The European Partnership is called a Polish project not without a reason. Many Polish experts participated in creating conceptual foundations of the European Union’s offer for Eastern Europe. One of them was Eugeniusz Smolar, journalist and analytic, currently working in the Polish Institute of International Affairs. Today, Eugeniusz Smolar discusses achievements of last two years, since launching the Eastern Partnership, and problems that await us in an interview with Łukasz Grajewski.
Łukasz Grajewski: The Eastern Partnership is a programme coming to a dead end. It does not offer any promise of joining the European Union to the partner countries. What is your response to such sceptical comments on this Union project?
Eugeniusz Smolar: It is a problem plaguing specifically those citizens from the Eastern European countries who want their states to become the Union members. Their disappointment is a result of a misconception – the Union consists of 27 independent countries and is not a federal state. Each of the states’– Luxembourg, Cyprus, Portugal or Poland – governments has a right to co-decide, but is also able to block certain projects. In such context, the Eastern Partnership becomes only one element of the European Neighbourhood Policy, which includes all of the Union’s neighbours in the south, south east and east. Poland, jointly with Sweden and with Germany’s support, presented a project of the Partnership before the eruption of war between Russia and Georgia – yes, his event accelerated the decision process, but only due to the shock. Knowing the political backstage, the Partnership would have been launched anyway, even without the war.
How did the process of creating the programme foundation look? We know that you needed to extract Eastern Europe from the general Neighbourhood Policy structures. There was also a problem concerning forging an adequate policy towards Russia.
The problem was Russia itself – Russia, which was becoming less and less cooperative. We can talk about Russia possessing the will for cooperation in time of Yeltsin, but after Vladimir Putin gained power, this will has started to diminish. Putin’s Russia recreated, for its own use, the concept of the West as the enemy, which is close to a vision from the Cold War period. Under the impression of NATO enlargement policy, Russia became really anxious. We possessed a strong conviction that we were changing post-Soviet realm in the direction of democratization and future prosperity. According to Putin’s standards, our joining NATO was recognized as enemy action against Russia’s interests. On the other hand, it was supported by Russian elites and society. Hence Russia’s authorities traditional reaction – as always, Russia is functioning within a world zero-one system. Furthermore, a perspective of Ukraine and Georgia also joining NATO was very disturbing in Russian leaders’ point of view. They took advantage of an opportunity and provoked president Saakashvili through their actions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia – he lashed out at Moscow, which – colloquially speaking – gave as good as it got.
Our problem was, and still is, the rule effectively followed in many West European capitals: ‘Russia First Policy’, which, in my opinion, should be renamed ‘Russia Only Policy.’ Except Washington, Warsaw, Prague, Bucharest and Baltic countries, there were no efforts made at integrating the post-Soviet countries or, at least, bringing closer to the West. And had it been for colour revolutions, which politically reanimated the issue, the question concerning fate of those countries would not have arisen at all. After the war in Georgia and abandoning plans of NATO enlargement, plus a very far perspective on joining the Union, the societies of these countries must strictly redefine their strategic goals.
These general changes – including the Orange Revolution in Ukraine – produced the idea that the Union policy towards the East should be enhanced.
A concrete reaction was needed. Everybody knew it was time to create, and extract from the general neighbourhood policy, a structure within the EU aiming at the East – the eastern countries which could fast become partner states and prospective European Union members. All accordingly to the old ambition of Polish diplomacy, regardless of any current political balance of power. And we did it.
This stage of the endeavour we can call a success, for, after two years of a functioning programme, we are now talking about the Eastern Partnership countries. This policy broke through successfully and was acknowledged by governments and societies.
Yes, positively. We can claim that there is a lack of money and dynamics, but the fundamental question remains – how the funds should be spent. For instance, accusations, which are being thrown constantly during the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, concern not the funds themselves, but the uncontrolled spending process, frequently not bringing the perspective of association and membership any closer. The Union actions in the East are similar to those in Tunisia, Morocco or Egypt: diversification of financing local elites, in order to buy certain privileges and ensure the Union’s presence in the region in the hope that, in time, it will bring modernization and stabilization of the rule of law and democratic standards. In reality, the Union was strengthening status quo without enforcing Annual Action Plans. After all, that’s what the European Union was for – to give money in order to let the countries modernize themselves through various projects, right?
No doubt there are several worthy projects, for example strengthening border control procedures – one of the flagship initiatives of the Eastern Partnership. It is a vital element of introducing visa-free traffic through visa regime liberalisation. The aim is not only stopping smuggling, which is a problem. It must be understood what individual projects are for, because the effects will be strengthening sovereignty of each state in the region.
Moreover, and it is crucial, these countries do not cooperate among them. In Soviet times, all roads led to Moscow: communication routes, telecommunication channels, air traffic. In fact, the Partnership programme shall induce to regional cooperation as far as the local authorities allow.
Except Armenia and Azerbaijan…
Yes, their governments do not come along. Nevertheless, the majority start to think in a regional context, like Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Ukraine. Some countries share the Black See or through roads in Slovakia or Poland, others – similar concepts concerning energy security, air traffic, developing trade and investments. These factors additionally set them against their slightly averse northern neighbour.
There was no such cooperation among these countries before?
The collaboration existed in individual industry sectors, controlled by a Moscow ‘planner’ – there were no such links among the USSR republics. Lately, independent and sovereign states have emerged, and it is very important that they build regional relationship in all sectors.
But maybe such countries’ collaboration is only the Union’s vision? In reality, there is not much action.
Yes, it is true – not much. But, with the Union presenting initiatives, there is a growing conviction that it serves everyone in the region.
There was the Black Sea Synergy – did it work?
No, just as the German initiative Central Asia Strategy, it died a natural death due to the lack of interest. However, within the frame of the Eastern Partnership, government delegations from all countries from the region – including Belarus – and with participation of – it is significant – observers of the Civil Society Forum, meet at the sectorial summits, a.o. in Brussels, where peaceful, pragmatic talks over actual issues and ways of solving them – with much needed help from the Union – take place. For instance, a project concerning railway and road connections between Ukraine and Belarus will be launched. Such modernization is necessary, even if the state of democracy and political cooperation of the involved countries does not appeal to us.
It means, among other things, building Klaipeda-Odessa route, which is a joint action of, for example, Belarus and Ukraine.
Many projects are debated, and it is vital that the direction of the initiatives is towards other partners, not Moscow alone. Trade exchange increases, so does the intensity of all types of relationships, and that’s how it starts. Later, no more governmental initiatives will be needed – only entrepreneurs and good projects.
It is obvious that countries join projects stimulating their industry. And yet, what about another dimension of the Eastern Partnership – democracy, transparency, human rights?
Here we have a worse situation. All in the context of this late statement, which stirred everything around….
The June statement concerning neighbourhood policy, which the European Commission has been working on. Everyone was trying to reach conclusions regarding events in North Africa. In its countries, there is a similar situation – for decades money has been flowing without preconditions and the elites were being bribed, within the Direct Budgetary Support, in order to make them supportive to the European Union’s presence in their countries. Here comes the rule ‘more for more’ – the more you reform, the more aid funds you can receive. But it also means ‘less for less’ – the less you do, the less you get. This rule is functioning in Belarusian situation – the aid is cut when Minsk increases its oppressiveness.
The second part of the interview with Eugeniusz Smolar will appear next week.