Thursday

6th Oct 2022

Opinion

Vilnius: A milestone in the Eastern Partnership?

  • The Eastern Partnership Summit will take place on 28-29 November in Vilnius. (Photo: SpirosK)

The current debate on the Eastern Partnership (EaP), the EU's policy for building closer relations with post-Soviet states, has largely focused on the Vilnius summit on 28 to 29 November.

The questions so far addressed mainly relate to the expected deliverables.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Will Ukraine meet the conditions set by the EU for signing the association agreement and the deep and comprehensive free trade pact (DCFTA)?

Will Armenia, Georgia and Moldova manage to initial such agreements?

What is the place of Azerbaijan and Belarus in the post-Vilnius Eastern Partnership?

Will the EU sign visa facilitation and readmission agreements with the former and shift from a policy of sanctions to engagement vis-a-vis the latter?

By way of opposition to the European integration of countries in its "near abroad," Russia is proposing an ambitious project of its own: the Eurasian Union – an alternative to the EaP.

In recent months Russia has used its economic, diplomatic and military influence to try jeopardise the outcome of the Vilnius Summit. A brief trade conflict with Ukraine over the summer was followed by more threats; comments by the former Russian ambassador to Armenia warning Armenians about the dangers of European integration; significant new arms sales to Azerbaijan.

But Russian pressure has been counter-productive so far and the summit is on track to becoming an important milestone.

The Vilnius Summit is expected to take the first major step towards differentiation between the six states in the Eastern Partnership, as promised by Stefan Fuele, the EU commissioner in charge of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the EaP.

The summit is set to solidify the growing divide between Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and possibly Ukraine, one the one side, which form the EaP core, and Azerbaijan and Belarus on the other side, moving ever further toward the EaP periphery.

By initialling association agreements with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia and possibly signing one with Ukraine, the EU seems confident of success in Vilnius.

However, as politically important as this would be, it would mark only the start of a new phase.

The real benefits from these agreements come from their implementation, which, given their comprehensive nature, is expected to take a long time and to cost a lot in terms of political will on both side.

The EU laws that Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are committing to implement amount to the majority of the EU acquis - the EU’s treaties, directives, regulations, declarations, resolutions and the judgments of the European Court of Justice.

In practice, this means that the parliaments of the Eastern Partnership countries will need to set a rigorous schedule for adopting laws.

Civil society - pro-democracy and human rights NGOs but also professional organisations, consumers and producers associations and trade unions - will have a big role to play.

The European Commission will have to expend more, not just in terms of treasure, but also human resources, sectoral experts, despite the competing priorities of EU relations with "strategic partners," like the US, or Middle East states.

Three scenarios

A minimalist Vilnius scenario entails the gradual adoption and implementation of the EU regulations, norms and standards by Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

This would allow each partner country to enjoy the benefits of participation in the EU’s internal market and, with the EU’s help, could restructure their economy and political systems.

A middle scenario would bind the four core EaP countries more closely together.

They could apply new rules and norms, not only bilaterally, vis-a-vis the EU, but also in relation to each other. Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Armenia could create an Eastern European Free Trade Agreement (EEFTA), pursuing regional trade integration in parallel with the EU process.

The maximalist scenario would be granting the prospect of EU membership.

Legally speaking, there are no obstacles to this. But politically, it remains problematic.

Around 10 EU member states (including Poland, Romania, the Baltic states and the Czech republic) are ready to go forward on this. But a smaller group of bigger EU states (including France, Spain, and Portugal) are not. The other EU countries could go one way or the other.

EU decision-making requires unanimous agreement on granting the prospect of membership. The No camp could change its mind over time.

Whichever scenario prevails, EU leaders and institutions will have a lot of work to do after the Vilnius event.

It is unlikely that Russia will ease the pressure on the eastern partners, indeed the pressure could well increase.

The EU will need to think creatively about ways of engaging Russia more constructively in their shared neighbourhood.

It will also need to monitor more robustly the core EaP governments, which have in the past paid lip service to EU demands while making little, if any, real changes on the ground.

Meanwhile, the whole EaP project has a bleak future unless the political elite, whether in Brussels, Warsaw, Kiev, Yerevan, Tbilisi or Chisinau, wins genuine support among the people in the EaP states, those who will feel the impact of change, for good or ill, the most directly.

Hearts and minds still remain to be won.

The EU and the EaP governments have said the texts of the association agreements cannot be made public until the, secret, talks end.

Even if we accept this, they can still do a lot more to explain to people what are the actual costs and benefits of the EaP project if it is to succeed.

The author is an Associate Research Fellow at CEPS Foreign Policy unit and a researcher at the Centre for EU Studies (CEUS), in the department of Political Science at Ghent University

Disclaimer

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

Georgia to EU: Don't neglect eastern neighbourhood

The EU should move faster on free trade agreements and negotiations for visa-free travel with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, which are 'inexpensive' policies that can be pursued in times of austerity as funding priorities shift to the southern neighbourhood, a Georgian minister has said.

Column

The Iranian regime's expiration date

This 'headscarf revolution' is about women's rights and human rights in general, plus police brutality. Moreover, it is a leaderless revolution that is not driven by a leader or a group, but erupted spontaneously.

Let's end Bulgaria and Romania's 11-year Schengen purgatory

The Schengen area is undoubtedly one of the EU's greatest achievements. Unrestricted travel benefits millions of European citizens and businesses. But for Bulgaria and Romania, the EU has yet to make this borderless dream come true.

Column

The Iranian regime's expiration date

This 'headscarf revolution' is about women's rights and human rights in general, plus police brutality. Moreover, it is a leaderless revolution that is not driven by a leader or a group, but erupted spontaneously.

News in Brief

  1. Thousands of Hungarian students and teachers protest
  2. Swedish MEP cuts hair mid-speech to support Iran women
  3. Danish general election called for 1 November
  4. Slovenia legalises gay marriage, adoption
  5. Russia's stand-in EU ambassador reprimanded on Ukraine
  6. France warns over incoming eighth Covid wave
  7. EU adds Anguilla, Bahamas and Turks and Caicos to tax-haven blacklist
  8. Czechs warn joint-nationality citizens in Russia on mobilisation

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  2. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  4. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  5. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”

Latest News

  1. EU wants to see US list on Russia financing of politicians
  2. Putin's twin aim: to break Ukraine and West's consensus
  3. Putin's diamond firm off the hook in EU sanctions
  4. The Iranian regime's expiration date
  5. Let's end Bulgaria and Romania's 11-year Schengen purgatory
  6. EU debates new pandemic-type loans to deal with crisis
  7. MEPs condemn EU Commission 'leniency' on Hungary
  8. Czech EU presidency wants asylum pledges to be secret

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us