regarding financial support, the first flagship projects have been launched (including the SME Facility and the Integrated Border Management Programme), while others are at the preparatory stage. Also, Memoranda of Understanding have been signed on the CIB Programmes with all the partner countries except Belarus, and the implementation of the first projects is expected to begin in 2011 and 2012.
The EaP’s effectiveness
So far, the implementation of the EaP (like the EU Neighbourhood Policy as a whole) has brought quite limited results. The EU has had a fairly limited impact on events in the Eastern neighbourhood; it has not been able to effectively stimulate the processes of democratisation in the region, as exemplified by the situations in Belarus and Azerbaijan, and even the growing reservations about events in Ukraine and Georgia. Nor has the EaP brought about large-scale economic reforms and modernisation projects in the partner countries. In addition, the existing cooperation has not borne a real and deep integration, or indeed any real rapprochement, of the partner countries with the EU.
In assessing the effectiveness of the EaP, we should note the great disparity between the partner countries’ expectations and the EU’s offer, as well as the disparity between the challenges facing the EU in the region and its greater ambitions to play a key role in shaping the political processes in their vicinity, and the Union’s limited possibilities of real impact on this region because of its lack of effective instruments. On the one hand, the EaP cannot respond to all the Eastern neighbourhood’s challenges and needs; yet on the other, the EaP is the most that the EU is able to offer at the moment. Despite everything, however, the launch of the EaP in May 2009 has expanded the amount and type of instruments available for bilateral cooperation, and offers new mechanisms to develop an emerging regional and multilateral cooperation with the EU’s eastern neighbours.
In its first year of operation, the EaP has so far focused principally on creating and running its fairly elaborate structure, together with all its institutions and mechanisms. However, the projects and actions that would yield tangible results by way of achieving the objectives of the Partnership, which would meet the partners’ needs and increase the initiative’s visibility, have not been realised to a sufficient extent. Therefore, the EaP has so far proved to be more of a bureaucratic instrument, which to a great degree involves administrative structures, and not an initiative of major political importance, which could also have some tangible social impact.
This to some extent reflects how the EU operates, as the implementation of the EaP is primarily the responsibility of the European Commission (which is primarily a bureaucratic structure), and the key policy decisions in the EU are the responsibility of the member states. However, in this case there have been visible differences in approach among the member states on what the initiative should be; these relate primarily to how far the EU should get involved with the countries of Eastern Europe. On one hand, the countries of Central Europe (primarily those countries that became EU members in 2004) favour deeper integration with the region (including in the political dimension) and more open borders; nor do they rule out extending the possibility of future membership to the partner states. They see the need to increase the EU's political engagement in the region and support its transformation. On the other hand, the region of Eastern Europe does not play a significant role for the EU’s southern and western countries, and for this reason, some of them are reluctant to undertake deeper political integration and the rapid liberalisation of the visa regime, not seeing a priority interest for them or the EU in doing so. For these countries the southern neighbourhood is more important region. Against the background of the revolutions in North Africa in 2011, further differences in approach have emerged, as the southern EU countries (including France, Spain and Italy) have begun to call for increased commitment to this region, even at the expense of EU involvement in the east.
As a result, the EaP initiative lacks a bold, long-term vision of what kind of relations the Union should seek with its Eastern neighbourhood. It focuses on immediate actions (involving the building up of contacts and implementing support projects), which of course are important, but are not of groundbreaking political significance. In view of the rather limited and vaguely defined offer from the EU, disappointment is growing in the partner countries at the EU's policy, and at the lack of political will to implement the processes of European integration.
Despite these shortcomings, the EaP has led to the Eastern neighbourhood’s increasing importance in the EU’s foreign policy. In this manner, this region was made a separate aspect of the EU’s activity, and the Union began to take greater account of its specific nature. In this way, the Eastern neighbourhood began to function as a separate entity of EU action, and not, as before, as an undefined element of a broader EU policy towards all its neighbours. The EaP has provided a framework and mechanisms for cooperation between the Eastern Europe states with the EU, namely the implementation of the AAs and the creation of the DCFTAs. Despite the relatively limited financial resources allocated to the initiative, its launch has influenced the gradual improvement of the support instruments’ functionality and efficiency, extended their field of activity, and also helped to launch projects financed from other sources (e.g. through the European Investment Bank, or the Swedish-initiated E5P energy efficiency project for Ukraine, which is managed by the EBRD). And although the EaP is an initiative in which state administration is primarily involved, by establishing various institutions it creates opportunities for greater participation in European integration processes for other actors, first of all public organisations, businesses, and local authorities.
Challenges for the Eastern Partnership
Challenges to effective implementation of the EaP will be posed by developments both in the EU's neighbourhood and within the EU itself. How the EU and the Eastern partners react will depend on how effectively the EaP achieves its goals.
It is important to give new impetus to the deepening of bilateral relations which would be caused by the conclusion (as soon as possible) of the DCFTA negotiations with Ukraine, as well as starting them with Moldova, and perhaps also with Georgia. The end of these negotiations with Ukraine in 2011 will be especially important, not only for relations between Brussels and Kiev, but also for the entire Eastern neighbourhood. Because Ukraine and other countries do not yet have prospects for EU membership, the AA and DCFTA partnership agreements will be the basis for their mutual relations with the EU over the next few years. However, if the negotiations with Kiev are not completed before the end of 2011, there could be serious negative consequences. Firstly, it will weaken the pro-European attitude among the Ukrainian government and public, and raise their disillusionment at the European integration process. Secondly, it could significantly delay the process of negotiating these agreements, since parliamentary elections are scheduled in Ukraine for 2012, and its politicians will be busy with other issues. Thirdly, if negotiations between the EU and Ukraine collapse, Kiev will come under growing pressure from Russia, which is promoting its own alternative to EU integration projects (such as the Common Economic Area and Customs Union), and Ukraine may become more willing to accept some form of integration with Russia. This will mean a significant weakening of the EU's position in the Eastern neighbourhood, and may put a question mark over the further European integration of both Ukraine and the rest of the Eastern neighbourhood.
Undoubtedly, the EaP’s further implementation will be influenced by further developments in North Africa and the consequences of the revolutions in these countries. Events in the EU’s southern neighbourhood are already changing approaches and policies, not only within the region but in the entire area. The EU's increased involvement in the south could reduce Eastern Europe’s importance on the EU’s agenda, which could influence the level of its political presence in the region, the size of funds allocated, etc. In this context, it is important that despite the growing challenges in the south, the EU does not relinquish the objectives it has set for itself regarding the Eastern neighbourhood.
Finally, a serious debate must be held on the EaP’s long-term objectives, and the EU and the Eastern partners must answer the question of which direction they want to be heading in 20 or 30 years. Will it still be possible, despite everything, to offer the Eastern partners the prospect of membership at some stage (as in the case of the Western Balkans)? Will we seek other forms of integration with them, perhaps purely economic, and create something like a European Economic Area with the Eastern neighbours? Or is real and deep integration impossible, and should we then develop our relations with them as we do with other countries in the world?