Eastern Partnership: what is behind the new EaP acronym?

Monday, 1. June 2009     0 comment(s)
Hanna Ojanen
Visiting Researcher - The European Union research programme

The EU’s Eastern Partnership, officially launched on 7 May, is the newest addition to the EU’s spectrum of neighbourhood policies and initiatives to enhance relations with countries in its immediate vicinity. The Eastern Partnership, or EaP, aims at strengthening the EU’s relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan,Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and also with Belarus, depending on how its relations with the EU overall develop, and that is, of its internal situation. What is envisaged as a goal are association agreements including deep and comprehensive free trade agreements,gradual integration in the EU economy and easier travel to the EU through gradual visa liberalisation. The goals also include promotion of democracy and good governance, strengthening of energy security, promotion of environment protection, people to people contacts and various concrete measures to, e.g., reduce socio-economic imbalances and increase stability.

All this sounds obviously good. And still, on a closer look, the EaP shows that the EU seems to ignore what other countries want from it, and unable to say what it wants from them. It also lacks the courage to differentiate among the neighbours. In the background, there is a misperception that all these countries want to join the Union, and very quickly so. Instead, there might be a risk that in the end, they do not really want to join. This, then, would be a problem far more serious than that of finding ways to deal with eager applicants.

While the EaP has sometimes been characterised as giving something more to those who are seeking closer relations with the EU, one may wonder what that “more” is, and for how long “those” will keep an interest in closer relations.

These problems could be understandable if the EaP was the first ever blueprint for the EU’s neighbourhood policy. But it is not. There are so many of these already that we risk running short of acronyms. Soon no doubt numbers have to be used, and in some years’ time, we’ll see the new neighbourhood policy E2N2P2

Returning to the claims above about ignoring what the others want and not being able to tell what it wants from the neighbours, they are shown by the EU’s tendency to lump together countries that have little in common except for being neighbours to the EU – and they are also shown when the EU manages to offer countries like Ukraine something “more” that does look like something “less”.

The EU, thus, for some mysterious reason of coherence, creates strange groupings that also overlap with other groups of its own creation. Think about Black Sea Synergy, a recent initiative from 2007 that comprises the very same countries except for Belarus and also aims at democratic and economic reform, stability, concrete projects and the like. What is wrong with it? The name? Does one need a new initiative every year?

Further, all this leads to continuous efforts at explaining how the various initiatives all come nicely together, how they complement each other, and how none of these is forgotten when new ones are invented. This gives a confusing picture of the overall aims of the EU, not only to the neighbours, but also to the third states – like Russia and Turkey, who are generously given the possibility to take part in some of the activities. But why would they be interested in taking part if there is no added value to be seen? The third states also have initiatives of their own, like the Turkey-originated Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform from last year.

The main problem behind this lack of clarity is that there is no real enlargement policy as a policy. The EU fails to use the trust and commitment to the Union that interested outsiders could give, and instead panics about them all wanting to join now. The panicking leads to strange signals being given, for instance when refusing, fearing an immediate link to enlargement, to use the words “European countries” about the EaP’s, calling them “Eastern partner countries” instead, or using formulas like the French “Partenariat Oriental” that really makes them feel very remote. Such signals decrease the attractiveness of the EU and nurture the ideas that EaP is an alternative to membership, and that enlargement is becoming less and less likely to continue. In the long run, the EU faces the risk that it is no longer the neighbours that try to catch its attention, but it is the EU that has to try to catch their attention – and it might then be too late.

This was originally my introduction at a panel in a TEPSA-UI-SIEPS conference on the Swedish EU presidency last Thursday.

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