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Adrienne Warren

Much Ado About Vilnius: Creating a Vision Beyond the Summit

Well, it’s officially November, and the Eastern Partnership summit is now 27 days away. The speculation, expert analysis, and debate about the “dos and don’ts” and what the EU “should or shouldn’t” do in the wake of the Summit is now reaching a point of critical mass (if you didn’t think it was before). Two mention worthy reports have recently been released by two leading think tanks–the European Policy Center (EPC), located in Brussels, and the International Center of Defence Studies (ICDS), based in Tallinn, Estonia. Let’s recap…

Vilnius. author: gatogrunge. source: Flickr

Vilnius. author: gatogrunge. source: Flickr

From the ICDS perspective…

In their report, “Narrow Focus, Broad Vision: A Strategic View of the Eastern Partnership”ICDS analysts, Emmet Tuohy and Anna Bulakh address what they perceive to be the most crucial area of EU-EaP cooperation–energy security. Tuohy and Bulakh argue that it is in this sector that true integration with the EaP can be realised:

“…While the EU may not have the capacity to create a wide space for the European values of consensus and liberal democracy stretching across the Eurasian landmass from Portugal to the Pacific, it can and does have the ability to deepen cooperation with its Eastern partners on areas that support its interest. In this paper, we concentrate on the most important such dimension: energy security.”

In what way? The ICDS elaborates:

“Energy security cooperation is a win-win proposition for both the EU and the EP countries. By working together to reduce the impact of a security 
threat they face in common—Russia’s ability to use its energy exports as leverage—they can immediately begin to demonstrate the value of closer cooperation to often skeptical populations on both sides. Without lengthy negotiations, both sides can immediately begin drawing real benefit from working together within the legal and economic framework of the Energy Community, an international organization that aims to create a market-driven energy sector while increasing security of supply.”

The expansion of energy security would also share common ground with the Baltic republics–and would therefore have knock-on benefits to the region:

“It is not just countries in the EP region that have been the target of Russian pressure. As they have sought to pursue diversification projects and implement the EU’s Third Energy Package, even EU member states such as Estonia, Latvia, and especially Lithuania have been on the receiving end of Russia’s retaliatory tactics. While the EP countries have a long way to go fulfilling the EU criteria on economic development or institutional & political reform, in their degree of energy dependency and location in Russia’s self-declared “near abroad” sphere of influence, they have much in common 
with EU members such as the Baltic republics.”

A draft of the Vilnius summit declaration ‘leaked’ http://t.co/AbrGxGvKBm#EU#EaP#Armenia#Azerbaijan#Belarus#Georgia#Moldova#Ukraine

— Moldova Foundation (@MDFoundation) October 31, 2013

And the EPC team…

In their EPC report, entitled “Beyond the Vilnius Summit: Challenges for deeper EU integration with Eastern Europe”, authors Laure Delcour and Kataryna Wolczuk examine the mechanisms behind increasing EU-EaP integration–the basic contextual background, the incentives for the EaP to integrate with the EU in spite of the costs, and impact of the Association Agreements to be signed on the partner countries, the EU and their mutual relationship with Russia:

“Despite all the costs to be incurred, partner countries’ elites continue to declare an interest in approximation with EU rules – even if only for the sake of maintaining the EU’s symbolic engagement with their countries – because the AAs have tremendous symbolic value for the elites of the neighbouring countries. They are only too keen to demonstrate their success with the EU to their electorates and their neighbouring countries, including Russia. But while the EU proposes functional integration, the post-Soviet elites’ preferences for closer relations with the EU are often underpinned by geopolitical motives. Each partner state is afflicted by the insecurities which stem from weak statehood, concerns over territorial integrity and an overbearing neighbouring Russia. Unsurprisingly, geopolitics is the prism through which these countries view their relations with the EU.”

Elaborating further on the intricate relationship with EaP countries and Russia, as well as its emerging Eurasian Union, the EPC explains:

“The dynamics of economic cooperation and integration in the post-Soviet space have been changing rapidly. DCFTAs were counteracted by Russia’s endeavours to promote deep economic integration, as evidenced by the launch of the ECU. Russia is now building its own hub, clearly aiming to become an alternative, competing hub to the EU, albeit drawing on the EU regulatory framework. This, in turn, can but strongly affect the EU’s own policy in the East. The two processes are indeed closely interrelated. For instance, in cases where the EU restricts market access for key agricultural products from the EaP countries in the framework of the DCFTAs, the countries will have no choice but to rely on other markets. Not only will they be forced to adapt to regulations of the Russian/ECU market, but they will remain highly sensitive to political relations and any resulting economic costs for their electorates.”

The report also suggests some practical solutions for troubleshooting the EU’s current weaknesses in its EaP approach. Pinpointing the following pitfalls:

“The dynamics of economic cooperation and integration in the post-Soviet space have been changing rapidly. DCFTAs were counteracted by Russia’s endeavours to promote deep economic integration, as evidenced by the launch of the ECU. Russia is now building its own hub, clearly aiming to become an alternative, competing hub to the EU, albeit drawing on the EU regulatory framework. This, in turn, can but strongly affect the EU’s own policy in the East. The two processes are indeed closely interrelated. For instance, in cases where the EU restricts market access for key agricultural products from the EaP countries in the framework of the DCFTAs, the countries will have no choice but to rely on other markets. Not only will they be forced to adapt to regulations of the Russian/ECU market, but they will remain highly sensitive to political relations and any resulting economic costs for their electorates.”

The EPC offers the following pragmatic steps for improving, post-Summit:

“Against this backdrop, the conclusion of the AAs in Vilnius is just a first step in terms of integrating the Eastern neighbours with the EU. The EU will have to tackle three challenges to keep the EaP on track. First, once the AAs are concluded with Moldova, Georgia and possibly Ukraine, the focus should be on facilitating implementation. It is important that the EU promotes institutional and regulatory solutions which are most attuned to the context of the country and hence likely to result in actual, even if gradual, implementation…Second, it is important that the EU continues to engage with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus, taking into account the specific situation of each country. The DCFTAs cannot be regarded as a ‘be all and end all’ of relations and the differentiation within the Eastern neighbourhood will be required in the foreseeable future. Finally, having recognised the enormous pressure on EaP countries to join the Eurasian regime, the EU ought to better take into account the regional context in which the EaP operates. To be effective, the Union should de-centre its policies from its own experience and craft a nuanced and contexualised strategy. It also needs to deliver on its promises, primarily on visa liberalisation.”

Sources: EPC, ICDS

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All eyes on Vilnius…

EaP Summit | EaP Summit in Vilnius

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Graduated in International Relations and Russian. Resident of Estonia, but a citizen of the world. Most interested in contributing to the progress and education of mankind--as the primary tool of achieving global unity.

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