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Brigita Šalkutė

Welcoming Neighbours: How Effective Is the European Union?

The European Union is an organization that offers the most attractive material incentives in the region through strong exclusive strategies. However, its enlargement and neighbourhood policies not always lead to the clear and rapid outcomes, which has been shown in cases of Western Balkans, Turkey and Eastern Partnership.

Old Town Riga, Latvia. Author: Graham, source: Flickr

Old Town Riga, Latvia. Author: Graham, source: Flickr

Since the growth of the political and economic weight of the organization in 1990s and after Big Bang enlargement in 2004, the EU has clearly set apart future expansion strategies from the partnership relationship with its neighbours.

Nevertheless, in modern day Europe, in the realms of the ongoing Ukraine crisis, Russia’s imperialist actions towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia, enlargement of Eurasian Economic Union to Armenia, passive involvement of Azerbaijan and Belarus in Eastern Partnership affairs, we face questions: is the European Union effective enough on its eastern borders? Can the EU maintain pro-Western democracies in the “associated” post-Soviet states?

Indeed, the EU as the most powerful and wealthiest intergovernmental organization in Europe tries to incorporate target states into the system of liberal values through normative socialization process, where rule of law, democracy and human rights are respected and habitualized.

On one hand, these actions serve an ultimate goal of ensuring long-lasting peace in entire Europe and on the other hand, the norm-taking states benefit from the process, which should eventually end with an institutional development and economic well-being of the latter. Thus, the EU transmits its norms to the target countries in order to strengthen its own security and/or gain political and economic influence in the first place. The countries that share same liberal values are less likely to confront, because according to the democratic peace theory, real democracies never fight each other.

However, unstable political developments in Eastern Partnership countries and EU’s inability to offer more tangible incentives to the partners may question the legitimation of European choice even in the recently associated countries (Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine).


Preparing for the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga


Ahead of the Riga Summit 2015 the European and Georgian leaders have intensified public contacts, which frequently reveal in joint declarations and statements on a deeper cooperation and further implementation of the Association Agreement (AA).

In January, Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement, in response to the statements of the Georgian Prime-Minister on visa-free regime negotiations and implementation of DCFTA stated that the EU is ready to help Georgia accomplish its reforms in the fields of politics, social welfare, culture, education, etc.

In February, Martin Schulz, European Parliament President, praised Georgia’s efforts to continue performing positively in fulfilling the AA obligations and referred to it as to a leader among EaP countries, as well as promised to assist Georgia in security issues and appreciate its European aspirations at the Riga Summit in May this year.

A couple of months before that Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, directly accused Russia in punishing Europe-oriented Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine by supporting conflicts in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Eastern Ukraine.

Indeed, the future of these three states has crossed the local borders and may have a direct effect on whole European security and welfare in a longer perspective. Thus, it’s vitally important to bring them closer to the EU through stronger normative actions, international awareness and economic and political support.

In April, the foreign ministers of Denmark, Poland and Sweden reconfirmed their clear support towards granting Georgia with visa-free regime at the Riga Summit in response to a promise that the later will fulfil all requirements assigned through AA.

However, the initial draft of the Summit declaration seems to frustrate the partners in Chisinau, Kyiv and Tbilisi, as well as their friends in the European Union.

Despite all the rhetoric and deeper cooperation promises from particular EU states, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will probably return from Riga without any membership perspective.


Expectations vs reality


The text of the draft can be reviewed in the context of each country-addressee. In Ukraine, the EU calls all parties to de-escalate the tensions and stick to Minsk agreement, but it doesn’t condemn Russia as a side of the conflict. On the other hand, the latter is criticized for occupying Crimea and violating international law. While the draft specifies Ukrainian crisis in multiple paragraphs, the conflicts in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova are united under general statements and exclude words like “Russia” or “annexation”. In addition, the text lacks clear messages on visa-liberalization policy towards Georgia and more tangible incentives for Moldova.

In fact the project of the declaration doesn’t offer anything new to the partner states. Now it’s up to the officials from EaP countries solely to work on convincing the European counterparts to modify this preliminary text according to their interests and include the wording that could benefit both sides.

The current Summit declaration draft must be a blow from Baltic States and Poland that have actively debated sceptic EU officials on deeper cooperation with associated EaP countries. In fact, the final decision on more rigorous socialization of target states depends on the general political and economic interests of the European Union. The divergence in positions of the member states over common persuasive policies towards the “outsiders” is a part of democratic process that should be correctly evaluated by the ruling elites in Chisinau, Kyiv and Tbilisi.

Since the launch of the Eastern Partnership, the Baltic trio (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) has been actively involved into its elaboration and implementation. It is in the best interests of the Baltic States not only to assist the progress of the rapprochement between the EaP countries and the EU, but also ensure that the future developments of the Eastern Partnership will remain on the EU agenda.

After the Vilnius Summit many essential questions regarding the Eastern Partnership programme and its future remained unanswered. Thus this year the supporters of the EaP, during the Riga Summit will try again to send a clear alarming message to the rest of Europe asking what the end goal of this initiative is, as member states have no consensus on forthcoming EaP developments and offering membership perspective to the Union to any of the countries covered.

Moreover, for the Baltic countries it is geostrategically important to maintain EaP members positive about the pace of reforms and the quality changes invoked by the EU in line with their expectations.

In February, Edgars Rinkēvičs, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, referred to the Riga Summit as a survival summit, where Latvia, together with other countries, will try to avoid “talks about procedures” and push forward desired deliverable outcomes.

The Baltic States also clearly understand that rotating the EU presidency held by Latvia is their second chance and basically the last resort any time soon to show and convince Europe that Russia is unable to conduct constructive relations with its former satellite states. For Poland and the Baltic States this is nothing new and unimaginable, however for many leaders in Western Europe, it is a difficult conclusion to finally acknowledge.

In her interview in April, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė spoke that the best political result of the Riga Summit would be to convince the EaP countries that they are still important and seen as a part of Europe.[7]

Did the Vilnius Summit symbolize stagnation or maybe even the very end of the Eastern Partnership, requiring a fundamental reconsideration of the Western policy towards the eastern neighbours?

The Riga Summit in May will be the fourth EaP summit since the establishment of this programme in 2009 and, at the same time, it will be definitely the first such unpromising summit when no one expects huge advancements in relations between the EU and the EaP countries.

The Baltic States have already lost their battle for every more ambitious and determined word in designing the initial draft of the Summit declaration, leaving it ambiguous and open for interpretations.


About the authors:

Alexander Chanadiri is a Georgian-born public thinker currently residing in Estonia. BA in International Relations and American Studies -at the Azerbaijan University of Languages. Master’s degree in Social Sciences / EU-Russia Studies at the University of Tartu in Estonia. Currently residing in Estonia and working as a Consultant for Eastern European educational markets at the University of Tartu. | Thank you for reading my articles and feel free to contact me.

Brigita Šalkutė is an MA student in EU-Russia Studies at the University of Tartu, Estonia. She completed her Bachelor‘s degree in Political Science at Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania. Brigita also has studied and gained valuable knowledge in Georgia and the Czech Republic as an exchange student. Brigita currently focuses on ethno-conflicts, democratization and energy policy in the South Caucasus. She is also interested in the regionalism/region formation processes and the EU-Russia relations.

Read also [back in 2013]:

Post Vilnius: Predicted Failure, Present Success, But Challenging Future

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Brigita Šalkutė is an MA student in EU-Russia Studies at the University of Tartu, Estonia. She completed her Bachelor‘s degree in Political Science at Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania. Brigita also has studied and gained valuable knowledge in Georgia and the Czech Republic as an exchange student. Brigita currently focuses on ethno-conflicts, democratization and energy policy in the South Caucasus. She is also interested in the regionalism/region formation processes and the EU-Russia relations.

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