Eastern Partnership: Turn Point

By Marek Siwiec, Adam Balcer

Success of European policy of neighborhood depends on official recognition by the EU of the existence of fundamental differences between East and South. The most important of them is that Eastern partners (in distinction from South ones) possess European intentions and prospects.

In the months to come the EU will revise the policy of good neighborhood and the “Eastern Partnership” – the most important European initiatives  towards East. The European Parliament will vote on the resolution on this subject. For me as a spokesman on this resolution, it’s especially important to draw conclusions from successes and failures, which we have gone through the last seven years.
Consolation Reward or a Bitter Pill

It seems as it was quite recently, but there is a whole epoch since 2004, when European policy of good neighborhood was formed and extension of the EU took place. These seven years comprise sound positive changes and satisfaction of the states, entered into the EU, and at the same time the lack of break point and not fulfilled hopes of our Eastern neighbors, dreaming about the entry. Good neighborhood policy was supposed to become a consolation reward for them. But it also has become a bitter pill when they were mixed into one pile with Southern states. Such approach will not be maintained in a further prospect. In general Eastern neighbors in comparison with Mediterranean states are more democratic, i.e. similar to us. In distinction from Southern states they are European ones and in such quality may apply for the EU membership. Moreover, entry into the EU has become a strategic goal for some Eastern partners.
> Eastern Partnership Map
The most significant event since 2004 in this direction was naturally the initiated by the EU in 2009 foundation of the “Eastern Partnership” program, suggested by Poland and Sweden. Its main idea is to get the states of Eastern Europe and South Caucasus closer to the EU. Thanks to this program all Eastern neighbors of the European Union (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine) first found themselves under the same “umbrella”. And de-facto the approaches towards them differed from that towards the “Southerns”. The foundation of the program included the principle of all conditions accomplishment: the demand to hold pro-European reforms. The “Partnership” has routed into European policy, and now the policy of neighborhood towards the states located in the east in essence coincides with its program. This May Budapest will hold the Summit of the EU and Eastern partners, which should summarize the results of two years of the initiative existence.

How can we estimate seven years of European policy of good neighborhood and two years of the “Eastern Partnership”? It turned out really fast that the suit tailored in Brussels doesn’t fit perfectly all the neighbors, as it doesn’t satisfy their European intentions. During these seven years East has become more democratic and as a result pro-European. Two democratic revolutions took place: in Georgia – the revolution of roses, and the “orange” revolution in Ukraine. Although now in these two states we can observe phenomena that call worries, but there is now threat that there will appear Ukrainian or Georgian Lukashenko. The greatest hopes are related with Moldova, which in 2009 was headed by a 100% pro-European democratic coalition. It’s not a coincidence that exactly these three states, being the most democratic in the “Eastern Partnership” have the most pro-European line, i.e. consider the membership in the EU as its long-term strategic goal. Further progress is urgent for Moldova: it may incite healthy competition in Kiev and Tbilisi.

The result of recent years is not homogeneous: strengthening of post-Soviet regime in Belarus, of authoritarian regime in Azerbaijan and unfavorable move of Armenia in the same direction. But we shouldn’t give up even in this situation. Baku and Yerevan remain more involved into the EU cooperation in comparison with most Southern states.
Neighborhood Dilemmas

For constructive self-critics of the European policy of good neighborhood in the East several dilemmas should be formulated, which describe main vectors of activity of the European Union. Firstly, how multilateral, and how bilateral policy is the EU policy towards these states. Bilateral relations with Moldova, which already today leads joint policy with the EU at least in 7 spheres, differ from relations with Belarus or Azerbaijan.

Secondly, past years have expressly demonstrated that it is inefficient to support relations with the states only via their authorities. Here arises the demand that will be fast fixed in the resolution of the European Parliament: to promote contacts between people, suggest attractive programs for students, local elites and journalists, enhance the support of independent Mass Media and non-governmental organizations. A new idea comprises cooperation with local administrative bodies, which more often follow democratic standards better than central authorities.

That is why the next problem to be solved is visa regime. We can’t maintain the situation within which a simple trip to the European Union costs more than 40 Euro and the principle of visas issuing offends human dignity. Now European visa is more a kind of luxury and an artificial barrier for Eastern people. And a trip to the EU is the best chance to turn the hearts of ordinary people to us. Visas abolishment, which has been already acknowledged by the EU as a long-term objective, should be accomplished as soon as possible, naturally, after Eastern neighbors fulfill all urgent demands.

Another issue is money. Now Europe, being proud of itself, refers to the intention to spend for the goals of the “Eastern Partnership” minimum 2.5 billion EURO. In reality the most part (more than 2 billions) are the funds that were directed to those states in the frames of other budget items, even without the program. Combination of these funds and calling them “funds” are in jest “creative bookkeeping” for the “Partnership”. That is why it is very important to increase the funds for the program in the new budget of the EU (since 2014).

Also it’s worth to analyze critically the current way of funds implementation. To significant extent they are spent to train public administration, establish governmental institutions and “neutral” projects (boarder cooperation, environment). There are almost no definite and critical results of these programs. And today it’s extremely important, for the EU to enhance significantly its support of the third sector and justice system of their Eastern neighbors. Achilles’ heel of these states is corruption and love to be controlled by a  “strong arm”.
What is about Membership?

The last issue that has become a shameful subject in Europe is the prospect of membership of Eastern neighbors. The European Union is not able to give the answer on the following question: should they ever become members? Meanwhile there are no doubts that without prospects of membership the readiness of these states to hold reforms will be much lower than with these prospects. If we use only old common formulations, that “the doors to the European Union are not closed, as the Rome Treaty gives the possibility to every European state to apply”, we will not be able to the full extent to activate our “soft power” and huge potential of optimism and dedication in the states interested in the partnership. If we are not able to talk about this with them, than we should be at least sincere and shouldn’t expect supernatural results of reforms to be accomplished in these states.

All these remarks lead to one simple conclusion, that it is senseless to maintain further a common consequent for East and South. The most significant difference between them is the fact, that East (although not all of it) wants and has chances to gain the EU membership, and South has no such chances and wishes.

During the “Eastern Partnership” Summit to be hold in May in Budapest they should talk expressly about all these things and develop a policy that would extend horizons of hope for millions of people, who live to the East from the European Union and dream to become a part of European family.
Marek Siwiec – European Delegate, Spokesman on the resolution of the European Parliament on the subject of Eastern Neighborhood Policy.
Adam Balcer – the Head of the program “EU Extension and Neighborhood” of the Center of European Strategy demosEUROPA, assistant of Marek Siwiec on the issues of the “Eastern Partnership”.

Translated by EuroDialogue XXI from Rzeczpospolita