2. Eastern Partnership: expectations VS reality
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- 3. Don’t look for friends or enemies, look for partner
Everybody likes to have friends. And the EU likes supporting those who call themselves “pro-European”, whether they are governments or NGOs. But most of the time, granting preferential treatment and extended honeymoons to whomever presents themselves as an EU ally does little good. One only needs to look back at the supposedly pro-European Yuschenko administration in Ukraine, which failed to enact any substantial reforms. Or Moldova’s Alliance for European Integration, under whose watch the country saw the biggest state-orchestrated theft in its history. While well-intended, Brussels’ support was often mistaken by local leaders as a carte blanche for their domestic politics.
In this way, the EU has “accentuated divisions and reproduced a fragmented and instable social order”, according to one study. It also judges that the EU’s “positive and partisan assessment and support of change agents and weakening of the opposition (as actors of oversight), has […] opened the way for abuse of power, including the instrumentalization of law, state structures and oversight institutions”.
In other words, when the EU takes sides on the basis of simplistic divisions, it deepens the polarisation in the region. This in turn undermines the EU’s credibility in the eyes of the population, reducing its influence and room for manoeuvre. Europe needs an unpartisan approach rooted in an understanding of the local possibilities: it should partner with those actors that can deliver reforms, irrespective of their current label.
- 4. Remember face-saving? It is
The EU often talks about win-win solutions – but when it comes to the EaP, it has been stingy in providing them. The case of Yuliya Tymoshenko’s imprisonment is most illustrative: Brussels made the release of Ukraine’s opposition leader, jailed on dubious legal grounds in 2011, one of the key factors determining the future of the country’s relationship with the EU. For then-President Yanukovych’s perspective, this created a zero-sum choice between his domestic political interests and Ukraine’s foreign policy goals. The EU’s position was morally right and understandable – and it indeed it was Yanukovych’s own flawed decision that has put him in that situation. In the end, however, it was the EU that backtracked and was willing to sign the Association Agreement even with Tymoshenko in prison. This would have further damaged its credibility.
Of course, win-win solutions are not always available; for example, membership in a Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union is simply not compatible with Ukraine or Moldova’s free trade agreement with the EU. But even here, the EU’s interests would be better served by transition periods and financial support that allow face-saving.
Finally, the EU needs to take a better note of domestic political realities in the region. In some cases, the EU’s reform demands resemble a Christmas wish-list made by a child oblivious to their parent’s financial means. Brussels is right to demand high standards and the best reforms possible, but it must be more aware of domestic political constraints: there are few reformers in the region and even those do not live in a political vacuum. Would an EU leader substantially increase the pension age or hike energy prices shortly before elections?
The EU should not drop its reform requirements, but demands and expectations should be adjusted to the local context. This will not provide an instant solution to the region’s many problems – which needs to come from the region itself. But it can help ease the EU’s long-suffered Eastern Partnership fatigue.
- 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