“The Union’s guarantee of security, stability and sustainable development in its territory will not be possible in practice without the intensive cooperation with the bordering countries” . That is why the Eastern Partnership came into existence. There is no doubt that this initiative is good for Europeanisation, understood as a “modernisation of former communist dictatorships … and weak states of Europe.” Does the Eastern Partnership serve its function?
The Eastern Partnership initiative was inaugurated in May 2009 at the summit in Prague. Its objective is – as the adopted declaration reads – ” to create the necessary conditions to accelerate political association and further economic integration between the European Union and interested partner countries”. The Partnership is to serve “the shared commitment to stability, security and prosperity of the European Union, the partner countries and indeed the entire European continent”.
Much cry and little wool
In fact, the Eastern Partnership initiative is nothing but another process of “enhancing” the European Neighbourhood Policy, this time by working out its eastern dimension (analogous to the southern dimension, focusing on the countries of North Africa). Despite the lofty principles, the EaP does not offer the Eastern Europe countries accession to the EU, and, moreover, it does not determine the issue of visa regime or the detailed conditions for participation in the unified market. Furthermore, it repeats every mistake of the previous concept of the ENP: lack of details, lack of instruments allowing enforcement of the decisions, and also allotting scarce financial means to implementation of the principles.
The EaP is actually one enormous discussion forum, in which the partner states present their achievements and exchange observations. It is not, however, a real support for the process of reforms. The formula of the Partnership focused on the cooperation of all the six countries is in fact devoid of coherence and pointless because of the enormous divergence of the partner states’ interests. The countries covered by the initiative do not conceal the fact that they are mostly interested in development of bilateral relations with the Union. However ironic may sound Lukashenko’s question “When will the Eastern Partnership stop teaching one country policy and democracy and start being a partnership?”, hits the nail on the head. “It’s been an idle chatter so far”.
The Eastern Partnership’s problems are not only about the construction of the initiative. The Partnership, despite its lofty objectives, was created only as a counterbalance to the French project of the Union for the Mediterranean, which could potentially disturb the South-East balance, because of the increased Union’s interest in its southern neighbours. There is no doubt that the Partnership got the other EU countries’ approval, since it did not generate any additional costs, while the financial means for the initiative came from some of those allotted to the ENP .
From the very beginning, the Union has kept its distance from the Polish-Swedish idea, which was especially visible during the Prague summit inaugurating the Partnership, where the European leaders came “mainly to have a picture with the US President Barack Obama”. This division was aptly characterised by Konrad Szymański, Law and Justice MEP, by saying that “some would like to simply dismiss the Eastern Europe countries with empty declarations. Other would like these declarations to have some content and to result in strategic movement of Eastern Europe towards the West”.
It’s all about…
Speaking of the Eastern Partnership, it is impossible not to ask the question who in fact wants this partnership. While the EU addressing its offer to the Eastern Europe states undoubtedly wants to create an area of influence and a buffer area between the Union and Russian Federation, it is not that clear in case of the Eastern Europe countries. In Ukraine, the Eastern Partnership is more and more frequently perceived as an elegant way of excluding the perspective of Ukraine’s EU membership, while Ukrainian experts emphasise that “some West European politicians perceive the EaP not as a step on the way to the EU membership but rather a substitute for it” .
In reality, the Union’s expectations of the partner countries are not known, apart from the fact that it wants them to be democratic and to enhance their economic relations with the Union. While the latter seems obvious (according to Eurostat, the trade exchange between the EU and the EaP countries has tripled for the last ten years), the former is still debatable.
The EaP countries are mainly interested in tangible benefits “here and now”. Every kilometre of a motorway, every technology innovation or new job cannot be overestimated by the East European countries (according to Eurostat, over 40 percent of export from the EU to the EaP countries are cars, machines and electronics). It is no wonder, considering that one of the main EaP regulations actually demands from the initiative to bring tangible benefits to the citizens.
Yet, the Partnership is based on the conditionality principle (“more for more”), which means that the more the partner country gets involved in the intensification of the reforms, the more support it gets from the Union. According to the EaP’s regulations, every step on the way to democratisation or modernisation of a country, should be rewarded with additional privileges from the Union, like participation in the unified market, abolishment of the visa regime or means for youth exchange programs etc. And these privileges are still absent. Just like democratisation…
Take a different road…?
The Eastern Partnership as a tool for democratisation is a tool completely inefficient, not only because of its construction, but mostly because the partner countries themselves are not interested in democratisation. Moreover, the European Union applies double standards to the countries covered by the initiative, turning a blind eye on violating human rights in Azerbaijan (it is not without significance that the EU imports oil and gas from this country) and reproaching Belarus and Ukraine time after time. In case of the latter, it led to Yulia Tymoshenko’s imprisonment, while the Freedom House organisation claims that “if the current tendency does not change, the country may end in authoritarianism and kleptocracy”. The effect is, according to the September issue of Polis weekly Polityka,“… that in Belarus, after a short ease of tension, Lukashenko again talks to the opposition by the agency of Spetsnaz and has broken with Europe. Aliyev has a life-long presidency granted because he succeeded to it after his father died. Armenia is on the way to Putinism. In Georgia, Saakashvili is wasting the Rose Revolution’s achievements. In Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko is in prison at the mercy of judges dependent on the pro-Russian president. Moldova may be the pro-European leader in the group but it is in conflict with Transnistria and suffers from every possible disease of young democracy, including corruption”.
Still, the East European countries can afford that. The offer of the European Union is less and less attractive, but still stipulates numerous reforms. The Union less and less frequently looks at its eastern neighbours, dealing with its own problems or the problems in the South. The Eastern Partnership has been named “a bastard” by Brussels, while French Le Monde writes that “Poland makes effort to convince the strongest countries about the importance of the Eastern Partnership’s development but neither France nor England is interested”. This opinion is confirmed by Herman Onno Ruding from the Brussels CEPS think tank, who underlines that “people from Western Europe do not know where Belarus is” and “Moldova is a tragically tested small country, people from the West have never heard about”. Anyway, the first meeting of Euronest speaks for itself.
The future is in our hands
What will be the fate of the Eastern Partnership and is there any hope for it? My personal answer to these questions is: yes. But not by force. First of all, a question should be asked about the expectations of the partner countries and illusions should be eliminated. Andrzej Brzeziecki aptly notices that “we allowed ourselves for the illusion of inevitable integration of our neighbours, especially Ukraine, into the Union too easily … Meanwhile, we can see that both the elites and majority of societies want the western welfare but not all the political and social solutions”.
Professor Zbigniew Pełczyński used to say that “the best will pull up the rest”. We should assume this point of view and improve the Eastern Partnership. The societies of East Europe need exactly the same thing as the Poles, who after the fall of communism left for the West European countries to gain experience crucial for their later work and get to know European culture. The power is within the people.
If the Eastern Partnership is to make any sense in the future, it must focus on liberating the potential of the citizens. That is why the liberalisation or abolishment of visa regime is a must! Europe needs openness to eastern neighbours (in fact Europe benefitting from openness was one of the priorities of the Polish Presidency) and intensification of – both bilateral and multilateral – interpersonal relations. Europe needs intensification of cooperation within the framework of non-governmental organisations and universities networks, or even the increase of financial means for such programmes as Erasmus, so that this human capital brings not only modernisation of Eastern Europe but also pursuit of freedom. So far, the Eastern Partnership have financed hundreds of motorways, but none of them will lead to democracy by itself…
The article is based on the text of the same title, awarded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in “Your advice for the Union” competition. It was rewritten for the needs of Eastbook.eu.
1. Bąba W., Zając M., Stosunki zewnętrzne Unii Europejskiej z Ukrainą, Białorusią i Rosją, [w:] Zeszyty Naukowe Akademii Ekonomicznej w Krakowie, 2006 (734).
2. Cianciara A., ‘Eastern Partnership’ – opening a new chapter of Polish Eastern Policy and the European Neighbourhood Policy?, The Institute of Public Affairs, Analyses & Opinions, No. 4.
3. Gniazdowski M., Wojna B. (red.), Partnerstwo Wschodnie – raport otwarcia, Polski Instytut Spraw Międzynarodowych.
About the author: Daniel Szeligowski is a novice economist and politician-amateur. A graduate from European Studies at the University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszów, and a member of the UITM Forum of European Initiatives. He works in the field of Poland’s and EU’s relations with Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. In his spare time, he conspires how to take control over the world. Obviously, in secret…
Translated by Marta Lityńska