Saturday, 17 December 2011 23:18

... but it's just the beginning

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I recently took part in a survey gauging opinion after the Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit held in Warsaw at the end of September. Two of the three possible answers were overwhelmingly negative, whilst the last one was extremely positive. It struck me as dumb. Even though I really like westerns, such a black or white description does not adhere to “the EaP reality” at all.

What did the Summit achieve? First of all, it contradicted the popular thesis that because of the Arab spring, the EU has stopped engaging with its Eastern partners. In fact, I would argue that thanks to the Arab insurgents, the EU leaders have understood some of their previous mistakes (e.g. too cordial fraternisation with authoritarian rulers). According to the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) Review presented by the enlargement and neighbourhood policy commissioner Štefan Füle in May - the EU's “new response to a changing neighbourhood” should be based on concepts such as “deep democracy” and “partnership with societies”. This is perhaps a clear sign (and surely a bitter lesson of the Union for the Mediterranean's failures) that EU leaders have comprehended that their partners (in the East as well as the South) shouldn’t be understood as the undemocratic governing elites but rather the people: civil societies, NGOs, non-state actors etc present in civil society .

There have already been some signs of change in the EU’s actions – like almost doubling the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights’ (EIDHR) budget (only in the EaP region though). Furthermore, the European External Action Service (EEAS) has added its two pennies worth with the idea of the Civil Society Facility and the Endowment for Democracy (finally!) that aims to support NGOs, the rule of law and good governance practices in the EaP states. Although the last summit failed to notice the importance of non-state actors despite the Civil Society Forum’s (CSF) several requests to be invited to the official meeting.

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.

EU credibility in the region might only be realised if it can outline a clear link between intensity of dialogue, support, and cooperation... and the reforms they demand.

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.

Last modified on Sunday, 18 December 2011 19:21
Ziemowit Jóźwik

Ziemowit Jóźwik is 23. Coming from Bieliny, a small village in the Holy Cross Mountains (Poland), he is now based in the more well known city of Krakow. Having written for Europe & Me since Issue 5 he will now take on the challenge of expanding our knowledge of the eastern borders of the European landscape. His blog will explore how European issues are understood 'under Eastern eyes.'

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