Between 29 and 30 September Poland will host the second summit of Eastern Partnership, which will bring together leaders of 27 EU member states and of EU Eastern neighbors, European Council President, European Commission President, European Parliament President, EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, representatives of civil society and business environment. Plenary session will conclude with the adoption of a Joint Declaration. Also, within the summit there will be a conference on civil society, which will be held in Warsaw, as well as the first Business Forum of Eastern Partnership, which will be held in Sopot. Two years after the launch of Eastern Partnership, these events represent an opportunity for rethinking European Union commitments in eastern neighborhood, in terms of efficiency of this new European project and reformulation of clearer European perspectives for the states included in the partnership.
European Union and geopolitical proximity
Stability and prosperity enjoyed by the EU for half a century cannot be separated from its relations with different entities and regions of the globe, especially relations with the bordering area. European Neighborhood Policy, launched in 2004, was the first EU policy which established a common framework of EU relations with southern neighbors (north-eastern Mediterranean) and in east (the post-Soviet space), which, according to European Council decisions in Copenhagen 2002, will not join the Union in the foreseeable future. The first years of implementation of the new policy emphasized the difficulties of simultaneously programming in the same framework relations with Palestine and Ukraine or Morocco and Belarus, and the European Union member states have reconfirmed their different interests for different geographical areas. Attempts of France, traditionally interested in the Mediterranean, to unilaterally approach to north-African states and the Levant has led, after intervention of Germany, to the establishment in summer of 2008, of the Union for Mediterranean, a body comprising the EU 27 and states of EU southern neighborhood. Poland, on the other hand, managed to obtain Swedish support, when the two EU members proposed, on 26 May 2008, establishing an Eastern partnership within the Neighborhood Policy. The events in Georgia, August 2008, hastened project promotion and reformulation, and on 7 May 2009 Eastern Partnership is officially launched within the first high-level summit in Prague. As a matter of fact, by creating the Eastern Partnership and the Union for Mediterranean, EU is separating neighbors within neighborhood policy, without clearly stating which one of them is a priority.
> Moldova Map
Commission communication of December 2008 Eastern Partnership, which was the basis for the new project, starts from the premise that „European Union has a vital interest in ensuring stability, improving governance and economic development at its Eastern borders”, and the Eastern Partnership has to strengthen further relations between EU and its eastern neighbors. Overall objectives of Eastern Partnership are political association and economic integration between European Union and Ukraine, Republic of Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus by establishing new bilateral commitments and a new institutionalized framework of multilateral cooperation on four thematic platforms: democracy, good governance and stability; economic integration and convergence with EU policies; energy security and human contacts. Financial support of Partnership shall be ensured by increasing actual financial package of the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument with additional funds in total amount of 350 million dollars, which is added to planned resources for 2010-2013, whereas total amount of resources designed to new „eastern initiatives” is 600 million euro.
Eastern Partnership perspectives in a difficult conjuncture
Eastern Partnership meant a project with great geopolitical valences for European Union and was enthusiastically received in six post-Soviet countries, and in conclusions of the second meeting of ministers of foreign affairs within Eastern Partnership, held on 13 December 2010 in Brussels, one mentions strategic importance of Partnership in strengthening relations between EU and partner countries.
However, after more than two years after the launch of this cooperation framework, when technical negotiations have replaced promising political speeches, the necessity of deep project discussions becomes more and more obvious. EU Presidency of Poland, one of the first community members interested in the success of Eastern Partnership, and the summit that Poland will host in Warsaw, can open this perspective. Since May 2011, Poland has reconfirmed its interest in the success of structural reforms in the six states included in the Partnership, by proposal of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski to create ”the group of friends” of Eastern Partnership, formed by states like USA, Canada, Japan and Norway. Russia, which officially criticized the new EU program because it creates new driving lines in Europe and targeted ex-Soviet states, will have to choose between Moscow and Brusselswas also invited to join this group. Also Radoslaw Sikorski declared, a few days earlier, to be in favor of increasing financial assistance for eastern neighbors in the next financial year of the European Union.In the program of Polish Presidency, a special chapter is dedicated to opening European Union to the rest of the world, especially by strengthening relations with the neighbors. In relation with Eastern Partnership countries, European Union will aim at completion or substantial progress in negotiations with Ukraine and Republic of Moldova on Association Agreements and creation of deep and comprehensive free trade area; progress in liberalizing visa regime and; deepening sectorial cooperation. Eastern Partnership Summit, is mentioned in the document, will bring additional cooperation objectives between European Union and its eastern neighbors, possible thanks to a row of ministerial specialized meetings to come. Also, the European Union will develop cooperation with eastern partners in common foreign and security policy. However, the Foreign Policy Committee of European Parliament, on 30 May 2011, gave a favorable opinion to adoption, at the plenary session of Parliament in September, of a recommendation for the Commission and Council targeting the award of accession perspective in the Association Agreement that will be signed with the Republic of Moldova.
All these initiatives comply with euro integration efforts of partnership states, as least in case of Ukraine and Moldova, the only ones that have currently advanced in accomplishment of Eastern Partnership provisions and, as a consequence, negotiate political association, economic integration and visa liberalization with the European Union. Also, some of these initiatives can be found in Chisinau ”non-paper” on reformation of Eastern Partnership, sent in May 2011 to European officials, containing such proposals as: the certainty of accession; clear priorities, on areas of regional development to energy security; more cooperation; sustainable partnership.
But beyond these efforts, actually perfectly legitimate, there is a strong “anti-east current” within European socio-political environment, as well as a European and international conjuncture not favorable at all to some big EU commitments in the post-Soviet space. Even Joint Communication of the Commission and High EU Representative for Foreign Affairs, A new response to a changing neighborhood, of 25 May 2001, does not represent a quality change of attitude towards eastern neighbors. First of all, European chancelleries are concerned with European fiscal consolidation, when the crisis of sovereign debts in Euro zone threaten the existence of Economic and Monetary Union and raise fears of a European chronic economic contraction. The German taxpayer/voter, after supporting infrastructure modernization in Hungary, will be hard to convince that on a medium and long term it would be good to financially support as well Moldovan agriculture. Second of all, although 2011 was intended to be the year of Eastern Partnership, it is still the year of Mediterranean neighbors of the European Union, after Arab revolutions has profoundly destabilized the region. Thus, it will be difficult for Poland and ex-Soviet states to argue the eastern priority while France is fully engaged in Libya, and African immigrants cause restriction of movement within the Schengen areas. Finally, many European states would not want to complicate the dialog with Russia by a sudden increase of commitments in post-Soviet space, once the dialog with it is still under pressure because of the U.S. antimissile shield installed in Eastern Europe.
”Everything but institutions” or “more-for-more”: Republic of Moldova and European partnership
With the launch of the Neighborhood Policy, former president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi synthesized its relations by the formula ”everything but institutions”, which did not involve the accession perspective for neighbors. The principle used by current Commission president, Jose Manuel Barosso, “more-for-more”, seems to be a more elastic term, but also more difficult to define. It is important to understand these diplomatic formulas related to Republic of Moldova, which is called the success story of Partnership, and this may (hypothetically) show that “most likely” or maximum project capacity, based on provisions on bilateral cooperation (one that allows the differentiation of states in the project) which are found in communication of the Commission of the end of 2008.
The first bilateral tier of the Partnership – new contractual relations – involves replacing of Partnership and Cooperation Agreements with Association Agreements, which are mentioned in communication of the Commission „will create a deeper political attachment and will promote greater convergence by establishing a closer link to EU legislation and standards”. Europeanization of post-Soviets states’ legislation, by implementing the acquis communautaire is by itself a necessary procedure for states that are looking for development models, but not yet sufficient. Republic of Moldova or Ukraine cannot be satisfied by diplomatic inclusion in a program with Belarus, which already signed the membership to Customs Union (along with Russia and Kazakhstan), since political documents that are yet to be signed within this program do not expressly provide EU accession. In such a formula, it is likely for the Eastern Partnership to become a “damping mechanism” of Moldova’s European aspirations, or of any other state in the program, a new decade of uncertainty that leaves open the perspective of signing integrationist agreements in the east. Without an accession perspective, conditioning of structural reforms in partnership countries will not only be more difficult, but these countries will have a hard time resisting the pressure from Russia to join Customs Union or, in the future, the economic community which the last is building. It is an absolutely feasible scenario, especially since Russia has, for now, military bases in Belarus and Armenia (both members of Collective Security Treaty Organization), „unauthorized” military bases in Transnistria, Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia, rents Gabala radar station (located 200 km from the capital of Azerbaijan), and in spring 2010 it signed with the new leadership of Ukraine an agreement that allows Russian military fleet to remain here at least until 2042.
Although there is an indication that new agreements „should lead to greater cooperation in regards to common foreign and security policy and European security and defense policy”, Commission Communication does not refer to „frozen conflicts”. One cannot ensure security of the Republic of Moldova ignoring Transnistrian secessionism and Russian soldiers in the east of Moldova, so that at a certain point cooperation in this field, in order to be a serious one, will require mandatory increasing of EU involvement in conflict resolution. Thus, we understand that EU position was changed by the war in Georgia (August 2008), since in another document of the European Commission, which launched in spring of 2007 a pontic European project, called Black Sea Synergy, European Union undertook to regulate frozen conflicts in the area (Transnistria, Abkhazia, Southern Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh), however not in the Eastern Partnership.
Progressive integration in EU economy involves signing of Free Trade Thorough and Comprehensive Agreements, which, according to the logic of the second pillar of Eastern Partnership, means not only a simple trade liberalization, but the perspective of long term development of an economic neighborhood Community to intensify circulation of goods, capitals and services. Membership in a European economic community would allow Moldova long-term economic recovery and return of citizens back home. Cheaper workforce and less burdening taxes could be serious signals for European companies (and not only) to invest in an economy linked to the largest market in the world. However, economic integration within set terms raises, at least, short term risks.
Moldovan business environment will not easily support economic liberalization shocks, especially that Moldovan economy is not neo-mercantile that would produce over capacity and is looking for outlets. Trade with European Union is deficient for Moldova, 0.9 milliard EURO in 2010, under circumstances when we beneficiate of unilateral commercial facilities from the Union. Thus, we are entitled to think that in a liberalized trade regime, i.e. where local producers will compete under free market regime with the European, commercial deficit will grow and many Moldovan companies will not survive the European rules and competition. Besides technological advantages, European farmers are subsidized by the European Fund for Agriculture and Rural Development and the companies by the European Fund for Regional Development and other European initiatives. Also high inflation in Moldova keeps up the interest rates of real economy credit and, therefore, sets again in unequal situation Moldova producers in relation to those from Euro zone, working behind a strong currency (Euro) and can apply for credit on much lower interest rates.
Also, it is to be noted that Commission Communication lacks (at least the economic block) free movement of persons, one (and maybe the most important for Moldova) of the four freedoms of the European common market. However, if trade liberalization and economic integration will not be gradual (at least ten years) and accompanied by increasing financial assistance, labor market liberalization or (as backup option) elimination of visas, there is a risk for workers to become unemployed who would actually have no employment solutions. Since Moldovan economy shall be integrated in European economy, Russia can always close the labor market for Moldovan citizens.
Republic of Moldova, which forms a large part if its budget from import/consumption taxation, would substantially reduce customs/budgetary revenues in a free trade area with the European Union, its first trading partner. This takes place in a situation when Moldovan public finances are already under pressure, and the government has signed a Stand-by Agreement with the International Monetary Fund, under which it borrows resources to finance budget deficits and macroeconomic stability. Moreover, this is evidence that European irredeemable funds, and projects financed by the European Investment Bank or European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, represent the only alternative against the failure to largely make public investments in basic infrastructure.
The tier mobility and security is the one “responsible” for visa facilitation. Complete elimination of visas is, in Commission’s opinion, a long-term objective, diplomatically formulated as follows: „once the agreements on facilitation of visa issuance and readmission are effectively implemented, to initiate dialogs on visa-free travel with all cooperation partners”. Republic of Moldova has already functional agreements on visa facilitation and readmission, just that “effective” implementation remains to be determined by the Commission and then the „long-term” can become „too long” for Moldovan citizens. For now, the roadmaps for visa facilitation (offered to Balkan states), provided in the document, have been replaced with Action Plans, documents with multiple claims and also involving some implementation difficulties. Even after an exemplary achievement of these provisions, one can invoke other requirements. Moldova’s eastern border permeability can be used anytime for such a scenario. In such a context, Moldovan citizens will continue to migrate massively to Russian labor market and/or will carry on applying for Romanian citizenship, especially after Romania joins the Schengen Area.
About the energy security one mentions that „Eastern Partnership will have as an objective strengthening EU and its partners’ energy security regarding energy supply and long-term energy transit”.However, so far concrete actions of the European Union on energy sector have targeted solely ensuring its own energy security and only tangentially for Eastern partners. After opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, one is still negotiating with Azerbaijan the possibility of joint exploitation of the reserves and imports of oil and gas, is negotiating with Georgia the construction of a new transport infrastructure, and with Ukraine one signed, in March 2009, a joint Declaration on modernization of Ukrainian system of gas transit. Republic of Moldova, however, is not included (at least yet) in major energy infrastructure projects, such as Nabucco pipeline or Odessa-Brody-Gdansk pipeline, through which Caspian hydrocarbons will be transited on European market, whereas European officials and Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski, who had a one-week visit in Caucasian states in July, are still discussing energy security only individually and not in a broader framework of Eastern Partnership. It is to be noted that energy security in a partnership can be only one for all and certainly not selective.
Supporting economic and social development, the last bilateral tier of Eastern Partnership, that would transfer the practices of European cohesion policy in reducing domestic geographic and social disparities from partner countries, is by all means welcomed. All that is lacking is funding or, more precisely, the level of funding for similar European projects by Structural Instruments. Moreover, in the context of events in South-Eastern Mediterranean, France, Italy and Spain, along with three European states, have asked for EU to offer a greater priority and, as a consequence, greater funding for southern and not eastern neighbors, within the European Neighborhood Policy.
EU Eastern Partnership comes to strengthen EU positions on eastern dimension of European Neighborhood Policy, by political association and economic integration with sic ex-Soviet states in Eastern Europe and South Caucasus. This new European project covers an area dominated by instability and uncertainty, and therefore on its implementation is bound the future both of targeted states, and the European Union ability to develop and implement strategies in a proximate area. Partnership launch was highly publicized, raised high expectations in eligible states and was a discontent to Russia, but partnership objectives and especially, funding of their achievement cannot, at least in current formula, to represent a serious commitment of the EU on its eastern borders, and cannot be a serious offer for states included in the Partnership.
Warsaw Summit is one of the great opportunities to rethink Eastern Partnership, a change of EU attitude towards eastern neighbors, while sectorial analysis of a new partnership shows the relevance of Moldova initiatives to reform the partnership. Inclusion of EU membership perspective in the preamble of Association Agreements with Moldova and Ukraine would signify a great success not only of member states concerned, but especially of the European Union. The case of Turkey, that signed such an association agreement in 1963, suggests that membership perspective does not automatically guarantee membership itself (something that would bind EU), on the contrary for eastern partners this would mean a new status in continental (geo)politics, an additional accountability of local politicians to continue reforms and a great psychological credit for Moldovan and Ukrainian citizens, for whom another decade of uncertainty could mean giving up the “European dream”. At the 20th independence anniversary, these countries deserve the congratulations received from major European and world chancelleries to find their purpose in providing clear European perspectives.
By dint of training effect, political modernization, economic opening and visa facilitation will raise increasing EU involvement in Transnistrian conflict resolution, otherwise EU cannot ask for borders security, leaving secessionism in eastern part of the country only ”up to” Moldova. It is difficult to anticipate a participation of Russia in a “group of friends” of Eastern Partnership, but Poland’s invitation denotes a great diplomatic refinement and it will be difficult for Russia to refuse to support developing countries that it declares to be friends. Moreover, it is an acceptable formula to manage Moldova’s reunion and digression of foreign troops on its territory. However, visa facilitation should not be a process of decades. Otherwise citizens would abandon their own governments in post-Soviet uncertainty and would acquire European citizenships.
On the background of political commitments, it is necessary to also adjust economic liberalization. Being unfortunately included in Association Agreements, Free Trade Thorough and Comprehensive Agreement should provide a gradual liberalization of Moldovan and Ukrainian economies, according to the model of Interim Trade Agreements signed with potential candidate members from western Balkans. Also, the principle of no borders but not for citizens, by definition cannot be functional and as a consequence, free movement of persons (opening labor markets) cannot be excluded from an eventual Neighborhood Economic Community. Along with already launched Business Forums, European Commission, for example, could create a EST-INVEST program, similar to the one created in Latin America (AL-INVEST), to support investments of European productive capital in partnership economies and, as a consequence, to keep east-European workers (unwanted by so many west-European trade unions) at home. Again, training effect makes such an integration level to drive other policies and sectors, such as additional financial support (eventually switching to Pre-accession Instrument) for associates in the budget for 2014-2020 of the EU or monetary policies coordination. Not queues at European consulates and selective energy security, but a decade of Eastern Partnership that would involve democratic reforms, economic growth and an irreversible European perspective, would make it a successful project of the European Union.
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This publication was produced by IDIS “Viitorul” with the financial support of Soros Foundation Moldova and the National Endowment for Democracy. The opinions expressed in this publication reflect the author’s/authors’ position and don’t necessary represent the views of the donors.
Eastern Partnership Community