Limited Priority of the European Union Partnership

Limited Priority of the European Union Partnership

By Arthur Dunn

The “Eastern Partnership” Summit to be held in September 29th-30th in Warsaw should significantly revive this project due to the increase of financing and specification of programs. In particular, they express hopes for successful finalization of talks on the agreement on Association of Ukraine and the EU. In practice this should mean the announcement about finalization of talks on the Association of Ukraine and the EU, as well as sounding new offers for the projects’ participating states: Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. These offers should cover significant increase in project financing or concentration of funds for specific programs. An important issue within the frameworks of “Eastern Partnership” should be the relaxation of visa regime of the EU with the member-states of the project.

Lately it has been often stated that foreign political line of the European Union became more flexible. Extension, performed first of all regarding political motives, and not economic criteria, has complicated the solution of many issues of in-union character, questioned the EU reformation to enhance supranational institutions, increased financial burden of main European economies, promoted the growth of social and migration tension. This all demanded concentration on internal problems. And mutual attraction of neighbors and rationalism finally overcame the appearance of the new project – Eastern Partnership. The new project Eastern Partnership is called to accomplish already more flexible approach of the EU. The Eastern Partnership as an initiative was officially introduced during the session of the European Council on June 19th-20th of 2008. The initiators were Poland and Sweden.

On December 3rd 2008 they adopted a Communiqué of the European Commission on “partnership”, accompanied by a working report of the Commission administration. These documents described the outlines of the suggested EP more detailed.

In March 19th-20th the European Council adopted new decisions on the EP and the draft of the declaration on “partnership” that was planned to be adopted during the oncoming summit with the project participants.

The Eastern Partnership considered a number of moments that criticized the European policy of the EU neighborhood. By this, questions remained to be clarified (contractual-legal basis of participation, financing from the EU, format and authorities of multilateral regional bodies, etc.).

In due times a European Commissioner B. Ferrero-Waldner explained the difference between European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) and the EP, to her mind. The “Eastern Partnership” is the advanced form of cooperation with post-soviet states in comparison with the offers of the ENP. And the next step is signing of association treaties. And those states which are the WTO members will be able to sign treaties on free trade area”.

Following the results of the meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers of the EU states, held in February 23rd 2009 in Brussels, a declaration was adopted on granting 350 million EURO for the accomplishment of the initial stage of the “Eastern Partnership” program.

On the eve of the first Summit of the Eastern Partnership a prominent political discussion deployed among the neighbor-states.

Thus, Kiev expressed dissatisfaction with changes, introduced by the European Union into the concept of the Eastern Partnership: the European Council excluded from the concept that the EP goal is “political association and economic integration” of the EU and partner-states, and the “visa provision” of the document,  the norm on a long-term prospect of visa regime abolishment was exchanged with the phrase about its possible liberalization. To the mind of Ukrainian party, this reduces its value and significance.

On May 7th 2009, Prague held a special Summit which adopted the Declaration on the EP and officially established the “partnership”.

The Paris Declaration noted that “the main objective of the Eastern Partnership is the establishment of urgent conditions to speed up political and economic integration between the European Union and involved partner-states”. The solution of this task is planned to be reached by assisting political and social-economic reforms in the EP member-states, approaching corresponding legislation of the last ones with the legal norms of the EU”.

In the documents that accompanied the Declaration (Memorandum of the European Commission of may 5th and the press-release of May 6th 2009) they clarified that more specifically the EP shall be expressed within five so-called “flag initiatives”:
- Boarder management program
- Integration of energy markets, enhancement of energy efficiency and development of renewable energy sources
- Special program on promotion of small and medium business
- Southern “gas corridor”
- Fighting natural disasters

It was planned to grant 600 million EURO for the accomplishment of the EP program in 2010-2013.

Also they created a mechanism of decision-making:
- Summits at the level of head of states and governments of the EP member-states, held once in two years.
- Annual spring meetings of Foreign Affairs Ministers of the EU states and  Eastern partners under the aegis of the EU Council on general issues and foreign affairs.
- Efficiency of work in individual sectors should be the subject of field conferences at ministerial level.

At the third level in June 2009, four subject platforms were created in accordance with main cooperation spheres.

In the documents of the EP they also marked out the necessity of multilateral cooperation on regional basis, including solution of local conflicts. It was suggested that involvement into the EP accomplishment of such influential international organizations as the OSCE, the Council of Europe, OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), also international financial institutions (first of all, European – European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development). A decision was made to establish the Eastern Parliamentary Assembly of European neighborhood and the Forum of the EP Civil Society.

Later in Brussels (November 16th – 17th 2009) they held a Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership states. Representatives of civil society of the program were invited (141 organization from the states of the Eastern Partnership and 79 organizations of the European Union and other states).

During 2010-2011 additional options for the EP accomplishment were developed, and the board of the European Commissioners on March 2nd 2010 adopted several programs of the European instrument of neighborhood and partnership, the common budget of which comprised 4.2 billion EURO.

Also a mechanism East-Invest was created. The main goal of the East-Invest is to promote economic development of the EP region and improvement of business conditions by praising relations between state and private organizations of the EU and the EP region.

One of the member-states Belarus made a number of initiative declarations for the EP project development. It addressed with the initiative of the “Forum of Eastern Development” establishment that would connect into single network  manufacturers, businessmen, investors, bank structures, economic entities and researchers from partner-states and the members of the European Union. This initiative was sounded by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus during a joint meeting of the heads of foreign affairs establishments of Visegrad Group plus Eastern Partnership plus Baltic states plus the Three of the European Union Chairmen. The event was arranged under the initiative of Hungary as the Chairman-in-office of the Visegrad Group on March 1st-2nd 2010.

Besides, they suggested holding in European capitals peculiar fairs of the projects within the frameworks of the Eastern Partnership in order to attract big international donors.

On May 24th 2010 Belarusian Ministers of Foreign Affairs participated in informal meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Ministers and partner-states within the initiative of the Eastern Partnership in Polish Sopot. There Belarus suggested including into the “group of Eastern Partnership friends” Russia, Kazakhstan as well as Turkey and a number of international financial institutions.

Belarus offered to include into the Eastern Partnership the projects in the sphere of transport and transit. These suggestions were expressed in course of several meetings in the frameworks of the EP, as well as during international conference “Europe Looks West” in autumn 2010. Among the most interesting projects we can point out the project of electrification of the railway between Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, as well as the projects in development of infrastructures of ways Klaipeda-Vilnius-Minsk-Kiev, Warsaw-Minsk-Moscow, transport corridor “East-West” (Moscow-Minsk-Klaipeda, Kaliningrad-Ventspils-Poland-Sweden-Denmark).

Belarus declared about the possibility within the frameworks of the Eastern Partnership to restore Dnieper-Vistula-Oder canal, that would allow the shortest way to connect Poland, Germany, Netherlands, France with Black Sea around overloaded way along Danube, and about the possibility of development of potential of container transportation between Baltic and Black Seas with trains “Viking” and “Zubr”.

And on the eve of the Presidential elections in 2010 the European Commission developed a draft of joint interim plan in Belarus. Twenty pages document included the list of reforms that have to be performed within three-five years. The European Union for the first time prepared such document of tactic character towards Belarus, which should be preliminary approved by Belarusian authorities. It was planned that from the beginning of 2011 negotiation process shall begin to adapt the suggested draft which was given to the European Union Council.

The document itself wasn’t opened. The most important about this document is the suggestion of sector reforms for Belarus, the sense of which is the approach of the country to European standards and economic integration of the European Union. The plan was commented as technical expression of objectives defined in the Eastern Partnership.

However, the events, happened during the Presidential elections resulted into practically complete break of cooperation. The declarations and evaluations of the EU appeared to be extremely harsh.

Nevertheless, interaction within the frameworks of the EP program, on a multilateral basis preserved as probable the only real option opened for cooperation. It was proved also in a famous decision on Belarus of the Foreign Affairs Ministers of January 31st 2011.

Belarus also received an invitation to the regular Summit of the Eastern Partnership. About this Polish Foreign Affairs Minister R. Sikorski declared in June 27th 2011: “No one excluded Belarus from the Eastern Partnership. Belarus shall be invited into the partnership Summit at the possibly highest level”.
Variants of the Eastern Partnership

The Eastern Partnership as a project at the moment has absolutely short history and is at the very beginning of its development, which shall depend on many circumstances: possibilities, intentions and general line of the EU, motivation of neighbor-states, environment of interaction of the EU and the Russian Federation and many other factors.

After two years we can state that the program is simultaneously at both stages of its own evolution: - conceptual and projects phase of development.

Evidently, that conceptualization of the Eastern Partnership as a program hasn’t yet been finished; it is peculiar with diversity of political senses, which are contributed by various participants of the project as well as states involved. By this starting from autumn 2009 began active development of the second phase – project content extension and more detailed formatting of four subject platforms.

As for conceptual view we can say that the Eastern Partnership is fated to peculiar “synthetic approach” as from the point of view of its development as well as from the point of view of financing. And already now, conceptual grounds of the program include:
- combined financing;
- combination of bilateral and regional formats of cooperation;
- flexible combination of cooperation on the basis of two principles: mutual interests (pragmatism principle) and general values (the principle of gradual involvement of neighbor-states);
- comprehensiveness (the program suggests big scope of cooperation options on the ground of subject platforms).

Although the most important imperative of the program is the urgency to develop and enhance the exclusive status of neighbor-states, as before there is a significant diversification of political interpretations of the program and distinctions within approaches and expectations.

In general, we can note that in 2009-2010 they cultivated expressly excessive expectations, the program was given unreasonably global scale and strategic significance.

Especially in some states of East Europe, Russia, sometimes in neighbor-states, participating in the partnership.

Diversity of interpretations of this new European project is easily observed through the prism of dominating metaphors of the “Eastern Partnership” discourse. Among them we can outline several ones.

In the states of the so-called “old Europe” in most cases the Eastern Partnership is formulated as the program:
- “approach of Eastern neighbors in the EU”;
- “possibilities for neighbor-states gradually to join various types of EU policies and EU programs”;
- “integration of neighbor-states into general market”;
- “cooperation in all spheres, but without membership in the EU (the Eastern partnership is not a “waiting room” and not a “pre-accession program”)”.

There is usually no diversity with officially declared objectives of the EU program, which include: “significant increase of the level of political interaction, also within assurance of possibility to conclude associative treaties of new generation, deep integration of the economies of eastern partners into the economy of the European Union, relaxation of visa procedures, accomplishment of joint efforts in the sphere of energy security in benefit of all partnership participants, as well as increase of scope of financial aid”.

Some East-European EU members interpret the Eastern Partnership program in a different way. Generally speaking, as “an instrument of the EU policy towards Russia”.

Russia also has its own peculiarity of perception.

Here is an example of some typical comments evaluating the program:
- “the project of Russia displacement from post-soviet area”;
- “soft correction of GUAM”.

Most Russian analysts and some western experts suggest that the real objective of the Eastern Partnership formation is the accomplishment of the CIS destruction, isolation of Russia from six of twelve CIS member-states, and eventually the European Union intends with the help of the Eastern Partnership to draw post-soviet states from the sphere of interaction with Russia, to perform their integration as minimum into NATO.

American analyst R. Rozoff who published a text under the title “Eastern Partnership of the Last Assault of the CIS”, draws in this respect a number of traditional arguments.

The kind of logic is dominating also among most Russian observers. In last two years a number of publications were issued, in which the Eastern Partnership is called “new, polished after the events in Caucasus, edition of GUAM”, causing evident conflict of interests.

The conflict of interests is covered with the fact that most states, included into the Eastern Partnership, already have developed forms of economic partnership with Russia and first of all Armenia and Belarus. And considering these two states and the CSTO members, regular consultations with Brussels on energy, as well as in the sphere of defense and security shall inevitably create prerequisites for permanent conflict of interests.

The conclusion from analysis with such logic, that is formulated by Rozoff, is simple: the Eastern Partnership to this or that extent undertakes main GUAM objectives – “the EU and pro-NATO aspects”, orientation to establish new energy communications without participation of Russia.

Many analysts, sharing the kind of views, focus also on that the “main operator of the program” is Poland, pointing out that Poland under the aegis of the EU extends its own political and economic sphere of influence within post-soviet area.

But there are also more moderate points of view.

One more important detail, which is specified in the budget weakness of the Eastern Partnership project, its collaterality, as well as collaterality of European policy of neighborhood in general.

In general an impression arises that in the partner-states and Russia this project in 2009-2010 was perceived as too important, two big scale than in Europe itself. Although it’s pretty evident that the EU has no clear strategy in relation to new neighbors.  Approximately the same as Russia has no definite strategy towards its CIS partners.

Judging by that the project was initially fated to limited financing, the Eastern Partnership in comparison with the established Mediterranean union, most likely will not become for the EU a real priority. At least in the near prospect. Probably the project shall have flexible, voluntary and framework character.

It’s also absolutely evident that the Eastern Partnership can not be seriously compared with GUAM. As except for Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan the list of its participants includes Armenia and Belarus, which are not ready to promote any political initiative similar to GUAM.  And although one of the platforms within the frameworks of the Eastern Partnership is energy, hardly this program shall form as an alternative within energy sphere.

At official level, the reaction from Russia, as known, was also not that positive, although not directly negative. More like understanding. But we shouldn’t also expect that it shall change. Russia would like to be a leader within post-soviet area.

Most likely, officially Russia shall further keep to a moderate line, as nothing yet proves clear anti-Russian direction of this initiative.

And further, as many politicians and experts consider, everything shall depend on the place energy takes in the Eastern Partnership. If it shall become the foreground, negative and even confrontational line of Russia is guaranteed.

As for typical perception of the Eastern Partnership in post-soviet states invited into the program, than here the attitude is calmer, more pragmatic and can be expressed with the following formula: the Eastern Partnership program opens possibilities, first of all in economic sphere to develop more close and full-value cooperation with the European Union.
Some results of the Eastern Partnership

Generalizing the two-years experience, it is observed as possible to outline some positive and negative aspects of the EP development.

Positive aspects:
1. The EP has still remained in the status of one of the priorities of agenda of the European Union institutions;
2. The EP this or that way assisted the development of more accented line of the EU cooperation with new eastern neighbors and overcoming of stereotypes, inertia;
3. The EP has acquired the shape of more finalized concept, i.e. flexible combination of pragmatism principle (common interests), the principle of motivation (common values), principle of regional approach;
4. The EP has gained development from the point of view of project content and development of financial instruments.

As for inconsistency and disadvantages of the project, affecting its promotion the following can be specified:

1. Existence of sub-regional differences among neighbor-states:
- European neighbor-states (Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine)
- Caucasian neighbor-states (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia);

2. Existence of differences among neighbor-states in foreign policy and policy character:
- the states on the way of the EU joining (Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia - ?);
- the states that haven’t defined on the issue of membership in the EU (Armenia);
- the states, that have chosen close cooperation with the EU without membership
(Azerbaijan, Belarus);
- the states, having frozen conflicts within its territory
(Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova);

3. Existence of country differences due to diverse type of social-political mode;

4. Absence within 2 years of vivid practical actions especially within multilateral (regional) track;

5. Procedural complexity of decision-making (for example, acquiring corresponding mandates by the European Commission);

6. Complexity of financial instruments;

7. Aggravation of inside-union contradictions and problems of finance and economic, social and political character in the EU and European countries.

General political and economic background on the eve of the oncoming another summit of the EP, as known, is not at all favorable. Many powerful experts predict a sad destiny for the EU.

From the other side, Poland, the current EU Chairman defines the EP as its “striking” priority. Near future shall demonstrate the level of impulse that will be given to the project that loses its dynamics. Warsaw doesn't yet  gives up enthusiasm, however as many commentators consider “there are slight chances for the breakthrough”.






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