The Riga conference, an annual high-level policy and security forum, was held last weekend in the Latvian capital – the future host of the EaP Summit 2015 – bringing together leaders, diplomats and experts from the Baltic region and beyond. High on the agenda was the European economy, NATO, a cohesive EU global strategy, and the Eastern Partnership, among others. Whether or not the EU was still a global player was an overarching theme of the conference. With this question in mind, many leaders have proceeded to meet individually across Europe to plan how to shape its destiny…
The conference was a mixed bag of praise and criticism for the EU, as heads of state and economic experts expressed their views on the economy and the vision for the future. The conference came just after a meeting last week of President Dalia Grybauskaitė met with Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, to discuss preparations for the upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania as well as other EU foreign policy and defence issues.
In tandem with a meeting of EU ministers in Vilnius, to discuss issues with the Eastern Partnership. US Secretary of State John Kerry was also present at the meeting. The upcoming Vilnius summit is becoming an increasingly debated topic, as Armenia announced last week its choice to align with Russia over the EU.
“Ukraine should redouble its efforts ahead of October evaluation by the EU, so that it can sign the association agreement in November,” Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski explained while in Vilnius.
Minister Sikorski also met with Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, with whom he discussed Poland-Lithuania relations:
“I wish to thank Minister Linkevicius personally for his efforts to meet the obligations of subsequent Lithuanian governments, including the current cabinet. I put trust in my friend Linas and hope to see practical results,” Sikorski stated.
The Polish Foreign Minister also met with Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili this week, to discuss Georgia’s signing of the Association Agreement. Georgia expects to initial – a step before the official signature, the Association Agreement at the EU Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, Lithania, in November. Sikorski and Ivanishvili predict that Georgia will fulfill all the required criteria and officially sign the agreement in 2014.
Following the Riga conference, Prime Minister Ivanishvili also paid a visit to Estonia, meeting with President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. The meeting focused on bi-lateral relations between the two countries, including the signing of an agreement on cooperation in tourism. Ivanishvili was accompanied by the Georgia ministers of foreign affairs, economic affairs and European-Atlantic integration.
Simultaneously, Slovakian Prime Minister Miroslav Lajcak met with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt in Stockholm to discuss the Eastern Partnership. Bildt explained that Armenia’s decision to align with Russia’s customs union last week was a definitive move, which has removed Armenia from the EU-table:
“We came to a conclusion with Miroslav Lajcak that the Association Agreement with Armenia has been removed from the agenda now. We work with Ukraine, Moldavia and Georgia.”
Agreed with @MiroslavLajcak that Association Agreement with Armenia is now off the table. We work with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.
— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) September 9, 2013
— Miroslav Lajcak (@MiroslavLajcak) September 9, 2013
The best way to focus on the ‘remaining’ Eastern Partnership members is arguably unclear, as pressure from Russia is increasing commensurate with how close the neighbourhood countries become to EU integration, as Jan Techau from Carnegie Europe elucidates:
“In Eastern Europe, political elites fear getting too close to either Russia or the EU. Becoming too Western and embracing democratic reform could ruin the political business model that keeps them in power. Too much rule of law and transparency is simply too dangerous.But getting sucked back into the Russian vortex is a similarly nightmarish prospect for them. The states of Europe’s East would become mere puppets of the Kremlin, dependent on the whims of a regime that does not suffer resistance lightly.”
Furthermore, Armenia has now set a precedent which many fear will have a domino effect:
“Georgia and Moldova are definitely willing to go West, but heavy dependencies on Russian energy, unresolved territorial disputes, and divisive domestic politics weigh them down.”
In Moldova’s case, as one of Europe’s poorest countries, Russia has threatened to raise the price of gas exported to Moldova if the latter signs an association agreement. However, Moldova affirmed last week that it would not be deterred by Russia’s threats.
Indeed, as Ivanishvili met with Ilves, and Bildt met with Lajcak, Moldova took a trip to Poland. Prime Minister Donald Tusk met with Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leancă in Warsaw, two months before Moldova is due to sign an EU association agreement. Poland reaffirmed its already traditional full support for Moldova’s integration, as Tusk states:
“Moldova can count on Polish support, and in terms of the signing of documents in Vilnius, these documents will be another very important step towards the integration of Moldova into the European Union.”
A sentiment which Leancă expressed gratitude for, saying:
“We very much appreciate Poland’s support and understanding concerning our path to Europe and the EU,” Leanca said. “This is very important as it can lead to the development of economic cooperation. We know that we can count on Polish support and friendship.”
— Marcin Zaborowski (@MaZaborowski) September 9, 2013
The EU’s credibility was a topic which was under heavy discussion at the Riga conference. The crises faced by the EU have arguably diminished the influence that can be had over its eastern neighbours. An example of which can perhaps be seen in Armenia’s decision last week to join with Russia’s customs union over its western allies.
As Jan Techau explains:
“The EU’s attractiveness in its Eastern neighborhood is diminished by years of political and economic turmoil in the EU itself. The bloc is no longer the universally accepted model—emulated energetically by the transforming societies of Europe’s East—that it once was. The EU lacks the hard power and, more importantly, the political will to play the game on its Eastern flank as a geopolitical contest with Russia. Yet Russia’s newly assertive power keeps dragging it into precisely that kind of game.”
“Likewise, the Europeans lack the political forcefulness to implement what the EU calls conditionality: to reward those who stay on the path of virtue, and punish those who deviate from it. Many leaders in Brussels and the member states abhor the idea of being accused of paternalism or, worse, neocolonialism.
As a consequence, the EU is engaged in a frantic search for the right tool that gets the right results: forceful yet sensitive, ambitious yet not imposing, target-oriented yet patient. In the meantime, Russia, which clearly looks at the politics of Eastern Europe as a battle over spheres of influence, perceives this agonizing as weakness.”
— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) September 7, 2013
Watch highlights from the Riga Convention: Carl Bildt, Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Radosław Sikorski
sources: Carnegie Europe,