Conference reports The Future of the Eastern Partnership Policy
Last month Baltic Worlds' reporter visited two conferences being held in Poland with the aim of discussing the one and half year of EU’s Eastern Partnership Policy (EaP) and trying to generate new proposals for the future work of the EU towards Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus. The main aim of the EaP is to promote democracy and economic integration with the Union of the six countries involved in the program, which is not an easy task.
Published on balticworlds.com on december 17, 2010
One year and a half have lapsed since the EU’s Eastern Partnership Policy (EaP) was inaugurated at a meeting in Prague in May 2009, after having been initiated by Poland and Sweden in the form of a joint proposal to the European Commission.
The main aim of the EaP is to promote democracy and economic integration with the Union of the six countries involved in the program, which is not an easy task. The EU policy is directed to the following countries: Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus. Looking at this region from the view of the Black Sea, and having a geopolitical perspective in mind, one can clearly see one of the reasons why those disparate countries have been placed in one and the same policy box by the EU.
By putting together Armenia and Azerbaijan with countries like Ukraine and Moldova, the EU can push aside the difficult question of whether to be open to a discussion of future membership for the latter two countries, where such aspirations can indeed be found. Neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan has ever raised the question of membership and are very unlikely to do so.
It is also true that the EaP reflects the need for an individual approach to each of the six countries being addressed by the project. For each of these countries, the EU faces understandable difficulties in the articulation and concretization of its policy in the framework of the EaP.
Last month I visited two conferences being held in Poland with the aim of discussing the one and half year of EaP Policy and trying to generate new proposals for the future work of the EU towards those countries.
The first conference was held in Kraków and was organized by the Krakow-center Villa Decius and attended by politicians such as the former Ukrainian minister of foreign affairs, Borys Tarasiuk, and former president of Belarus, Vjietjeslav Sjusjkievitj, and former vice president of the European Parliament, Janusz Onyszkiewicz, and many representatives from different NGOs from all the six countries included in the EaP program.
The second and larger conference was held in Lublin and organized by the Polish Institute of Foreign Affairs – PISM – a conference that can be considered a starting point for the Polish initiatives to be taken during 2011, when first Hungary, and from the first of July, Poland will act as the chairman of the European Union. The Polish government has already stated that putting new initiatives and incentive into the Eastern Partnership Policy will be one of several priorities during its period of being the chair of the EU next year.
The Lublin conference was marked by a wide presence of people from different NGOs in all the six countries. Promoting democracy in countries where there is such an evident lack of democracy as in Azerbaijan or Belarus, or promoting democracy in a country such as Ukraine, where the democratic gains being made in the wake of the orange revolution seem to be threatened, makes it clear that the NGOs must have a central role in the policy of the EU.
It’s not possible even to summarize all the points discussed during those two conferences. I will just point to one crucial question which was raised during the discussions at both conferences: How shall the EU balance its policy between keeping good and working contact with regimes who are either directly undemocratic – as for instance the Lukashenko regime in Belarus – and promoting democracy-building initiatives through civil society organizations? It is a difficult problem to solve, especially given that one of the cornerstones of the EU policy, besides the support for NGOs, is and probably must be that the governmental and parliamentary organization has a key role in building the necessary institutional framework for economic integration and a democratization of the political framework.
The dilemma is seen today, a month before the presidential elections in Belarus, where on the one hand the EU wants to put harder pressure on the regime of Lukashenko and the same time both supports the democratic opposition and the possible positive initiatives of Lukashenko himself!
The dilemma will be even more difficult, and of course even more important to solve, if (when) the election results are falsified.
The dilemma for EU policy can also be seen in the approach towards Ukraine after the last local elections and the undemocratic steps being taken by president Janukovic before these elections. On the one hand, the negotiations with Ukraine concerning a so-called deep and comprehensive free trade agreement are very advanced. In order to speed up this process and also in order create new incentives to foster both economical and political integration with the EU, the question raised long ago by the Ukrainians concerning visa-free travel to the EU (EU citizens have been traveling freely to Ukraine since 2004) must be addressed: it would seem natural for the EU to concretize the requirement which has to be fulfilled by Ukraine if visa-free traveling is to be allowed. We all know that there are a lot of technical questions concerning border controls and so on if the visa-obligations are to be lifted. But taking into consideration that one of the main aims and one of the basic requirements put down in the ”founding” documents for the EaP policy is that any integration should be built on further democratizations, the questions arise as to how those requirements and those stipulations should be formulated, concretized, and controlled.
Supporting the democracy-building process from below is a good policy to work towards, and together with the official political governmental institutions, is visible also in countries such as Ukraine or Georgia.
The upcoming elections in Moldova, the only country of the six countries included in the EaP where we have observed a positive democratic development since the EaP was introduced, might, if the Communist Party makes a good showing, raise an acute problem for the EU policy towards this country, as well.
During the conferences mentioned, all those questions were raised. Proposals were formulated, but no solutions presented. Next year, when first Hungary, and then Poland, take over the chairmanship of the European Union, the EaP policy of the European Union will be put higher up on the agenda. The Polish government has already promised to raise fresh initiatives for the policy towards the neighboring countries east of Poland.