Eastern Partnership Policy

By Živilė Marija Vaicekauskaitė

The Eastern Partnership Policy was officially launched in 2009 following the initiative of the Swedish and Polish foreign ministers Carl Bildt and Radoslaw Sikorski, and was supposed to become the main factor shaping the relationship between the EU and its Eastern neighbors, and contribute to the establishment of a sound EU neighborhood space. However, the 2010 disorders in Belarus, political events in Ukraine and misunderstandings between the EU and Eastern neighbors not only displayed the unbalanced approach of the EU toward Eastern Partnership Policy but also different interpretation of the concept of partnership in both sides. Inconsiderable EU’s economic potential, ineffective democracy in ensuring human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the problem of the cost/benefit ratio of Eastern Partnership Policy – all the above issues have raised serious doubts on whether this policy could be considered a true partnership.

The main objective of Eastern Partnership Policy is to start a dialogue and enhance cooperation with EU’s Eastern neighbors: Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova in the areas such as trade, migration, energy and politics.  Pursuant to the Joint Declaration of the Prague Eastern Partnership Summit, Eastern Partnership will be based on the commitments to the principles of international law and to fundamental values, including the respect for human rights, market economy, sustainable development and good governance. The main goal of this partnership is to create the necessary conditions to accelerate political association and economic integration of partner countries to the European structures, and to establish the EU as a force of stability and security.

Ukraine and Georgia’s tilt toward the West could be useful for Europe: it could achieve better control over the flows of energy resources and reduce domination of other actors. Whereas Russia’s interest in the Eastern Europe and South Caucasus region is clear: to retain its economic, energy and political influence. In 2010 Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia launched a customs union with unified trade regulations. From 2012 the three states are expected to introduce the single economic space; establishment of the Eurasian Union is planned by 2015. In view of this European Union faces a dilemma on how to retain its influence in certain parts of Eastern Europe (including good relations with Russia) and reduce its possible economic, political and energy domination.

During the two years of implementation of the Eastern Partnership Initiative the EU managed to deepen integration links with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, whereas relationship with the authoritarian Belarus is still an issue of concern. EU unanimously condemned the actions of the Lukashenka regime restricting human rights, and imposed economic sanctions against the regime; however the sanctions didn’t help to enhance democratization process in the country.

Acceleration of integration of countries participating in the Eastern Partnership Policy into the European dimension is perceived as one of the membership conditions. Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia view partnership not only as liberalization of trade or visa regime; they want to become full members of the EU. Officially Belarus doesn’t seek closer cooperation, whereas for Armenia and Azerbaijan Eastern Partnership Policy is first of all related to the economic aspects.

Ukraine clearly declares its willingness to become the EU Member State and seeks more specific commitments from the EU, but economic benefit does not provide a sufficient basis for promoting integration. In case of a successful completion of the Association Agreement with the EU Ukraine will become the first country in the Eastern Neighborhood to sign relevant political agreements and commence the economic integration to the EU. But this will not ensure Ukraine’s right to become a full-fledged member of the EU.

Moldova needs to enhance Western partnership for the purposes of security and stability. Trans-Dniester ethnic conflict de facto separated the region from Moldova; thus, stabilization of situation is one of its main interests of the EU integration.

Georgia’s EU orientation has become stronger after the 2008 war, whereas declaration of independence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia complicated the dialogue between Russia and Georgia. An increasing number of Georgians perceive the EU as a guarantee of stability and a way out of conflict.

The ruling elite of Belarus perceives the role of EU more as a threat posed to its dominance, whereas society treats the spread of European ideas as Belarus’ window to Europe. Deafness of the national authorities to EU’s warnings and inefficient sanctions show that Belarus is not interested neither in the negotiations with the EU nor in the proposed exchange trading.

Armenia is interested in the Eastern Partnership Initiative first of all in the sphere of visa regime, trade liberalization and financial support. Citizens of the country expect that participation in the program will strengthen state’s democratic attitudes; however tense relations with Azerbaijan concerning the Nagorno Karabachos and disagreements with Turkey on border issues are the main aspects which could be addressed via closer cooperation with the EU.

Azerbaijan’s interest is based on the economic benefit and Europe’s energy market. According to Azerbaijan’s government, membership in the EU is not the country’s ultimate goal, whereas public polls reveal a positive attitude toward europization processes.  With regard to security and stability Azerbaijan highlights active EU’s role in solving the problem of Nagorno Karabachos.

The second Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw (2011) showed that ineffectiveness of the Eastern Partnership Policy is related to the EU’s inability to ensure effective transnational cooperation. However the main problem is not in the process but in the perception of partnership process.

The approach of countries participating in the EU and Eastern Partnership Policies reveals a certain degree of asymmetry between the interpretation of this initiative by the EU and expectations of Eastern countries. According to the EU, partnership is based on economic and political agreements aimed at establishing a stable and secure EU’s neighborhood eventually accepting Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Armenia and Georgia.

The states involved in the Eastern Partnership Policy have their own interpretation of partnership. Economic and political integration is related to the perspective of possible membership in the EU. Besides the EU membership and the economic benefit Eastern neighbors relate partnership to the assurance of security and stability in the region. Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan have yet unresolved conflicts with neighboring countries and expect EU’s assistance in solving these problems.

Different interpretation of partnership policy gives rise to the phenomenon of ineffective Eastern Partnership Policy. Position of the EU could be referred to as a positive-sum game where all parties are winners: the states seeking EU membership/European markets, and European Community which can ensure security in the region. Whereas Eastern neighbors consider this partnership as a zero-sum game due to short-term costs for integration to European structures and uncertain long-term benefits.