EU Eastern Partnership Programme: In Need of a Re-boot in 2014?

Jan 31, 2014, 08:15 ET from EU- Ukraine Business Council

BRUSSELS, January 31, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --

Coming at a time where Ukraine faces serious political turmoil, yesterday's event taking place at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, examined the EU's relations with its geographical neighbours and the prospects for Association Agreements in countries like Moldova and Georgia. Co-hosted by the EU- Ukraine Business Council, in light of the Vilnius Summit's shortcomings, the panel aimed to answer the question of whether a rethink of the EU's Eastern Partnership policies is needed and in this context what steps should be key to improving relations with Russia.

Opening the debate, Richard Tibbels, Head of Division for the Eastern Partnership, Regional Co-operation and OSCE at the European External Action Service, provided an overview of the Eastern Partnership and discussed the lessons learned, claiming that the EU "needed to focus on democracy, rule of law, and would only pursue further relations with partner countries depending on the level of reform." Furthermore, Tibbels highlighted the need for an inclusion of Russia in the dialogue going forward. He also mentioned lack of the EU's diplomacy and emphasized the need to work much more intensely with broader civil society, businesses, local and regional authorities and not just engage with the government.

Providing a legal point of view, Steven Blockmans, Senior Research Fellow at CEPS, maintained that the EU should not abide by a 'one size fits all approach' in regards to the partner countries, saying that "there is a clear lack of promoting an actual 'partnership'. Elements of the programme could be used to structure the relations. However, forcing something 'down the countries' throats is not effective." Blockmans also expressed his disappointment with the Vilnius Summit, claiming it was a 'missed opportunity' for the EU to demonstrate its end goals for the partner states.

Focussing on Ukraine, Iryna Solonenko from the European Integration Index for Eastern Partnership Countries, described the Eastern Partnership programme as "Pandora's Box" which has opened up the countries participants, and Ukraine in particular, to many issues such as a clear lack of transparency, freedom of press, accountability and allocation of the EU funds.  She said "the Commission has no inventory to see what could be done in regards to what authorities are doing - specifically when there is a conflict like in Ukraine. There is a need for a different emphasis in Eastern Partnership countries."

Vitali Chiurciiu, a representative of the Moldovan Region of Gagauzia, questioned what exactly was the "success story" of Moldova - an example often used by the EU as a beacon of the ENP. Chiurcciu emphasized a lack of reforms of concrete sections such as the judicial system, electoral system, and rule of law amongst others.  He also emphasized the concerns regarding lack of funding in key areas, "Moldovans don't see the effects of the previous years of Eastern Partnership policies. There needs to be a revision of strategy and tactics. There have to be key initiatives such as support of economic infrastructure."

Providing the closing remarks of the debate, MEP Fabrizio Bertot provided a wider view of ENP agreeing that it was not a perfect programme, but rather a work in progress. He specifically said that EU should not conclude any bilateral agreements with ENP countries that be directed against Russia.

"EU needs to reconsider its relationship with Eastern Europe, especially in light of events in the last two months with Ukraine. Relations should not exclude discussion with Russia and the EU cannot develop this policy which could be seen as opposition Russia. There should be a good relationship between EU and Eastern states and this needs to be re-examined."

Furthermore, Bertot maintained "it's an opportunity to also improve relations with Russia and take the opportunity to change the relations between single states and Russia," referencing the Russian market as a key economic target for southern Europe states.

After the debate, Moldovan MP Gregoriy Petrenko commented that there is no consensus on programmes such as the ENP, and raised the question of what will the EU do when there is a new government in Chisinau which might be against something such as the Association Agreement?

The Vilnius Summit which was held late November in 2013, aimed to enhance cooperation between Eastern Partnership countries, but appeared to make no progress on reviving far reaching association agreements with countries like Ukraine. The summit's centrepiece would have been a major step towards eventual integration. Going forward, given the change in scenarios there needs to be a different point of view and a different target must be considered by the EU.

The EU-Ukraine Business Council is an independent CEO-level forum for European and Ukrainian business leaders that is set up as a non-profit making organisation in order to promote trade and investment between the EU and Ukraine, to assist companies to develop business opportunities, to promote dialogue between governments and companies to help solve market access difficulties and overcome regulatory obstacles both for Ukrainian businesses in the EU and EU businesses in Ukraine.

SOURCE EU- Ukraine Business Council