A Need for Credi­ble EU Stra­tegy for the Eastern Partnership

Foto: Alvydas Kucas /​ shutterstock.com

Im Rahmen unseres Pro­jek­tes „Öst­li­che Part­ner­schaft 2.0“ ver­öf­fent­li­chen wir eine Arti­kel­reihe über die drei EU-Asso­­zi­ie­­rungs­­­staa­­ten (Ukraine, Geor­gien, Moldau). Autorin­nen und Autoren aus der Region ( Paata Gaprin­da­sh­vili, Mariam Tsits­ikash­vili, Hen­na­diy Maksak, Angela Gramada) ana­ly­sie­ren die Erwar­tun­gen an die deut­sche Rats­prä­si­dent­schaft hin­sicht­lich der zukünf­ti­gen Aus­ge­stal­tung der Öst­li­chen Part­ner­schaft aus zivil­ge­sell­schaft­li­cher Perspektive.

Laun­ched in 2009, the Eastern Part­ners­hip (EaP) has been instru­men­tal in brin­ging the EU and the six partner coun­tries (Armenia, Azer­bai­jan, Belarus, Georgia, Repu­blic of Moldova and Ukraine) closer tog­e­ther. Despite signi­fi­cant exter­nal and inter­nal chal­len­ges along the road, thus far the policy has demons­tra­ted its ability to promote greater sta­bi­lity, pro­spe­rity and resi­li­ence at the EU’s eastern frontier.

The part­ners­hip has sought to develop accord­ing to the inte­rests, ambi­ti­ons and pro­gress of each partner, marked by Asso­cia­tion Agree­ments (AA), inclu­ding the Deep and Com­pre­hen­sive Free Trade Areas (DCFTAs) as well as visa-free regimes with three partner coun­tries (Georgia, Ukraine, Repu­blic of Moldova – the EU Asso­cia­ted Trio) tog­e­ther with a Com­pre­hen­sive and Enhan­ced Part­ners­hip Agree­ment with Armenia and a tailor-made enga­ge­ment with Azer­bai­jan and Belarus. The part­ners­hip has inclu­si­vely deli­ve­red for all: EU-EaP trade has nearly doubled, turning the partner coun­tries as a group into the EU’s tenth largest trading partner, crea­ting or sus­tai­ning more than 250,000 jobs and enab­ling over 125,000 SMEs to benefit directly from EU funding.[1]

Crisis is the best test of friendship, and the EU has suc­cess­fully passed this test by swiftly holding out a helping hand to its EaP part­ners during the coro­na­vi­rus out­break. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion has mobi­li­sed an emer­gency support package for its EaP part­ners, com­pri­sing €80 million for immediate needs and up to €900 million in support for their short and medium term social and eco­no­mic reco­very.[2]

The EaP will even­tually play much more signi­fi­cant role for the EU poli­ti­cally, eco­no­mi­c­ally and in terms of secu­rity, perhaps even a greater role than that of the Western Balkans. The success of trans­for­ma­tion and demo­cra­ti­sa­tion in the EaP can offer up a posi­tive example for other coun­tries in the wider Eura­sian con­ti­nent, not to mention the fact that the EaP is key to the EU’s access to Central Asia.

EU Joint Com­mu­ni­ca­tion – New long-term policy objectives?

On March 18, 2020 the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and the High Repre­sen­ta­tive of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Secu­rity Policy put forward a pro­po­sal out­lining new policy objec­ti­ves for the Eastern Part­ners­hip beyond 2020[3] that was later sup­por­ted by the Council’s con­clu­si­ons.[4] At a meeting of the Eastern Part­ners­hip leaders held on 19 June 2020, heads of the EU and EaP states endor­sed a new long-term policy frame­work to guide the EaP’s next decade. Both the joint com­mu­ni­ca­tion and the con­clu­si­ons main­tain the focus on the fields of the economy, good gover­nance and society, while envi­sa­ging greater support vis-à-vis eco­lo­gi­cal and digital transformations.

While its prio­ri­ties are very similar to those defined at the Novem­ber 2017 EaP Summit, the new policy pro­po­sal out­lines mea­su­res enab­ling a better response to the chal­len­ges in the area of gover­nance. Notably, as the joint com­mu­ni­ca­tion stres­ses, the EU’s finan­cial assi­s­tance for part­ners would be deter­mi­ned by their pro­gress in reforms streng­t­he­ning the rule of law.[5] The EU also commits itself to deve­lo­ping more robust moni­to­ring mecha­nisms and veri­fia­ble bench­marks for eva­lua­ting pro­gress in the EaP. This incen­tive-based approach in con­junc­tion with the incre­a­sed over­sight could sub­stan­ti­ally boost the EaP’s trans­for­ma­tive power, some­thing that the “20 deli­ver­a­bles for 2020” found dif­fi­cult to achieve in the field of the rule of law.

Within the renewed agenda vis-à-vis eco­no­mic coope­ra­tion, the EU is com­mit­ting itself to support the efforts of partner coun­tries to join the Single Euro Payment Area (SEPA), the bene­fits of which would include cheaper, safer and faster cross-border pay­ments. More import­antly, the new policy frame­work pro­vi­des for the EU to step up its part­ners­hip with inter­na­tio­nal finan­cial insti­tu­ti­ons even further and to develop an inno­va­tive and smart finan­cing pro­gramme for the EaP coun­tries. The EU’s rea­di­ness to help partner coun­tries safe­guard macroeco­no­mic sta­bi­lity and incen­ti­vise struc­tu­ral reforms through EU Macro-Finan­cial Assi­s­tance is yet another com­mit­ment that sup­ports the EaP’s aims in the eco­no­mic domain.

In the context of digital trans­for­ma­tion, which is marked out as one of the policy prio­ri­ties, the EU commits itself to the exten­sion of secure and very high capa­city Gigabit broad­band infra­st­ruc­tures in the EaP area and to sup­por­ting intra-EaP roaming and spec­trum agree­ments; however, still not embra­cing a roaming fees-free regime with them.

Despite its claim to be “new”, the pro­po­sed EaP policy frame­work con­tains little that can be regar­ded as genui­nely novel: the only new initia­tive pro­po­sed relates to a “deal for youth”, which inclu­des, among other things, the crea­tion of a mobi­lity and exchange pro­gramme for young pro­fes­sio­nals from the EaP coun­tries. Overall, the policy objec­ti­ves pro­po­sed lack a stra­te­gic and genui­nely future-ori­en­ted vision that would make the EU-EaP coope­ra­tion and inte­gra­tion process a real prio­rity in the context of the EU’s own poli­ti­cal, eco­no­mic and secu­rity inte­rests. In par­ti­cu­lar, the new policy frame­work falls short of sup­por­ting and pro­mo­ting the process of deepe­ning the part­ners­hip between the EU and three asso­cia­ted part­ners as well as among the Trio (Georgia, Ukraine, Repu­blic of Moldova) and of taking this part­ners­hip to the next level.

Treat the regions equally 

Cur­r­ently, the EU’s Eastern Part­ners­hip does not foresee the acces­sion of the partner coun­tries to the Union. A month before publi­shing the new EaP policy frame­work, the Com­mis­sion brought out a similar com­mu­ni­ca­tion regar­ding the Western Balkans,[6] in which it ack­now­led­ges the fact that a credi­ble acces­sion per­spec­tive is a key incen­tive and driver of demo­cra­tic trans­for­ma­tion in the Western Balkans. Yet the EU con­ti­nues to ignore the impor­t­ance of such a per­spec­tive in the case of the EaP. The new EaP policy frame­work can and should faci­li­tate a process of gradual inte­gra­tion into the EU with a renewed com­mit­ment by the part­ners to under­take further com­pre­hen­sive reforms. Without a clearly defined stra­te­gic goal, the EU risks jeo­par­di­sing even the pro­gress already achie­ved in the EaP. In this context, it is the Euro­pean per­spec­tive that can suc­cess­fully act as a cata­lyst for full-fledged demo­cra­ti­sa­tion and further reforms in the EaP region, as the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment ack­now­led­ged in its latest recom­men­da­tion to the Com­mis­sion and the Council.[7]

The major takea­way of the Eastern Part­ners­hip leaders’ video con­fe­rence on 18 June 2020 was the decision to hold a phy­si­cal summit in March 2021 at which they will again endorse five policy prio­ri­ties in a joint decla­ra­tion. However, the decla­ra­tion to be made at this summit should go beyond these prio­ri­ties. The EU should define strong objec­ti­ves and iden­tify mile­stones, as it did for the 2009–2017 period. These should provide for the con­ti­nuous and effec­tive imple­men­ta­tion of the DCFTAs and com­pli­ance with legal, eco­no­mic and tech­ni­cal regu­la­ti­ons and stan­dards leading to the gradual opening of the EU single market and the estab­lish­ment of a common eco­no­mic space, as well as sec­to­ral inte­gra­tion in key areas of common inte­rest such as trans­port, digi­ta­li­sa­tion or the envi­ron­ment. The Euro­pean Parliament’s recent reso­lu­tion encou­ra­ges the use of such an approach, recom­men­ding that the EU should embark on a process of deeper eco­no­mic coope­ra­tion between EaP coun­tries and the EU using the path trodden with the Western Balkan countries.

For their part, the EaP’s asso­cia­ted part­ners should genui­nely promote inclu­sive regio­nal coope­ra­tion among them­sel­ves and deepen regio­nal eco­no­mic inte­gra­tion based on EU rules and stan­dards, thereby brin­ging the region and its com­pa­nies closer to the EU single market. This would not only bring bene­fits to their citi­zens but also lead to a common regio­nal posi­tio­ning which will be stron­ger and more per­sua­sive than the efforts on the part of indi­vi­dual coun­tries to inte­grate with the EU.

The coming decade will see Russia and other rivals seeking to advance their ille­gi­ti­mate geo­po­li­ti­cal inte­rests further in the EaP region and else­where. As is widely reco­gnised in the EU, the absence of a credi­ble EU stra­tegy towards the Western Balkans would reduce the EU’s credi­bi­lity and poten­ti­ally fuel natio­na­list rhe­to­ric in the region in ques­tion, whilst opening the door to the influ­ence of third-country powers, in par­ti­cu­lar, Russia and China. This is even truer in the case of the EaP. The­re­fore, a stra­te­gic dia­lo­gue to be held with Russia, an idea that French Pre­si­dent Macron enter­tai­ned last year, should not provide the Kremlin with “gua­ran­tees on no further EU enlar­ge­ment”. Instead, the dia­lo­gue should serve and promote the EU’s legi­ti­mate stra­te­gic inte­rests in its neigh­bour­hood. In short, the EU needs to develop a “new Ost­po­li­tik”, to use a term coined by German Foreign Minis­ter Heiko Maas, one aimed at iden­ti­fy­ing new ways to coope­rate with Russia in the inte­rests of all Euro­pean coun­tries and at reaching out to EaP coun­tries inde­pen­dent of the “Russian factor”.

During her visit to Georgia in August 2018, the German chan­cellor Angela Merkel named Georgia and Ukraine as the next poten­tial pair of states with which the EU may start talks fol­lowing the acces­sion of the Western Balkan coun­tries.[8] During its EU pre­si­dency, Germany needs to back up this state­ment and intro­duce merit-based dyna­mism to the EaP. The EaP should not remain merely an offer but become a credi­ble and full-fledged Euro­pean policy, indis­pensable for the EU’s credi­bi­lity as well as its influ­ence in the region and beyond.



[1] Joint Com­mu­ni­ca­tion: Eastern Part­ners­hip Policy Beyond 2020: Rein­for­cing Resi­li­ence – An Eastern Part­ners­hip that Deli­vers for All. Avail­able at https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/76166/joint-communication-eastern-partnership-policy-beyond-2020-reinforcing-resilience-%E2%80%93-eastern_en

[2] The EU’s response to the coro­na­vi­rus pan­de­mic in the Eastern Part­ners­hip. Avail­able at https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/coronavirus_support_eap.pdf

[3] Eastern Part­ners­hip: Com­mis­sion Pro­po­ses New Policy Objec­ti­ves for Beyond 2020. Avail­able at https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_20_452

[4] Eastern Part­ners­hip Policy Beyond 2020: Council Appro­ves Con­clu­si­ons. Avail­able at https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2020/05/11/eastern-partnership-policy-beyond-2020-council-approves-conclusions/

[5] Eastern Part­ners­hip Policy Beyond 2020: Rein­for­cing Resi­li­ence – an Eastern Part­ners­hip that Deli­vers for All. Avail­able at https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/1_en_act_part1_v6.pdf

[6] The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, “A More Credi­ble, Dynamic, Pre­dic­ta­ble and Poli­ti­cal EU Acces­sion Process – Com­mis­sion Lays Out its Pro­po­sals”. Avail­able at https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_181

[7] Euro­pean Par­lia­ment recom­men­da­tion to the Council, the Com­mis­sion and the Vice-Pre­si­dent of the Com­mis­sion /​ High Repre­sen­ta­tive of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Secu­rity Policy on the Eastern Part­ners­hip in the run-up to the June 2020 Summit. Avail­able at https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/A‑9–2020-0112_EN.html

[8] Paata Gaprin­da­sh­vili and Mariam Tsits­ikash­vili. “Ten Years Since the Russian-Geor­gian War: A New German ‘Ost­po­li­tik’ is Needed”. Avail­able at http://iep-berlin.de/blog/10-years-since-the-russian-georgian-war-a-new-german-ostpolitik-is-needed/


Paata Gaprin­da­sh­vili & Mariam Tsits­ikash­vili (Georgia’s Reforms Asso­cia­tes (GRASS))