As a follow up to our recent Eastern Dialogue podcast on the Eastern Partnership initiative, Europa United contributor Elina Morhunova discusses the recent outcome of a meeting by European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs which addressed the way forward for the partnership as well as the goals for the initiative in the next decade.
Foreign policy matters. The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is, undoubtedly, a bright example of the EU’s international political success. It is a global strategy and the revised European Neighbourhood Policy of the European Union which has been shaped through some stages to deepen and strengthen relations between the EU and its six Eastern neighbours: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
The last decade has seen continued investment by the EU in the EaP countries which has already produced tangible long-term results. In this time, the EU became the leading trading partner for Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine and there has been a steady increase in EaP citizens going to work and study in the in member states rather than Russia. The results is that they are likely to bring back the EU values and new standards to their home countries. Moreover, vast majorities in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine do not believe anymore in a return of the Soviet Union. Modernising societies by including stronger civil society groups that act as watchdogs to keep their governments accountable, and better functioning and more diversified market economies are all the result of the EU’s transformative power in the region. It may only be a matter of time before generational change and political conjuncture could lead to changing governance patterns as well.
To generate wide and inclusive goals beyond 2020, it is important to reflect on the future strategic direction of the Eastern Partnership. On the 21st January 2020, the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs held a public hearing on the future of the Eastern Partnership in which the members discussed with experts the achievements and shortcomings for the initiative both at the regional and multilateral level. They also analysed possible evolution of the EU’s relations with its six Eastern partners and a way forward for the Eastern Partnership in the next decade.
Divisions among member states on enlargement and how to deal with Russia will most likely curb the enthusiasm for what could be a truly historic moment for the EU and its eastern neighbourhood. Considering the strategic importance of the region for the EU’s security, the investments that it has made through its EaP policy as well as the strong ties that it has developed with segments of societies in the region that work for more sustainable and resilient democracies, the EU could use the opportunity of the next EaP Summit to boldly redefine its relationship with its Eastern neighbourhood.
The future of the partnership
In the long run, the EU wants a functioning Eastern Partnership, rather than failed states, for its own security and stability. As an aspiring geopolitical power, it needs to see itself as a long-term player in the region, with investments that do not necessarily yield results immediately.
The EU needs to assess its efforts through a state-building and sustainability lens.
What is more, the EaP societies perceive themselves to be European. They strive to achieve European living standards despite the challenges of transition and democratisation. All this despite the fact that Russia has attempted to impose high price for European integration and benefits from the regional instability. Russia in the past, has tended to treat the region as its privileged zone of influence thereby pushing these countries away in search of alternatives that would help strengthen their threatened statehood and sovereignty. The EU and the EaP countries face similar challenges to a large degree, be they demographic or security related, and these need to be solved together to enhance EU’s credibility, reputation, and reliability, which are currently at stake.
Economic development and new market opportunities, connectivity, environment, strengthening institutions with good governance and climate change as well as mobility and people-to-people contacts remain to be the priority areas of the Eastern Partnership. Albeit, simultaneously, the European Union could refocus policy in the EaP countries on pursuing democratisation rather than stabilisation and prioritise the development of a sustainable and credible framework for long-term engagement with the EaP countries that suits the levels of local demand and aspirations for closer ties with the EU.
The next decade will give the European Union an opportunity in its immediate Eastern neighbourhood to prove it is a global actor able and willing to project power and influence.
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