FRIDE / Finnish Institute of International Affairs reports. With the introduction of 2013, the European Union has turned over a fresh page of questions about its future. While 2012 saw the rise and (potential) assuaging of the eurozone crisis, the new year has brought increasing speculation about the future of the EU’s foreign policy. The political climate of the last year was one of ‘waiting and seeing’ in many respects–awaiting the election season of the U.S., Putin’s return to power in Russia, Iran’s vacillation about entering nuclear talks, and a change of leadership in China–all of which meant uncertainty for the EU and its foreign policy decisions. The coming year will witness the resolution of many pending and critical issues–the outcome of which many await with baited breath.
Perhaps amongst the top issues for the EU is approach towards its Eastern neighbors. Relations with Ukraine were notably stymied in 2012, as relations with the nation were divided and essentially frozen, for instance, with many EU leaders boycotting Europe’s soccer championship in Ukraine, after the controversial imprisonment of former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. EU integration talks were consequently also put on hold, as the EU expressed concern over Ukraine’s lack of progress in implementing internal reforms as benchmarks for demonstrating dedication to EU standards in many key sectors, which would be vital to a deeper future cooperation with the Union. Ukraine was markedly non-committal about its future, whether it be with its Western or Eastern neighbours, fuelling ever-more speculation about its true alliances.
The increased emergence of the Eurasian Union project–a brainchild of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus– in 2012 also created further questions about the EU’s role in influencing its neighbors. Georgia, Armenia and Moldova have each entered into deeper integration talks with the EU, with Armenia entering into a visa-liberalization agreement last month, and talks with Moldova are not far behind. Each have expressed at various times that their future lies with the EU, but speculation still abounds, as Russia has also met with leaders in Armenia about its possible involvement in the upcoming Eurasian Union. Moldova, arguably, also remains ambiguous, due to its location in the direct centre of the crossroads between Russia and the European Union – experts argue that it is only a matter of time before the country will choose the path of future integration with Europe or with the East. Others feel that the future is uncertain, and much like Moldova itself, in a constant state of flux.
Analysts have also argued that in addition to the obvious effects of the eurozone crisis, there are other long-term side effects which must now be considered in light of its foreign policy in the coming year, and its potential influence with its Eastern Neighbors. In a newly published report from the Finnish Institute of Foreign Affairs, this issue was explained:
“…the crisis is also producing a backlash and second thoughts on the opportunity and wisdom of the European project in the first place, not only in well-known Eurosceptic countries but also in those traditionally committed to integration. Differences between the large countries which have driven EU foreign policy have recently resurfaced, making the EU bereft of leadership. In the absence of the old inner core pushing for common foreign policy, other countries are building different and non-typical coalitions in an effort to take the driving seat to rethink EU foreign policy. To make matters more complex, there is a mismatch between patterns of leadership on economic and political issues and on foreign policy matters.”
The true impact of this backlash will unfold in the coming months, as analysts question not only the future of EU foreign policy, but also of the EU itself.