May 18, 2019

The Eastern Partnership Crisis and Conclusions for Ukraine

Roman Kot

This week, Brussels celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership (EaP). This format, after the ten Central and Eastern European countries' joining the EU in 2004, was to answer the question: “What has to be done with the six other states on eastern borders of the European Union?” At the first stage of work of the EaP, the answer was found. However, after Russia's aggression against Ukraine in the Crimea and the Donbas, it became clear that the European Union had to change its policy towards its eastern partners. Then the changes took place, and Ukraine received almost the most benefits among all the six countries of the Eastern Partnership, but today they clearly do not satisfy Ukraine. Today, the need to move on is on the agenda again. But where to go — each country sees differently.


What Has Been Done

On the one hand, the achieved — is really a success. The association agreements with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, the visa-free regime and the reorientation of exports from Russia to the EU countries can even be considered successful, given the security environment that is unfavorable for all the countries of the Eastern Partnership. In five out of the six, relevant remain the unresolved armed conflicts, in which Russia is involved. Belarus managed to avoid this only at the cost of economic and political dependence on the Kremlin. This, as well as the common Soviet past with the peculiarities of the mentality, the structure of society and government, are the few things that unite the six states.

Much more factors separate them. It is revealing that during Foreign Affairs Ministerial Meeting of the EU and Eastern Partnership countries that took place on May 13 in Brussels, and was dedicated to the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership, did not even manage to agree on a joint statement. Azerbaijan did not like the lack of references to the territory of Nagornyi-Karabakh, occupied by Armenia. Obviously, if such clauses were included, the declaration would not be signed by Armenia. The solution to this pathetic situation was never found, therefore, the statement prepared earlier was issued only in the form of “Chair's Conclusions on the Occasion of the Eastern Partnership 10th Anniversary”. But even that statement was as vague as possible.

10th Anniversary of the Eastern Partnership: Foreign Affairs Ministerial Meeting, May 13, Brussels 10th Anniversary of the Eastern Partnership: High Level Conference, May 14, Brussels
10th Anniversary of the Eastern Partnership: Foreign Affairs Ministerial Meeting
and the High Level Conference

In particular, the conclusions point out that the 10th anniversary is the moment “to renew our unwavering support for these fundamental values and principles which lie at the heart of our Partnership”, as well as to reaffirm the joint commitments enshrined in the Eastern Partnership summits declarations. And by and large, that's all.


Clouded Prospects

Neither on the results of Foreign Affairs Ministerial Meeting of May 13, nor during the High Level Conference on May 14, Brussels voiced any ideas on how to further develop the Eastern Partnership. The only new message was proposed by Foreign Minister of Poland Jacek Czaputowicz.

Foreign Minister of Poland Jacek Czaputowicz
Foreign Minister of Poland Jacek Czaputowicz

The head of the Polish Foreign Ministry proposed to create a secretariat to manage the already existing systems in the Eastern Partnership platforms and panels, which could serve as a tool to build common positions of the six countries and present ideas and act more closely together.

Another possible direction for the development of the Eastern Partnership is to introduce a rotating presidency of the EaP countries. According to Jacek Czaputowicz's plan, it would also allow for more cooperation with the troika of EU Presidencies and with EU institutions in planning and delivering the political agenda. The country holding the presidency could also host an annual high-level meeting on a subject that is important for further integrating the region with the EU.

However, these ideas did not even receive a clear assessment by Johannes Hahn, EU-Commissioner for European Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations or Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and therefore they can be considered stillborn.

To some extent, such an attitude of EU leaders can be explained by the fact that their term of office is running to its end this year, and that the composition of the European Commission should be updated this autumn. Besides, we should not forget about the elections to the European Parliament, which will be held on May 23–26. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the Eastern Partnership is perceived differently in Brussels and in capitals across the border of the EU.

The Eastern Partnership (EaP)
The Eastern Partnership (EaP)

To the European Union, this is the format that can be very conventionally called “Roman Empire — Barbarians”. It is important for the European Union to ensure stability and linking the six countries to the EU, but at least three out of six countries (Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova) are looking for more. That is why, in the short term, the main focus of the EU will be on the implementation of “Eastern Partnership — 20 Deliverables for 2020”, adopted at 2017 summit. It is about reform, civil society development, improving transport infrastructure, as well as education and environment, but without a prospect of EU membership. From the point of view of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, this is not enough, but the possibilities to change this situation are limited.

An additional factor is the change in the moods within the European Union. Turning to the right-wing populism is already obvious, which will undoubtedly influence the new composition of the European Commission and the European Parliament. More about this — in our previous material.


Conclusions for Ukraine

In the situation where more and more efforts are being made on the European direction, the newly elected President of Ukraine and the Ukrainian diplomacy need to modernize their foreign policy and redistribute their efforts. In particular, it is necessary to finally realize the lack of prospects for EU membership even in the medium term. At this, we are not calling to give up cooperation with the European Union, we just suggest focusing on the implementation of the Association Agreement and, if necessary, its revision, and to use the revealed resources to promote Ukrainian interests in other regions where Ukrainian exports can win competitive struggle.

Another direction is the contacts with other centers of power, as well as restoration of regional projects with the participation of the Eastern Partnership countries, in order to turn Kyiv into an intermediary between global players and the states of the Eastern Partnership. All this will restore the subjectivity of the Ukrainian state and will return it to the proper place in the world.