The criticism against the Eastern Partnership programme – defined as a set of policies of the European Union towards six EaP countries – is the new political black. Only a year ago, the usual reply to the question “What of the Partnership?” was some grumblings made by politicians “off the record”. Today, everyone just throws up hands.
The a priori judgment regarding the Eastern Partnership’s future fate has solid basis. The internal crisis of the EU – the actual threat of the euro zone breaking up – consumes the lion share of EU politicians’ time and energy. Another factor is the state of democracy in partner countries who seem to abandon the principle of “the rule of law”, a term commonly used in Europe since the 17th century. Yet in 2009 – when the inauguration of the programme took place in Prague – Ukraine under the rule of Viktor Yushchenko, though already at a political impasse and bordering an economic collapse, kept some democratic standards instead of political prisoners. Meanwhile, Belarus was liberalizing it system and intensifying contacts with the EU – the process started through intensive talks that the then leader of Union’s common foreign policy department, Javier Solana, held with Alexander Lukashenko. Georgia, when the EaP was launched, was still dazed after the lost war in South Ossetia. That, in fact, resulted in the solidarity with Georgia at an official EU level and was also one of the reasons behind launching the programme.
I, however, consider the superfluous criticism – in a form of “The Eastern Partnership is no more” slogans – quite pointless, since politicians engaged in a dialogue between the East and the West of Europe did not simply vanish off the face of the earth. It’s business as usual between the Union and partner states. NGOs continue their mission and so on. Life goes on.
Seeing as the Union wheels turn slower and slower, losing the fight against the pile of EU’s troubles, politicians from EaP countries take a position of a recipient instead of a partner. To change their optics, several strategies have been already proposed, for instance, the “more for more” rule, which main beneficiary is Moldova and, at a limited level, Georgia. At present, thanks to the efforts of analysts from the European Council on Foreign Relations, we are presented with the “hug and hold” approach.
Yet the long overdue homework is to fill requirements created yet in 2009 w with content – planning and cooperation methods basing on individual, already established platforms of the Eastern Partnership – democracy, good governance and stability, economic integration and convergence with EU policies, energy security and contacts between people – should be verified. Let’s replace the worn-out jargon of the Union and use, instead of empty slogans such as “working on development of individual spheres”, numbers showing, for example, the level of exchange and ways to double it in a given period of time.
What can the European Union do together with EaP states in the field of energy cooperation? The Nabucco pipeline generates no interest; no political decision was reached regarding the Odessa-Brody oil pipeline, and the perspective of membership in the Energy Community does not give any security guarantees. Plans on creating the “pan-European energy market, based on the principles of solidarity and transparency” – a citation from EU instructions – are done as the German-Russian energy lobby dictates. It’s high time to present a solution that would take care of Eastern Europe’s interests lest it turns out that the only project aided by EU is the South Stream, increasing the Russian monopoly in the energy sector and putting Ukraine and Belarus in a tough spot.
Not all requirements from 2009 remained on paper, yet a coherent framework, a strategy and reliable indexes as well as a monitoring system are still absent, which translates into chaos, discouragement, lethargy and a lack of faith in success.
Misha and Sasha
Mikheil Saakashvili and Alexander Lukashenko, seen in the VIP box of the Kyiv National Stadium during the Euro 2012 final, almost look like bosom friends whose relations are based on similarly bloated egos and driving political ambitions. One of them is considered a dictator and evil incarnated. In the eyes of Western public opinion, the other appears as a saviour leading a democratic country, the model student of the Eastern Partnership. Right next to them we coul see the Armenian President, Serzh Sargsyan. So there we had half of the Eastern Partnership, and several stands farther – EU leaders, skilfully separated from “Eastern satraps”.
Adam Eberhardt, the Vice-Director of the Centre for Eastern Studies (Poland), commenting on the photo of “Misha & Sasha” via Twitter, got straight to the point reminding that when Russia was pressuring Belarus to recognize independence of South Ossetia, Alexander Lukashenko did not give in, demonstrating solidarity with the Georgian leader. Saakashvili thanked Belarusian authorities for their support several times, and in the time of Minsk falling in troubles with the Kremlin, he gave an interview for Belarusian state TV without any hesitation. In his speech, he talked about good relations between Georgia and Belarus, and attacked Russia.
Paweł Kowal in the article “Treat Lukashenka With Respect” is pondering over the right policy towards Belarus: “Contacts with the regime should be maintained by through the Georgian and Ukrainian diplomatic missions – even for those countries serious fulfilment of this mission would be a good ‘European exercise’. Both in the Ukrainian government and parliament, and the top positions in Tbilisi there are people who have the opportunity to talk to Lukashenka personally, like Victor Yanukovych and Mikheil Saakashvili”.
I agree with his point of view. Thinking about cooperation within the framework of the Eastern Partnership, we make the mistake to perceive it as bilateral relations between the EU and each of EaP countries. These countries, however, cooperate among themselves quite efficiently, identifying political problems as well as possible solutions. They understand each other since they have much in common, for instance, lacking standards in the sphere of democracy, characteristic of the region.
Therefore, to better understand the peculiarity of the EaP territory, it is necessary to start joint talks with representatives of all six countries. In this field, the highly underrate political initiative, which could be used in a better way, is Euronest, an assembly of representatives from the EU and EaP countries. Three such meetings were held thus far, the first one being of courteous nature, the second – a total failure for a lack of agreement on the content of new law, and only the last one ended with a relative success.
Euronest meetings should be held more frequently, but based more on “mutual understanding and a compromise” instead of “the omniscient Union educates its backward partners”. To strengthen the role of this instrument, it’s time to once again invite representatives from the Belarusian parliament. Don’t forget that at present they are not allowed to participate, since they were not chosen in elections meeting democratic standards. It is, however, hypocritical, for representatives of other EaP countries, while having problems with election standards as well, still attend the assembly.
This very text is an attempt to encourage my readers to put away simple fault-finding and focus on seeking possibilities that would result in a real change of policy having a direct and positive impact on life quality of Eastern Europe’s citizens.