Partially, inspired by my current study programme in economics, I find the word ‘limit’ of special interest for the case of the Eastern Partnership model. It has been many times that we would have had to explore the limits – both positive and negative – of a function in class and it now might be a worthy challenge to apply these methods to the highly sensitive field of EU foreign politics towards its Eastern neighbours.
After the accession of the new member states in 2004, 2007 and the later Balkan agenda, it seems the EU has not decided whether it is already the maximum or still the minimum that can be reached in terms of enlargement. In any case, further economic growth is seen by Brussels as an integral part of the recession recovery formula. Respectively, the growing demand for new economic partnerships pushes the EU to explore opportunities and develop cooperation mechanisms beyond traditional friendship declarations. With the rising political importance of Russia on the global geopolitical chessboard, these are the EU neighbours on the Eastern frontiers that get the most attention these days. Their current EU integration model was first introduced in the 60’s. The standard format was, however, modified in the process of bilateral negotiations between EU and Ukraine, prior to the Prague Summit 2009.
Thus, let me take Ukraine as an example. The current Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine, even though without accession part, was initialled in the summer of 2012 in order to establish an area of common values, economic and juridical standards. In the first half of 2013 the technical preparation part, translation into the EU languages as well as the publication of the text took place so that the actual signing ceremony until recently was expected to take place at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius on 28thand 29thNovember 2013. Moreover, the conclusions of the European Council of 24th/25th October 2013 clearly express the European Union’s readiness to initiate similar agreements with the Republic of Moldova and Georgia at the Vilnius Summit, with the aim of signing them by autumn 2014.
So good so far, but still nobody seems to be satisfied; the reasons/constrains here arise from the nature of “market and technology”, in particular tensions in the market of oil and export/import commodities, that come as the result of Russia’s reaction to the “technology” of integration of post-Soviet countries into the larger European family. Russia’s response strategy in the given case is to offer EaP countries incentives, for instance credits to motivate them to join Russia’s upcoming project of the Eurasian Union. Otherwise, should they reject to join, EaP countries need to be ready to withstand different forms of political and economic pressure, which has for example already been experienced by Ukraine during the 10-day boycott of its national goods in August this year. Experts refer to Russia’s famous so called “soft blackmailing”, also when speaking of the reasons of the Ukrainian government’s decision to suspend preparations for signing an agreement with the EU. Regarding other countries involved, a rough calculus shows that due to the strong economic dependence on Russia, Armenia and Belarus are by now approaching the Eurasian Union rather than to be part of the EaP movement. As is the case of Azerbaijan, the same is also true for Belarus; the political leadership is rather reluctant to sacrifice its political powers in favour of more democratic governance practices in line with the requirements imposed by the EU within the Eastern partnership framework.
Apart from the general debate on political and economic effects the EU integration process might trigger, the key question here is what all of these integration endeavours can possibly mean to the young generation on both sides of the EU border. My answer would be that an enhanced cross-border movement as well as the greater involvement into the Erasmus programmes will be among the top benefits facilitating further cultural and scientific dialog. The latter, according to the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement will be conducted in the first line in the field of space industry while jointly developing the new “Galileo” navigation system to become an alternative to the GPS system of the US. Another possible positive improvement would be the mutually expanded employment opportunities. For instance, according to the recent conclusions of the European Council, there were 300 000 unfilled vacancies in ICT sector in EU in 2011: this could be a great opportunity for EaP countries with a strong IT development sector. At the same time the expected effect of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement would most likely open new employment opportunities for EU youth in the EaP area. To the intangible results, I would refer shared values and freedoms, greater mutual tolerance as well as enhanced political culture in the EaP countries. For now, no Eurasian Union can offer any of the above mentioned.
Thus limits for the given model remain unidentified, I would rather prefer they turn out to be the maximum benefit points for all the parties involved in the EaP integration. Much is going to depend on the outcomes of the Vilnius Summit and Ukraine’s former Prime Minister “prisoner’s” dilemma resolution. In terms of pressure from the northern neighbour, in my view, they can be taken as a constant variable and thus neglected. This means that for the given equation the decision of the Ukrainian government can be seen as the only independent variable to define the country’s future EU integration perspective and to signify the EU’s first major success story in the Eastern frontier.