Is there any future for the Eastern Partnership?

Posted on 18. December 2015

by Michal Gulczynski

michal-gulczynskiThe Eastern Partnership (EaP) is in trouble. Out of the six member countries, five have contested borders, while the sixth is run by dictator. The EaP is no longer on the short list of priorities of the European Union and in this time of multiple crises – Greece, refugees, terrorist attacks, the coming referendum on Brexit or consistently growing nationalism, confirmed in the recent elections in Poland and France – it has almost completely disappeared from European media. Moreover, the initiators and most ardent supporters, Carl Bildt and Radek Sikorski, are now absent from European politics. In this situation, is there any future for EaP?

I agree with Zuzana Novakova that a concerted strategy in the Neighbourhood Policy is needed. However, it seems that nobody, neither in the EU administration, nor among the national politicians, currently has any interest in deepening the relations with Russian neighbours. Unfortunately, the lack of visionaries like Bildt or Sikorski is noticeable. Sweden is now focused on the refugee crisis and the new Polish government, although mooning about becoming a regional power, still has not presented its plans concerning EaP.

The European leaders should believe in this project again. It has really had a positive impact not only on the development of political cooperation between the EU and EaP countries, but also on their societies. The elections in Ukraine show that the Ukrainian society (both in the West and in the East) is turning more pro-European. According to opinion surveys, support for integration with the EU has grown since 2012, not only in the western part of the country, but also in the centre and south.

Last November, at the 2015 Berlin Foreign Policy Forum, Carl Bildt explained – in the presence of the Russian ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov – that the Eastern Partnership was created because the post-Soviet countries had been neglected for several years during which EU foreign policy focused mainly on Russia and that contrary to what Russia claims, all the agreements signed in the scope of EaP were compatible with the agreements between EaP countries and Russia.

In the current situation, the EU should not be scared about the possible reactions of Russia and go back to the roots – to the idea of using EaP as a platform for deepening the relations between EU and its Eastern partners. After all, EaP was created to balance between Russia and smaller post-Soviet countries in European foreign policy.

However, it is difficult to think about accession or even deeper integration, when it is not even clear, where a country’s borders are. The Armenian-Azeri conflict will not be solved without external mediation, nor the conflicts with direct Russian involvement: in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will be. That is why the main aim of the EaP should not be a premature signing of any agreements. Instead, it should aim to stabilise, step by step, the internal and external situation of the EaP countries. A good example of this approach is Serbia, which has just opened the first two chapters in negotiations to join EU. One of them is precisely on the relations with its former province, Kosovo.

The EU can play a decisive role in stabilising the situation of EaP countries and in their development, so it should not hesitate to engage more. The question is: who will take responsibility and who will put the EaP back at the top of the EU foreign policy agenda?