European Union has a lot of policies which are ruled by different incentives. One of them is the EU's neighborhood policy. It is a set of procedures and meetings with non-EU countries aimed at developing external relations in different spheres. It may have a different character such as economical and trade, political or humanitarian. Its scope was created in 2004. The EU in the frame on the neighborhood policy cooperates with the countries beyond the organization.
The Eastern Partnership (EaP) was one of the initiatives which were made on the behalf of this neighborhood policy. It was established in 2008. The partnership in question should be understood as a kind of invitation to closer cooperation with the EU. This policy is realized by providing advisory, technical and financial assistance to post-soviet countries. The participants, therefore, carry out reforms aimed at expanding democracy and the rule of law within their borders. The willingness of being a part of the EU is also considered as some of the participators are very interested in joining the EU community.
Perhaps with establishing of the EaP, the European Union pursued the possibility of building the loyal relations with the neighbor non-EU countries which could also be in the area of Russian influence. Thus in 2008, the project appeared. Poland and Sweden were its initiators, to which afterward joined six post-soviet countries. Since then, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine belong to the partnership. One of the major aims of starting the cooperation with those six countries was the extension of European views in this territory and support of contributing countries in their integration with the EU.
The first summit of the EaP was held in Praga. In 2009 those six countries signed the declaration with the Union representatives, which was based on three key points. The first one was the deeper bilateral engagement between the EU and the participating countries. The second was the focus on multilateral cooperation. Accordingly, participants of the summit stated that there will be meetings between heads of state or government of the Eastern Partnership held in principle every two years. The sessions will take place in the EU and will be hosted by the participants. The meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs will be scheduled every year respectively. The last statement was about the funding of reforms in the partners’ countries. Regarding to that fact, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development were involved in funding process. The banks ensured the provision of some assistance to the countries in question.
In the very beginning, the declarations of both sides happened to be very promising and extensive. With the passage of time, the situation has changed. But there is a need to take a closer look at the problem. What the strengthening of ties with EU has brought for above mentioned countries? The last summit in Brussels in 2017 has shown which of the EaP members follow its statement and are interested in cooperating with the EU in more approachable manner and which are uninterested in accelerating the reform process.
Still, there are no fully "successful" cases of the EaP, but there is some advance in actions which occurred in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. As a result, in 2014 EU and Moldova signed the DCFTA agreement (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas), the visa-free regime has been already placed with the EU, the membership in the Energy Community was obtained in early 2010. Apart from that, there are still serious doubts with regard to the prevalence of conflicts of interests, unclear links between politics and business. The big issue is also widespread corruption. Accordingly, the reforms which can help to integrate the Republic of Moldova with the Union are postponed for a while.
Georgia has been making also some progress for 6 years in the EaP. The country has the visa-free regime with the EU and the free trade agreement signed in 2014. During the same year the talks about the association with Energy Community started. With the dismissal of the minister of defense, Irakli Alasania, and the minister of foreign affairs, Maia Panjikidze, who had pro-western foreign-policy orientation, the political crisis in Georgia erupted. The issue has brought instability and concerns about further political orientation.
Ukraine became the member of the Energy Community in 2007 and signed the agreement of deep and comprehensive FTA in 2014. Thanks to the EaP, the Ukrainians as well as the Georgians and the Moldovans, can travel to the EU zone without visas. To achieve certain level of social and economic integration Ukraine was compelled to proceed with structural reforms, such as anti-corruption and police reforms. Nevertheless, those ones were implemented slowly. The additional negative influence comes from the weak economy caused by war in the East part of Ukraine. This brings the withdrawal of investors and elimination of small business. The political coalition which is formed from 5 parties also leaves much to be desired. They have different views on the situation in the country and cannot agree on one strategy.
In the case of Armenia, there are a lot of positive changes during its participation in the EaP. It took Armenia less than 3 years to negotiate under the DCFTA. However, country in question has retained its observers status in the Energy Community since 2011. In 2013 Armenian authorities decided to join the Eurasian Customs Union, to which Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan belong. Similarly, Armenia is looking for a balance between the cooperation with the EU and Russia on the economic plane. The country is currently less involved in the Partnership as it was in 2009. Although the most common ways of developing cooperation are DCFTA agreements, visa-free regime and partnership in the Energy Community. The EU also proposes different ways of partnership. For example, Armenia signed a comprehensive and expanded partnership agreement.
It is worth mentioning that progress was achieved in negotiations on a new framework agreement with Azerbaijan. In fact, Azerbaijan is interested in developing cooperation with the EU in energy research and technology only. This country is rich in oil and involved in multilateral cooperation in the global market. For Azerbaijan it is important to balance relations with the EU, the USA, and Russia.
Belarus has a so-called semi-frozen relationship with the Union within the EaP, owing to Belarusian autocratic regime and close relations with Russia. Additionally, Belarus has also poor practice in humans rights protection. Such situations as with political prisoners, which has not been yet released from Belarusian prisons for years are not acceptable for the EU. The recent movement in relation EU-Belarus is a new Coordination Group which was created after the last summit in 2017.
To draw the line, the current foreign policy of each government is built on the ties of this country with international organizations and other countries. The EU is using its neighborhood policy as a way to gain allies in today's complicated and conflicted reality. The EaP now is not about joining the Union, is about trade facilitation and sharing democratic values. For some reasons, the Partnership may be perceived as a platform used for manipulation and strengthening the EU influence among contributing countries. But in a way, this approach may reduce the number of conflicts which can arise inside the EaP or with the EU. Even being involved in trade cooperation (DCFTA, membership in the Energy Community) may put conflicting countries in a position where they have something to lose.
Nonetheless, the EaP remains a forum for discussion and cooperation where the countries can negotiate their terms. Negotiation advantage of participating countries can be trifling. That is because the most rules of the game are set by the Union, but is the majority of them harmful to the countries? Future steps of the Partnership countries will lead to progress or stagnation in their relations with the EU and the consequences of these decisions may be visible in the years to come.
Council of the European Union, Joint Declaration of the Eastern Partnership Summit, http://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/31758/final-statement-st14821en17.pdf
European Commission, Eastern Partnership, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/neighbourhood/eastern-partnership_en
European Union External Action, Eastern Partnership summit: leaders take stock of progress towards stronger cooperation, https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/36171/eastern-partnership-summit-leaders-take-stock-progress-towards-stronger-cooperation_en
Grzegorz Gromadzki, The Eastern Partnership after five years: time for deep rethinking, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2015/536438/EXPO_STU(2015)536438_EN.pdf
K. Kłysiński, T. Iwański, K. Całus, Ukraina, Mołdawia i Białoruś wobec Partnerstwa Wschodniego, OSW, https://www.osw.waw.pl/pl/publikacje/analizy/2017-11-22/ukraina-moldawia-i-bialorus-wobec-partnerstwa-wschodniego