Eastern Partnership – prospects for the multilateral dimension

Evolution of the EaP multilateral institutional dimension (2009-2019). New initiatives and proposals for the reorganization of the EaP institutional framework (2019-2021). Prospects for differentiation within the EaP multilateral format.

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Hennadiy Maksak, Executive Director at the Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism”

Evolution of the EaP multilateral institutional dimension (2009-2019)

The basic institutional dimension of multilateral cooperation in the framework of the EU’s Eastern Partnership policy was laid down in the Declaration of the Eastern Partnership Inaugural Summit in Prague in 2009. Most notably, the document mentions that the multilateral mechanism of the Eastern Partnership will operate according to the joint decisions of the EU and the member-countries; create a forum for exchanging experiences on the partners’ success in reforms and modernization; add to the development of common positions and initiatives; strengthen ties between partner countries; and become a platform for discussions on the future development of the Eastern Partnership. The multilateral format was also intended to create systemic preconditions for the legislative and regulatory rapprochement of partners with the EU. The introduction of the conditionality and differentiation of principles, as well as the implementation of this policy, in addition to the existing bilateral tracks of cooperation between the European Union and each of the partner countries, became important Eastern Partnership features.

In the organizational and institutional format, they introduced the Heads of State and Government meetings to be held once every two years (EaP Summits), as well as the Ministers of Foreign Affairs’ meetings to be held every year.

The intergovernmental dimension of multilateral cooperation was formed around  four platform activities: 1. Democracy, good governance, and stability; 2. Economic integration and approximation to the EU sectoral policies; 3. Energy security; 4. Contacts between people. The intergovernmental platforms meeting took place twice a year, with the European Union institutions’ representatives, the EU and EaP government agencies, and some invited institutions taking part in them. Sectoral work was performed at the level of separate thematic panels. They reported the platforms’ activities’ results during the meetings of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and other relevant EaP ministries.

The 2009 Prague Summit also set down the fundamental basis for the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly (EURONEST PA) and the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum. Broad cross-sectoral stakeholders’ involvement in the Eastern Partnership institutions activities became another important point.[1]

Later, the multilateral cooperation architecture was complemented by the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP), as well as the Eastern Partnership Business Forum. During the operation of these multilateral platforms, taking into account the political transformations in the Eastern Partnership region, some weaknesses in EaP activities became noticeable in this dimension, most notably the European Union’s reluctance to recognize EU membership prospects for three partner countries stating such ambitions, as well as significant political differences in the six partners’ positions, weakened the development of their common position. The summits’ declarations, which can be considered the main political guidelines for EaP development, took the form of some refined manifestos with low-level diplomatic language, and that did not allow for seeing the real outlines of the Eastern dimension of the European Neighborhood Policy. The difference between partners’ expectations and the EU proposal became especially apparent after the onset of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

In general, the multilateral format was not very interesting for the vast majority of the partner countries, as, in terms of the dynamics and resources, it significantly lagged behind the bilateral level of cooperation with the EU.

In 2014, the signing of the Association Agreements with the EU became another additional motivating factor for Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia in strengthening their integration processes and had natural influence on the deepening of partner countries’ informal division into two camps, depending on their level of cooperation with the EU: they split into three other “associated” partners with a differentiated level of participation. In  turn, this succeeded in further weakening the efficiency of the EaP institutional framework, designed exclusively for all six partners.

In 2015, the EU initiated reviewing Eastern Partnership foundations and mechanism. Despite the broad expert discourse on the need to reform an inefficient institutional approach and provide additional opportunities for leadership integration, the overall approach to the multilateral dimension inclusiveness remained unchanged.

However, in 2016-2017, in the EU, they made an attempt to increase the political attractiveness of the multilateral format for the partner countries by developing a Joint Working Document named “Eastern Partnership – 20 Deliverables for 2020: Focusing on Key Priorities and Tangible Results” in Brussels (first published in December 2016 and updated in June 2017).

The document presents a new approach to multilateral architecture, which should reflect the new 4 priorities and 20 thematic achievements of the Eastern Partnership. Given the existing practice of high-level meetings, the political level of decision-making in the EaP — in addition to summits (meetings of heads of state and government) and meetings of foreign affairs ministers — was supplemented with sector-specific ministers and informal partnership dialogues. For the political orientation of the intergovernmental platforms and panels, they introduced a new form of assembly, namely the Senior Officials Meeting. The platforms themselves were reformatted in line with new priorities, and the number of panels was reduced and focused on topics meeting the goals of the new document “Eastern Partnership – 20 Deliverables by 2020…”.[2]

In autumn 2017, in the summit declaration of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels, the above-mentioned 20 Eastern Partnership goals were officially proposed as a roadmap for the buildup of relations between the EU and partner countries until 2020.

It should be also noted that, at the European Parliament level, they made a political attempt to propose differentiation and strengthening cooperation within the Eastern Partnership framework (EaP+ initiative).[3] However, the joint summit document reflected only a proposal for joint consultations or discussions of the EU with the three Association Agreement signatory countries—on the progress in implementing the AA and the DCFTA.[4] The “associated” countries managed to make this informal consultations format operational.

In March 2018, the European Union officially relaunched the multilateral cooperation mechanism, according to the 2017 EaP Summit decisions and “20 Deliverables by 2020”. At the moment, the Eastern Partnership multilateral platforms conduct their activities in the proposed form, taking into account epidemiological issues. The next physical summit at the level of the heads of state and government of the EaP, planned for the first half of 2020, was postponed several times. In July 2020, they held a video conference at the level of the EaP heads of state and government, and prior to it they had a preliminary online meeting at the level of the ministers of foreign affairs.

New initiatives and proposals for the reorganization of the EaP institutional framework (2019-2021)

May 2019 marked the tenth anniversary of the Eastern Partnership policy launch. Taking into account the important anniversary, a number of EU members proposed their initiatives aimed at strengthening institutional cooperation within the Eastern Dimension of the European Neighborhood Policy.

For example, in May 2019, in his program article, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland J. Chaputowicz proposed institutionalization as one of the important principles of EaP policy development. They also presented the idea of an EaP Secretariat, which would take on the platforms’ coordination and development of common positions. The Secretariat could be placed in Brussels, and the partner countries could send their diplomats to work there. The introduction of the six EaP partners annual chairmanship on a rotating basis was another proposed innovation, which would strengthen coordination with the three EU Council presidencies and increase the impact on the high-level meetings agenda.[5] Although the Polish diplomat did not propose the introduction of differentiated institutionalization mechanisms, the volition to strengthen the partners’ political interest in shaping the EU’s neighborhood policy was positive. However, it should be noted that the Polish proposals did not find much response among EU members and partners.

The unofficial positional document of the Lithuanian delegation in the European People’s Party “Trio Strategy 2030”, published in October 2019, is another interesting initiative, actually reflecting the differentiated approach. This proposal finds it a promising perspective to implement the “Trio Process” for Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova by following the Berlin Process (2014), which helped to bring the Western Balkans closer to the EU. At the same time, the document proposes that the EU should take care of support for the three countries provided by friendly EU member states. In this context, it is about setting up an EU Support Group for the Trio from the countries taking part in the Annual Leaders’ Summit. Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova will have an opportunity to join the main EU policies on SMEs, have access to the domestic market, digital agenda, investments, and infrastructure projects as well.

In April 2020, the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution calling on the European Union to adopt the “Trio Plus Strategy 2030”. Among other things, they pointed out that, under similar conditions for the cooperation with the EU, Armenia can also join it in the “Trio +1” format, given the significant democratic processes in the country[6].

Prospects for differentiation within the EaP multilateral format

The coronavirus pandemic made its adjustments to the top-level policies of the EaP. The summit, normally scheduled for June 2020 under Croatia’s presidency in the EU Council, was initially postponed to Portugal’s presidency in March 2021, and, as for today, postponed until autumn of 2021.

In addition to the organizational decisions on relocation provoked by the pandemic, in the second half of 2020, some negative political transformations took place in the countries of the region (such as political crises in Belarus, Georgia, and Moldova, and the Azerbaijani-Armenian war). Such events do not create any positive background for the buildup of the next EaP Summit long-term agenda.

However, numerous attempts, taken by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova in 2018-2021 to form a common position on defining a new Eastern Partnership horizon and its financial framework, can be assessed quite positively. The three countries’ ministers repeatedly collaborated on some joint letters with proposals to take into account the “associated” partners’ interests in the preparation of new goals and instruments for EaP after 2020.

Given the postponement of the summit to the second half of 2021 (with a high probability of further postponement), there is an additional window of opportunity for the three countries to advocate on their positions in communication with some separate EU members and the European institutions.



To the governments of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova:


  1. Expanding the thematic focus of informal and formal ministerial consultations of the three “associated” partners with the EU members and the European institutions. The format introduced at the EaP Summit in 2017 proved its importance and practical significance on the example of issues related to the DCFTA trade regimes.


  1. The further institutionalization of the EaP security dimension, including the creation of a separate intergovernmental platform, can bring additional security dividends to Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, as well as other partner countries. To this effect, it is reasonable to consult with some friendly EU member states on initiating the strengthening of the EaP multilateral infrastructure.


  1. The format, designed by the “Trio Plus Strategy 2030” proposal, is a positive example of a differentiated approach that can help deepen the integration of the “associated” partners with the EU. In their joint communications, the governments of the three countries should emphasize the introduction of symmetrical approaches to the countries of the Western Balkans and the leaders of the Eastern Partnership.


To the European Union:

  1. The strengthening of economic and socio-cultural ties between partner countries through the development of some cross-border cooperation programs should be a separate and complementary component of the new roadmap for EaP deliverables. The Eastern Partnership Territorial Cooperation Support Programme (for Ukraine-Moldova, Ukraine-Belarus, Georgia-Armenia, and Georgia-Azerbaijan) proved to give positive effect. At the expert level, some recommendations were developed to improve these program operations and expand the range of cooperation between partner countries.


  1. In the EU, the Rule of Law Report proposed a practical methodological tool that could be incorporated into the assessment of the rule of law in the EaP. Financial support provided by the EU for the achievement of other EaP goals and priorities by 2025 should be linked to the fulfillment of legal causality criteria.

[1] Joint Declaration of the Prague Eastern Partnership Summit Prague, 7 May 2009, Brussels, 7 May 2009, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/31797/2009_eap_declaration.pdf

[2] Eastern Partnership – 20 Deliverables for 2020 Focusing on key priorities and tangible results, Brussels, 9.6.2017, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/eap_20_deliverables_for_2020.pdf

[3] European Parliament recommendation of 15 November 2017 to the Council, the Commission and the EEAS on the Eastern Partnership, in the run-up to the November 2017 Summit (2017/2130(INI)), https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-8-2017-0440_EN.html

[4] Joint Declaration of the Eastern Partnership Summit (Brussels, 24 November 2017), Brussels, 24 November 2017, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/31758/final-statement-st14821en17.pdf

[5] New opportunities for the EaP: article by the Head of the MFA of Poland, May 13, 2019, https://www.eurointegration.com.ua/articles/2019/05/13/7096093/

[6] Resolution by the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly on the future of the Trio Plus Strategy 2030: building a future of Eastern Partnership, (2020/C 134/05), https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:22020P0424(05)&rid=4