Outlook for Eastern Partnership: view from the inside

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The anniversary year of the Eastern Partnership is a time not only to take stock of the success of European Union policy, but also to look into the future. The expectations from the cooperation and ambitions of the six participating countries vary widely: from carefully maintaining a distance in political matters to full integration into the EU.

What should Brussels do to keep all partners interested: switch to different speeds or raise the bar for everyone? Analysts provide the outlook for the initiatives from each of the states.

Azerbaijan: Preserving status quo 

Azerbaijan’s relations with the EU started in 1999; however, it was not until the introduction of the Eastern Partnership program that the country got individualized support. As EaP turned 10, assessments related to what has changed in Azerbaijan and what are the perspectives of EU-Azerbaijan cooperation beyond 2020 began. 

The EU has now become the first trading partner of Azerbaijan making up 48.6% of its total trade. 26 ministries and public institutions of the country have benefitted from overall 46 twinning projects. There is a success story in bilateral energy cooperation and mobility. Thanks to the EU technical and practical know-how together with joint programs and infrastructure support, Azerbaijan has become a reliable energy partner for the EU. The country has signed agreements to produce and bring Caspian gas resources to the EU market. Furthermore, visa facilitation and readmission agreements made it easier for Azerbaijani citizens to obtain a visa. 

The country’s economy is growing mainly due to the oil and gas sector and there have been improvements in the business climate. Doing Business Ranking of the World Bank shows that Azerbaijan’s economy has entered Top-20 Improvers’ list. EU investment in the country has created almost three thousand new jobs. Although all these changes have not happened because of the EaP program, it has played a catalyzing role.

On the other hand, the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and lack of progress towards the resolution, the existence of anti-democratic practices including corruption, violation of human rights, restrictions in freedom of expression and freedom of media, and restricted civic and political environment continue to remain an obstacle to the stronger progress in the country. There is a lack of well-established transparency and accountability mechanisms for the European investment and implemented projects. Also, restrictions in civil society engagement weaken monitoring mechanisms. 

In EaP Index 2017, Azerbaijan took fifth place in Approximation to the EU dimension. The country was lowest ranked for Democratic Rights and Elections, Independent Media, Freedom of Speech, Assembly, and Independent Judiciary.

Recently there have been few gestures by the government such as mass pardon of political prisoners and release of opposition activists; however, latest rallies, violent detainment of protesters and journalists show that the government continues to neglect the EU’s efforts of promoting good governance.

On October 11, the EU delegation and different stakeholders in Azerbaijan held structured consultations about the future of Eastern Partnership, in which the main discussion topics were sustainable development in human capital and economic spheres, strengthening of cooperation with the EU and enhancing good governance. 

In line with the country’s balanced foreign policy, Azerbaijan keeps its distance from all geopolitical actors. The most probable scenario for the EU-Azerbaijan relations, especially in the framework of EaP is the preservation of the current situation in good governance and mobility areas and enhanced cooperation in connectivity, energy, and economic development spheres. 

Since Azerbaijan plays a key role in the international transport corridor; potential routes for EU-Azerbaijan cooperation are main sectors of the economy including trade and energy. Political reforms and maintenance of democratic institutions can only be achieved via full EU support to the non-state actors; however, delivery of tangible results will take time.

Armenia: The promising outlook of the Eastern Partnership

Richard Giragosian, Regional Studies Center

Since the launch of the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP) programme ten years ago, the impact of the European engagement has been as diverse as the six EaP member states themselves.  Yet despite that variance, the Eastern Partnership has been far more successful than many give it credit for. Such under-stated success has been largely due to the more traditional European tendencies of modesty over the gains and benefits more clearly visible to outsiders.  

And in the case of Armenia, the Eastern Partnership was an unchallenged success as well, matched by an equally strident positive outlook for the promise of the EaP going forward.  

This Armenian optimism stems from several factors and is rooted as much in the past as it is in the present and future. First, Armenia benefited from the EU’s modification of the EaP programme by adopting a more nuanced policy of “differentiation.” For Armenia, this recognition of the diversity and divergence of conditions and interests of each of the six EaP states, allowed greater flexibility and awarded a deeper European understanding the limits of Armenia’s embrace and engagement of the EU. 

This was most evident in the case of Russian pressure on Armenia in 2013 that resulted in a forced sacrifice of its Association Agreement with the European Union (EU) and the surprise decision to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Since joining the Eurasian Economic Union, however, Armenia has steadily and stealthily sought to regain and restore relations with the EU, and to deepen its ties to the West more broadly. Moreover, within the broader framework of the Eastern Partnership, for example, the EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) still stands out as an opportunity to regain trust and rebuild relations with the EU. At the same time, the CEPA was also an important contribution to the strengthening of the viability and efficacy of the Eastern Partnership.

A second significant driver of Armenia’s positive outlook for the EaP is rooted in the “Velvet Revolution” of 2018, in which Armenia was able to achieve an impressive, non-violent change of government. Capped by a free and fair parliamentary election in December 2018, Armenia was thereby not only able to reinvigorate the EaP but also to reiterate a reaffirmation of European values of democracy and peaceful change through a rare victory of “people power.” 

And third, looking forward, Armenia now sees a fresh opportunity to leverage the synergy of the EaP and European engagement as an anchor for deeper democratization and enhanced economic reform, as well as trade expansion. Further, Armenia also seeks to utilize the “platform” of the EaP as a means to engage its partners in the wider region. In this way, the EaP platform offers Armenia a mechanism to share reform experience with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, while also seeking bilateral dialogue with Azerbaijan and Belarus within the parameters of the Eastern Partnership.  And it is the latter point that demonstrates the future significance of the EaP as a platform for engagement well beyond the EU alone, but between and among the six EaP member states themselves, thereby maximizing the true meaning of the transformative power of European engagement. 

Ukraine: It’s high time to implement “more for more” principle

Yurii Vdovenko, Coordinator UNP CSF EaP

Ten years ago, founding states of the Eastern Partnership pledged to develop a partnership as a common endeavour to bring their relationship to a new level, without prejudice to individual partner countries’ aspirations for their future relationship with the EU. On the eve of a new decade, there is a unanimous agreement among the participants that the Policy needs a fresh boost, new strategic directions and concrete milestones that would lead the EU and Eastern European partners towards new opportunities for greater integration with the EU.

European integration is one of the key goals of the five-year program of the new Ukraine’s government, KPI-based document introduced in late September. Fulfilling obligations under the Association Agreement is the task set for nearly every ministry, even if not directly mentioned so. Vice Prime Minister for European and Euroatlantic Integration is responsible for reaching the main objective in this field: by 2024 Ukraine should meet the criteria for membership in the European Union. Although becoming the EU member is not a five-year goal, it is country’s strategic course, enshrined in the constitution.

Eastern Partnership remains an important platform for Ukraine-EU cooperation, but the policy must consider Ukraine’s geopolitical aspirations and achievements as well as “more for more” principle. As the Eastern Partnership’s general goal is to bring the partner countries closer to the EU, the key question is to formulate a vision for further development of relations with the associated countries who like Ukraine aspire for a deeper integration with the EU. For the next period beyond 2020, success of EaP and the whole European Neighbourhood Policy will be judged by the EU’s ability to help Ukraine along with Moldova and Georgia to succeed. For the Associated Partners (AP), Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, the new Strategy could serve as forward-looking strategic agenda with final goals, which should go beyond and focus on an increased cooperation and deeper integration with the EU. 

The Association Agreements could serve as a mechanism to ensure the gradual integration of AP into the EU internal market and fulfillment the Copenhagen criteria. In this case the AP are interested not only in monitoring the integration processes and assessment of progress, but also in developing effective programs for this purpose, opening new support tools, i.a IPA-style methodology, providing consultation mechanism (i.a. on the updating of the EU acquis). The EU support could include tailor-made instruments like those that were used to speed up the process of the integration of Western Balkans.

Developing a structured, institutional dialogue on issues related specifically to the implementation of the AA/DCFTA, would be one of the practical examples of differentiation. EU and AP should initiate regular informal DCFTA ministerials supported by expert-level meetings to prepare the ministerials. Such informal meetings should be further expanded to other areas of the AA in particular digital, customs, energy spheres. 

As a next step towards functional and institutional integration, economic and sectoral integration with the EU, the AP may be invited, when issues of common interests are being debated, to meetings of the EU informal Councils on the economy and single market, energy, transport and digital policy, social policy, education, research and innovation, as well as on foreign affairs, defense and justice and home affairs. Meetings, with a mutually agreed regularity, of the AP with COEST will create an efficient steering mechanism for the implementation of the AA/DCFTAs and help develop further reform agendas. AP may also be invited to the meetings of Council working parties on sectoral issues on ad hoc basis. 

The existing EU technical assistance to AP for alignment of legislation and its implementation should be extended to ensure efficient implementation of the AA and support integration processes. It is important to set up the EU Association Investment Platform, which can be launched and managed by the EU institutions in cooperation with IFIs and National Investment Councils to assist Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova in the investment process. The Platform will also encourage direct contacts among SMEs from EU member states and the partner countries. With a purpose to encourage regional political and economic cooperation of the EU AP it is important to consider establishing the EU – Associated partners Association Council. This body together with EU institutions could establish instruments of regional cooperation in areas of trade agreements, technical assistance, sharing the best practices, facilities, economic growth agenda, investment trust funds, youth exchange and professional training, rule of law and democracy peer reviews.