1st Eastern Partnership forum,
Tbilisi, March 2012
|Formation||May 7, 2009|
|Region served||Eastern Europe|
The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is an initiative of the European Union governing their relationship with the post-Soviet states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, intended to provide a venue for discussions of trade, economic strategy, travel agreements, and other issues between the EU and its eastern neighbors. The project was initiated by Poland and a subsequent proposal was prepared in co-operation with Sweden. It was presented by the foreign minister of Poland and Sweden at the EU's General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels on 26 May 2008. The Eastern Partnership was inaugurated by the European Union in Prague on 7 May 2009.
The first meeting of foreign ministers in the framework of the Eastern Partnership was held on 8 December 2009 in Brussels.
The Eastern Partnership complements the Northern Dimension and the Union for the Mediterranean by providing an institutionalised forum for discussing visa agreements, free trade deals, and strategic partnership agreements with the EU's eastern neighbours, while avoiding the controversial topic of accession to the European Union. Its geographical scope consists of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Unlike the Union for the Mediterranean, the Eastern Partnership does not have its own secretariat, but is controlled directly by the European Commission.
It was discussed at the European Council on 19 and 20 June 2008, along with the Union for the Mediterranean. The Czech Republic endorsed the proposal completely, while Bulgaria and Romania were cautious, fearing that the Black Sea Forum for Partnership and Dialogue and the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation could be undermined. Meanwhile, Germany, France, and others were not quite happy with the possibility that the Eastern Partnership could be seen as a stepping stone to membership (especially for Ukraine), while Poland and other Eastern states have explicitly welcomed this effect.
The Eastern Partnership was officially launched when the Czech Republic invited the leaders of the six members of the initiative. Meanwhile, Germany attended the summit to signal their alarm at the economic situation in the East. Russia accused the EU of trying to carve out a new sphere of influence, which the EU denied, stating that they were "responding to the demands of these countries...and the economic reality is that most of their trade is done with the EU".
The Eastern Partnership consists of the post-Soviet states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and the European Union. There was much debate over whether to include Belarus, which the EU considers to be an authoritarian dictatorship. Belarus was eventually invited to participate due to EU concerns of too much Russian influence.
On 30 September 2011 Belarus seemingly withdrew from the initiative because of: "unprecedented discrimination" and a "substitution" of the principles on which it was built two years ago. However three days later Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov refuted this.
Institutions and aims
The Eastern Partnership is a forum aiming to improve the political and economic trade-relations of the six Post-Soviet states of "strategic importance" – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine with the European Union. Promotion of human rights and rule of law in former Soviet states has been reported to form the "core" of the policy of the Eastern Partnership. The EU draft of the EaP states that: "Shared values including democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights will be at its core, as well as the principles of market economy, sustainable development and good governance." The Partnership is to provide the foundation for new Association Agreements between the EU and those partners who have made sufficient progress towards the principles and values mentioned. Apart from values, the declaration says the region is of "strategic importance" and the EU has an "interest in developing an increasingly close relationship with its Eastern partners..."
The inclusion of Belarus prompts the question whether values or geopolitics are paramount in the initiative. EU diplomats agree that the country's authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has done little to merit involvement in the policy at this stage. But the EU fears Russia will strengthen its grip on Minsk if it is left out. It is, however, assumed that in the long-term, Lukashenko will become less important with time.
Apart from the largely symbolic Association Agreements, the Eastern Partnership process envisages legal "approximation" and joint "institution building," leading to the creation of a new free-trade zone embracing the 28 EU states and the six partners. The policy would see visa-free travel to the EU for the 76 million people – 46 million of them in Ukraine – living in the region. Steps toward "visa liberalisation" are to be taken on "a long-term perspective and on a case-by-case basis."
There are plans to model the concept on the Stabilisation and Association Process used by the EU in the Balkans, including a possible free trade area encompassing the countries in the region, similar to BAFTA or CEFTA. A future membership perspective is not ruled out, either.
The EC has earmarked €600 million for the six partner countries for the period 2010–13 as part of the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument, constituting about a quarter of the total funding available to the Eastern Partnership countries in this period. The funds will be used for three main purposes: Comprehensive Institution Building programmes, aimed at supporting reforms (approximately €175 million); Pilot regional development programmes, aimed at addressing regional economic and social disparities (approximately €75 million); and Implementation of the Eastern Partnership, focusing on democracy, governance and stability, economic integration and convergence with EU policies, energy security, and contacts between people with the aim of bringing the partners closer to the EU (approximately €350 million).
Eastern Partnership and EU-Ukraine bilateral relations
Ukraine is one of six post-Soviet nations to be invited to co-operate with the EU within the new multilateral framework that the Eastern partnership is expected to establish. However, Kiev pointed out that it remains pessimistic about the "added value" of this initiative. Indeed, Ukraine and the EU have already started the negotiations on new, enhanced political and free-trade agreements (Association and Free-Trade Agreements). Also, there has been some progress in liberalising the visa regime despite persistent problems in the EU Member States' visa approach towards Ukrainians.
That is why Ukraine has a specific view of the Eastern Partnership Project. According to the Ukrainian presidency, it should correspond, in case of his country, to the strategic foreign policy objective, i.e. the integration with the EU. Yet, the Eastern Partnership documents (the European Council Declaration of May 2009) do not confirm such priorities as political and economic integration or lifting visas.
Ukraine has expressed enthusiasm about the project. Ukraine deputy premier Hryhoriy Nemyria said that the project is the way to modernise the country and that they welcome the Eastern Partnership policy, because it uses 'de facto' the same instruments as for EU candidates.
Under the Eastern Partnership, Poland and Ukraine have reached a new agreement replacing visas with simplified permits for Ukrainians residing within 30 km of the border. Up to 1.5 million people may benefit from this agreement which took effect on 1 July 2009.
Relationship with Russia
Russia has voiced concerns over the Eastern Partnership, seeing it as an attempt to expand the European Union's “sphere of influence” in the quest for oil. Russia has also expressed concerns that the EU is putting undue pressure on Belarus by suggesting it might be marginalised if it follows Russia in recognising the independence of the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. “Is this promoting democracy or is it blackmail? It's about pulling countries from the positions they want to take as sovereign states”, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has stated.
“The Eastern Partnership is not about spheres of influence. The difference is that these countries themselves opted to join”, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said at the Brussels Forum. The EU's position on Georgia is not 'blackmail' but “is about upholding the principles of the EU and international law, which Russia should also be respecting”, he added. He did not comment on whether Sweden respects these principles in the case of the Serbian breakaway region of Kosovo.
November 2009 President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed the Eastern Partnership as useless: “Frankly speaking, I don't see any special use (in the program) and all the participants of this partnership are confirming this to me”. However a few days later Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia does not rule out joining the EU's Eastern Partnership programme.
Russia keeps a stand of opposition towards EPP. For instance, after the Warsaw Summit 2011 of the EPP, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pointed that regarding the economic crisis in the EU, Ukraine would probably not join the EU. Instead of joining the EU, Putin offered a Russia – Ukraine relationship which would provide a more competitive and productive economic process.
The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum
The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (CSF) is an integral part of the Eastern Partnership program and creates a significant and institutional platform for civil society organisations to monitor and discuss the developments regarding democracy building and human rights development in the six partnership countries. The CSF meets annually to discuss the latest developments and to set their working program. The first three meetings have been in Brussels in 2009, Berlin in 2010 and Poznan in 2011. The fourth meeting of the CSF took place in Stockholm on 29–30 November 2012.
Although the Eastern Partnership was inaugurated on 7 May 2009, academic research critically analysing the policy is becoming available by early 2010 Research findings from a UK ESRC research project examining the EU's relations with three Eastern Partnership member states, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova notes both conceptual and empirical dilemmas. First, conceptually the EU has limited uniform awareness of what it is trying to promote in its eastern neighbourhood under the aegis of 'shared values', 'collective norms' and ‘joint ownership'. Secondly, empirically, the EU seems to favour a ‘top-down’ governance approach (based on rule/norm transfer and conditionality) in its relations with outsiders, which is clearly at odds with a voluntary idea of 'partnership', and explicitly limits the input of 'the other' in the process of reform.
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- Civil Society Forum
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eastern Partnership.|
- European External Action Service: Eastern Partnership (europa.eu)
- Eastbook.eu – Portal on Eastern Partnership: Eastbook.eu
- Eastern Partnership Community: Eastern Partnership Community (easternpartnership.org)
- Europeanizing or Securitizing the 'outsiders'? Assessing the EU's partnership-building approach with Eastern Europe
- The Eastern Partnership – an ambitious new chapter in the EU's relations with its Eastern neighbours (europa.eu, 3 December 2008)
- European Council – Conclusions (Declaration in annex II) (europa.eu, 19–20 March 2009)
- Eastern Partnership Summit (eu2009.cz, 7 May 2009)
- Joint Declaration of the Eastern Partnership Summit (europa.eu, 7 May 2009)
- Conference Eastern Partnership: Towards Civil Society Forum
- Eastern Partnership: The Opening Report – submitted by the Polish Institute of International Affairs (www.pism.pl, April 2009)
- Marcin Łapczyński: The European Union's Eastern Partnership: Chances and Perspectives – submitted by the Caucasian Review of International Affairs (www.cria-online.org, Spring 2009)
- Sebastian Schäffer und Dominik Tolksdorf: „The Eastern Partnership – ‚ENP plus‘ for Europe's Eastern neighbors“, CAPerspectives, 4/2009.
- Sebastian Schäffer und Dominik Tolksdorf: „The EU member states and the Eastern Neighbourhood – From composite to consistent EU foreign policy?“, CAP Policy Analysis, August 2009.
- "Polish-Swedish Proposal: Eastern Partnershi", June 2008.