Nevertheless, the EaP has obvious shortcomings. Some are not the fault of EU action either (or the failure to act): for instance the fact that EaP countries (except Moldova) have poor records of democratisation, human rights, and fighting corruption. According to the Freedom House and Transparency International Rankings, the only positive remarks since the EaP project’s launch in 2009 are that there has been a substantial decrease in corruption in Georgia and surprisingly a small decrease in Belarus. Furthermore they noted an improvement in civil liberties in Georgia and Moldova. When it comes to the Southern Caucasus, it seems that nothing has changed, not to mention the tragic situation in Belarus and symptomatic decreases in all areas in Ukraine (according to the Freedom House analysis, after a few years of being “free” Ukraine is “partly free” again).
Another gauge is the case of fair elections and democratic elites. Apart from Georgia and Moldova who are positive exceptions, the other states have persistent problems in this area. To make matters worse, even more or less democratic elections (according to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s reports) in the region tend to “promote” pro-European leaders who are not necessarily democratic, for example in the Ukrainian presidential election in 2010.
Although the EU cannot influence election results it can obviously encourage chosen elites to stick to its norms. As we all know (see Belarus) it’s a very complicated challenge. Once again according to the ENP Review, it is said that the EU should act consistently with the “more for more” rule and introduce strict conditionality in cooperation with the EaP states. However, that’s already not the so called “critical engagement” method; in one of my previous entries I blamed it on something much more complex. EU credibility in the region might only be realised if it can outline a clear link between intensity of dialogue, support and cooperation it offers and the reforms they demand from the EaP states. Hence, situations like fostering energetic negotiations with the Azerbaijani government whilst turning a blind eye to violations of human rights in the country should no longer be tolerated.
What is also raised is the lack of interest of certain EU countries. Apart from the Visegrad Group, which states that it recently decided to find some extra funds to increase the EaP budget, it still seems that the most of European leaders do not perceive the EaP as something worthwhile.
From the dozens of bon mots I overheard during the 2-day EaP Summit however, the most frequently repeated was “it’s just the beginning”. Indeed, the EaP project has just been finishing the institutional framing phase. In the next two years, after the next summit (hopefully without a delay) we should be able to say whether those institutions actually work or whether the EaP is just another political l’art pour l’art full of European gobbledygook abbreviations without any sensible content.