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Adrienne Warren

Well, There Goes the Neighbourhood: Do Experts Predict End for EaP?

As the initial excitement of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius has simmered down, and other events taken precedence over the November event, experts are beginning to weigh in on the long term future of the EU’s Neighbourhood project–namely, where there will still be one, or not. Outlooks are not optimistic, in spite of whatever successes might be suggested by the EaP summit’s victories for Moldova and Georgia. Could the Eastern Partnership be over, or are we calling code blue too early? Let’s weigh up some of the arguments…

Gediminas Avenue in Vilnius, Lithuania . author: eugenijusr. source: Flickr

Vilnius, Lithuania, host of last month’s EaP Summit . author: eugenijusr. source: Flickr

Judy Dempsey of Carnegie Europe poses the question “Has the EU Lost Both its Neighbourhoods” in a recent article, and explains why the EU is losing its appeal in the Eastern Neighbourhood–arguing that the project is divorced from the reality of the nations it seeks to deepen cooperation with:

“The EU is losing, but has not yet completely lost, its neighbors. Years of economic prosperity in Europe have led many to extol the EU’s civilian-soft-normative-market power as a way of ensuring stability in its periphery. This is a polite fiction that warms the hearts of many Europeans, but is completely unconnected to the realities on the ground. As the EU is not holding out the prospect of membership for peripheral countries, a dose of realism is required: Will an association agreement seriously be enough for those currently protesting in Kiev? How has the prospect of increased EU market access impacted developments in Egypt? If it comes to it, can the member states actually sell closer integration with North Africa and Eastern Europe to their citizens in the present political climate?”

Dempsey continues:

“The crises stretching from the Sahel to the Levant, and now extending to Ukraine, bear the hallmarks of complex domestic and regional geopolitical power plays that the EU has failed to understand in a timely fashion. As long as the EU remains reactive to such power plays, then change will come to these regions—but in a way that fails to reflect European interests.”

However, Jana Kobzova, an associate policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, also responds to Judy’s question–opining that the EU hasn’t lost its Eastern neighbourhood for the simple reason that it never “had” it:

“To be influential in its neighborhoods, the EU would need the resources and the political will to use its soft and hard power. The EU lacks both: although it is more interconnected with its neighbors than ever before, the EU has not turned its presence into influence. Its assistance to the periphery has risen, but remains unfocused. In some countries, the EU aims to build democracy; in others, it indirectly props up undemocratic regimes. The overall impression is that the EU prefers to throw money at problems, rather than stick to a long-term strategy.”

But, Constanze Stelzenmüller, senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, says that digging under what may appear to be the case  at first glance, its easy to see that the EaP’s pulse is still going strong:

“An observer could be forgiven for coming to that conclusion—at first and even at second glance….Moldova and Georgiahave made a first step in the EU’s direction. But Belarus remains firmly in the grip of President Alexander Lukashenko, and Armenia chose Russia over the EU. Then, Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych did the same thing. But Ukrainians are making it clear they disagree—unmoved by Russian cash and threats, or by their own regime’s police brutality. They want to be Europeans. Perhaps they see more in the EU than the EU’s own citizens?”

Where do we go from here?

According to Emmet Tuohy, of the Tallinn-based International Centre for Defence Studies, there are a few very practical things the EU could do to resuscitate its flagging Eastern Partnership project:

“I argue that in dealing with the Eastern Partnership, the EU should build its relationships with partner countries not on a broad, far-reaching values-based agenda, but instead on a few carefully chosen strategic issues of strong mutual interest… First is energy, an issue on which both sides share the same concerns and face the same challenges—often from the same source. The second and third ‘legs’ of our table are visa liberalization and trade. Unlike energy, these two have a unique advantage…they are projects that can be implemented quickly and can indeed “stand on their own” that is, the EU can pursue them without necessarily having made any progress on the others.”

Why are these incentives specifically important? Tuohy explains:

“None of these moves require any reciprocal action from partners; indeed, for many years now, it has been the case in all of the partner countries except Azerbaijan and Belarus that no visa requirements exist for EU citizens whatsoever. Nor do they require the notification and ratification of dense technical agreements between the two sides.”

In other words–relatively immediate benefits and therefore increased motivation to take part in the project on the part of the neighbour countries.

Russia: The other Eastern Neighbours Role…

The unrest ensuing in Ukraine after the government’s decision to suspend negotiations with the EU has stolen headlines internationally for weeks. Highlighting more than ever the role Russia plays in the fate of the Eastern Partnership–and the future of the EU’s relations at its eastern borders. Igor Gretskiy of Russia Direct elaborated on this issue in his article “Ukraine at the Crossroads”, noting some of the factors underpinning the issue:

“At first glance, it seems obvious what Ukraine should do. They should negotiate with the EU, as some Ukrainian businesses and most of the population are demanding. Moreover, the legislation regarding European integration of Ukraine and its EU membership have already been passed, as this was the main goal of Ukrainian foreign policy….Actually, this issue of EU integration marked the beginning of the election campaign and the struggle for victory in the 2015 presidential elections.The main question for Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich right now is deciding who will help him get reelected for a second term. There are two paths he could take: Moscow or European integration. Each of them has its risks.”

Gretskiy continues:

“The first path would mean Ukraine joining a Customs Union with Russia, which would lower natural gas prices and reduce the trade imbalance with Russia and the burden on the state budget. Basically, this is the position of managers and employees of obsolete and unprofitable industries, whose products are not competitive in Europe and exported mainly to Russia….n this scenario, probably a majority of people in the industrial areas of Eastern Ukraine would vote for Yanukovich, whose support he has traditionally counted on. Membership in the customs union would also continue the practice of merging interests of the bureaucracy and business, which has been the foundation of the current political regime. However, this would strengthen the power of the Russian capital in Ukraine, which would undoubtedly have a greater impact on political decisions.”

And in favor of the EU-path? Gretskiy writes:

“The second path is to sign the agreements with the EU, which would increase Ukrainian exports to Europe, attract investment and technology, close unprofitable industries, and create new jobs. This scenario could pull the rug out from under the opposition and might even prod Central and Western Ukraine into supporting Yanukovich. These regions have been the ones demanding to live and consume as Europeans do.”

Gretskiy also elucidates the perception many Ukrainians have of Russia versus the EU and the merits of the EaP project:

“In taking to the streets and squares of cities, the Ukrainian people are not only voting for European integration, but primarily for change. They associate Eurasian integration with attempts to recreate the Soviet empire based on dependence on cheap energy and postponing these changes indefinitely…Russia is only reinforcing in the minds of Ukrainians an image of a country that has changed a little on the outside, but on the inside is still the same Soviet Union. And, of course, the mass protests in Ukraine are not a farce orchestrated by foreign agents. It must be finally accepted that Ukrainian society is craving European standards of living, and every Ukrainian politician will have to take this into account.”

sources: Carnegie Europe, Russia Direct, Diplomaatia

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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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