Sunday

19th Jan 2020

Opinion

EU foreign policy: More for more, or more of the same?

Almost a week ago, the Polish EU presidency proudly announced that over 500 media representatives had asked for accreditation to attend the Eastern Partnership Summit in Warsaw on 29 and 30 September. From the outset it was clear the meeting was mainly a PR exercise and an opportunity for the Polish government to revive one of its pet ideas, especially in the context of elections coming up on 9 October.

Commentators in Poland were not easy on their foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, calling the lack of a joint declaration on Belarus a "failure of Polish diplomacy." So what should European leaders learn from this summit?

More of the same

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  • Silent protests in Belarus - is the EU repeating its mistakes in the east? (Photo: charter97.org)

The review of the European Neighbourhood Policy, which was presented in May this year, urged the EU and its neighbours to co-operate in following the "more for more" principle - an idea that links EU support with makig real reforms on the ground, not on paper.

But the results of the summit clearly show that while the EU is taking a strong stance in its mid-Arab-Spring southern neighbourhood, it is repeating its old mitsake in the post-Soviet east.

Rather than paying respect to 'more for more' the EU has again turned a blind eye to lack of reform in the region by promising more financial support and deeper political co-operation.

The EU's $9 billion offer to Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko, in exchange for freeing political prisoners and holding free and fair elections (which do not require him to step down) is surprising, to say the least, and is an unfortunate reminder of the mistakes the EU has made in the southern Mediterranean. This suggests that the EU has not learnt from the Arab Spring and will continue to repeat the same mistakes it has made in the past.

Those who think the summit was a success will argue that renewing the EU's commitment to the region will help maintain stability in the east while keeping the region out of the grasp of Russian influence. And they will argue, too, that renewed commitment in the east will more closely align the region with European values.

But this kind of jargon is the only consistency in the EU's rebranded initiatives toward the region. The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is yet another incarnation of a weak EU pledge - one that has still not been reciprocated by commitments of the region's leaders to democracy, the rule of law and political reforms.

The declaration on Belarus, which the EU's Eastern partners refused to sign, was a simple expression of "deep concern over deteriorating human rights, democracy and rule of law." Considering the amount of money Europe spends in the region, if there is no agreement on such basic principles, value for money becomes a massive issue.

And if much of the EU’s financial aid is channelled through direct budget support - where spending is not controlled - EU taxpayers may also start wondering what exactly they are sponsoring. Simply throwing a lot of mud at the wall in the hope that something will stick will obviously come at a high price. And Russia can sit back and grin while the EU pursues this approach. The EU's semi-committal and consistently half-baked proposals are ambiguous enough to make no real difference, leaving Russia considerable room for economic and political manoeuvre. In this sense, Moscow's support for the EaP is most probably genuine.

Making the East a better place

Before the EU organises the next Eastern Partnership Summit, it would be wise if its leaders asked themselves: is the other side as serious about this as we are?

This is not only about geopolitical and financial concerns. The tormented societies in the region may end up seeing the EU as being co-opted into this miscarried model of economic and political development they suffer from in their own countries. This is not only bad for the EU brand, it also deflates any sense of hope about improvements on the social level, let alone from the political echelons in the region.

The last time we checked, it was the citizens whom the EU wanted to make the world a better place for.

Patryk Pawlak is a research fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris. Xymena Kurowska is assistant professor at the Central European University in Budapest and has conducted extensive research on security sector reform in Georgia and Ukraine

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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