1 – Europe’s Unanswered ‘Eastern Question’
Balkans Baltics Germany Europe Ukraine
- The fifth Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit holds the potential for much greater transformation of the eastern neighbourhood than most EU member states are currently prepared to try to achieve.
- Since its inception in 2008, the EaP has evolved in response to changing circumstances. But it still falls short of a transformative programme that would properly serve both the EU and reform-minded forces in partnership states, as well as bolstering their sovereignty and resilience to Russian pressure.
- The rise of populism inside Europe and a resurgent Russia outside may have quieted talk of long-term EU expansion. But any downgrading of the EaP would only reduce the security of Europe as a whole.
- Ukraine is the largest and most important EaP country. The EU can achieve more consistent progress on reform here by giving greater consideration to the different forces at work inside Ukraine. ‘Smarter’ reforms can still achieve more, without extra resources or new initiatives.
- The EU should stay the course on the EaP. It should frontload as many beneficial policies as possible, and communicate the merit of these to the peoples of the region more effectively than it has done in the past.
TO ISOLATE OR TO TRANSFORM?
From its very beginning in 2008, the EaP asked target states to transform themselves according to the EU’s Copenhagen criteria – but only so far. After the expansions of 2004 and 2007 there was no agreement as to whether expansion should go further. Some EU member states thought that the six states which became partnership countries should be encouraged to catch up. Others thought that absorbing the 12 new members that joined in 2004 and 2007 would be difficult enough. And so the EaP always had multiple readings written into its DNA.
For some EU countries, it was a route to an ever-closer relationship with eastern Europe, with eventual EU membership not ruled out; to others, it was an alternative to expansion. For most member states it was a waiting room until such a time as a choice could be made. And although a policy of the EU-28, the EaP asked little of sceptical member states, which were able to leave both policy details and high politics to the European Commission and activist countries like Sweden, Poland, and the Baltic states.
The EaP was calibrated so as to create small incentives for many of the particular reforms that accession states had been required to make. But the question remained open as to what would happen if any partnership state managed to complete an entire programme of reform and become EU-compatible.
The partnership was designed with many of the same tools, and by many of the same people, from the big accession years of 2004 and 2007. Over time the EaP has evolved to offer Association Agreements, Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTAs), and Visa Liberalisation Action Plans (VLAPs).
These involve much bigger chunks of the acquis, but the rewards for adoption are not fixed and are up to Brussels. The partnership states have complained that the crucial target of visa-free travel was delayed even after they had met all the targets in their VLAPs.
In short, the question went unanswered of whether a policy of consolidating and protecting the interests of a (now) 28-state EU would be best served by moderate change in the east or by hard barriers against it; by transformation (to a greater or lesser extent) or isolation.
On the whole, the EaP was still an end-of-history policy: it assumed that the ‘Brussels model’ was attractive, and would spread. The will to transform was muted from the start, leaving the EU uncertain as to the right trajectory of the policy and final destination of participating countries.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at : eu/