The debate “Eastern Partnership – Resuscitation” was held at Press Club Polska on 6 March. The participants of the discussion were: Elzbieta Kaca (The Polish Institute of International Affairs PISM), Pawel Kowal (MEP), Eugeniusz Smolar (PIIA), Jan Pieklo (PAUCI) and Krzysztof Nieczypor (Eastbook.eu). Some commented that instead of resuscitation, we should touch upon activation of the Eastern Partnership, for “can you resuscitate something that was never really there?”
To start the discussion, Jan Pieklo asked a question about the future of the EaP: “Have we already hit the wall? … Will the EaP share the fate of the Black Sea Synergy?” he asked rhetorically.
Speaking of the genesis of the Eastern Partnership, Pawel Kowal went back to the times when he was a deputy foreign minister: “We were looking for an idea for Polish eastern policy in the context of the European Union. It was around 2007. Even then, we were sure that the further from the Black Sea Synergy, the better. The mistake made at that point was too little an effort put into engaging such countries as the Czech Republic”. The undoubted success, in Pawel Kowal’s view, was the involvement of Sweden, especially “head of the Swedish diplomacy, Carl Bildt. He is one of the few politicians from the old EU who understand our part of the world”. Today, the Eastern Partnership should be revived. This will not be easy, for “there is no political vision, while the funds of the Partnership are dispersed”. Kowal reminded of the idea of establishing the Eastern Partnership University. “It is in our interest to preserve the EaP and a university could become a symbol of this project.”
Elżbieta Kaca attempted at proving that the European funds at the Eastern Partnership countries’ disposal are not as limited as it is believed. The problem is that they are dispersed and there is no control over the direct support for the governments of the EaP countries. Only small percentage of the means is spent on support of civic society and education programmes. “For the last 8 years, only three thousand students left the EaP countries to study in the EU within the framework of the Socrates Erasmus programme. It is an incredibly small number”. In Kaca’s opinion, the Union should focus on the issues which are of the highest importance to the EaP countries, that is “visa regime liberalisation and, at least in some cases, economic integration”. She also identified another problem: “NGOs in the EaP countries are not capable of applying for the Union’s grants – the procedures are too complex and bureaucratic. We need small grants, adjusted to the abilities of NGOs from this region”, she said.
Krzysztof Nieczypor pointed to the diverse expectations of the countries covered by the initiative. While for Moldova and Ukraine the membership perspective is the focal point of the political debate, for Armenia and Azerbaijan it is rather only a form of cooperation. “The EaP has neither settled the issue of providing a membership perspective, nor determined the aim of cooperation within the framework of the initiative”.
Eugeniusz Smolar reminded that the European Union cannot be treated as a monolith. “The EU is now 28 countries, which means 28 perspectives, 28 interests, 28 geopolitics”, he enumerated. “The fact that the EaP exists is already a success. Especially as it is a rather marginal project from the EU’s point of view, often perceived as an anti-Russian initiative”. Eugeniusz Smolar also emphasised how big the difference between the Southern Neighbourhood and Eastern Neighbourhood of the EU is. “The threat to the security of Europe coming from North Africa is enormous and cannot be compared to Eastern Europe. While the southern policy of the EU was a policy focused on maintaining a status quo, the policy towards the East has always been change-oriented”, he continued. In Smolar’s opinion, we cannot forget Russia, which is still the main player in the region and must be taken into consideration by the EU.
Translated by Marta Lityńska