Thursday

25th Feb 2021

Opinion

The magnetic pull of Europe’s soft power

  • Medieval map of Georgia: Geography is destiny, but history is in people's hands (Photo: wikipedia creative commons)

As Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine finalise association and free trade (DCFTA) agreements with Europe today (27 June), these Eastern Partners, together with the EU, are proving that while geography is destiny, history does not have to be so.

The EU’s Eastern Partnership policy is the bridge which connects Europe to countries which were left out of the cycle of peaceful development brought to post-WWII by the European project.

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

Even as the voice of increased scepticism towards the EU rang loud and clear in the latest European elections, the citizens of these advanced Eastern partners still believe the European project offers them the best way forward.

They have proven ready to pay a heavy price for their European choice, in the knowledge that no sacrifice is too great for the sake of freedom.

The EU and its three Eastern Partners have come to this point against all odds. Russia failed to force these countries, considered to belong to its “privileged sphere of influence,” to give up on Europe in favour of joining the Eurasian Economic Union.

Neither political and economic pressure, nor direct military intervention, have managed to compete with Europe’s soft power.

While the agreements signed today will not automatically force open the doors to European accession, they are paving a way towards it. The road ahead, however, is a difficult one.

The immediate challenges will be to implement the agreements and to withstand continued Russian pressure.

The Kremlin is unlikely to bury the hatchet. The warnings from Russia have been crystal clear all along, most recently with Russiaan foreign minister Sergei Lavrov declaring that his country will take the necessary “countermeasures” in response to the EU accords.

If history is any point of reference, the Russian response might defy both the letter and the spirit of international law.

Additional Russian economic pressure can still have an impact on the economies of all three Eastern partners. Our voters have high expectations for the benefits of the agreements, but the positive socio-economic impact of the DCFTAs will not come immediately.

Knowing full well the value of predictability and stability for the international investors which these DCFTAs ought to attract to the signatory countries, Russia is unlikely to abandon its chosen policy of exporting instability.

As European integration will not deliver immediate prosperity, the Kremlin’s likely tactic is to foster growing disappointment of the public in its European choice.

The role of the Church

By offering to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine the way forward towards a more democratic, secure and prosperous future, the EU still has a much stronger hold on the hearts and minds of their citizens than Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

But the future support of our voters cannot be taken for granted. Further success of the Eastern Partnership will depend on securing continued support for democracy, as well as for the European choice of the public in these countries.

In the short term, helping Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to cope with the implementation of the DCFTAs the and speedy introduction of visa-free travel for Georgia and Ukraine will be instrumental.

As the prospect of Nato membership looks less and less likely for any of the Eastern partners, enhancing the framework of co-operation between them and the EU in terms of security will be another important challenge.

A broad engagement with the citizens, supporting democracy and building solid constituencies for Europe, reaching out to the most influential opinion-makers in these countries, will also be key to success.

In some cases, the potential opinion-makers might be outside of the regular realm of civil society and include influential religious organisations or figures. Religion has started playing an increasingly important role in Russia’s current confrontation with the West. The authority wielded by the religious establishment in some Eastern partners is a sign of weak civil society and needs to be addressed in a medium and long term prospective.

In the immediate future, the Church will continue playing an important role in determining the public attitudes in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. The EU needs to find ways to engage with the relevant players to counter Russian influence.

The successful transformation of the three advanced Eastern Partners can be managed only through a European policy which has clearly defined objectives.

Next year, the Riga Eastern Partnership Summit should offer concrete deliverables for each of these countries, aiming at enhanced contractual relations with the EU. Most importantly, it should deliver a membership prospective in the long term and the chance to join a Common Economic Area in the immediate future.

Today marks yet another important achievement of the EU’s transformative power, but Europe needs to be ready for the challenges ahead.

Injecting a new momentum into the Eastern Partnership Initiative, building on today’s success, will rectify the historical injustice which deprived the people of the Eastern Partnership countries of the chance to develop as democratic and prosperous societies for almost a century.

But it will also send an important message to the increasingly sceptical European voters about the magnetic pull of the European project for those, who, so far, have been left out of it.

The writer is Georgia's former ambassador to the EU

Disclaimer

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

Questions for Germany on EU's Russia strategy

Suspension or cancellation of Nord Stream 2 does not call for a drawn-out search for unanimity by the EU's foreign ministers, nor complex ratification procedures in the European Parliament or member states' parliaments, write three former EU prime ministers.

Column

Why is new EU trade policy using WTO as a figleaf?

While producers in Europe need to live up to demanding labour standards, the European Commission does not make the slightest move to protect them against competition from countries that use forced labour on a massive scale.

Georgia is facing the abyss, and calls on EU for help

Politically-motivated justice, the capture of state institutions by the private interests of oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, rapid socio-economic decline, and increased corruption, all are making Georgians hopeless about their future, writes former Georgian ambassador to the EU.

News in Brief

  1. Armenian prime minister denounces 'coup' attempt
  2. UK warns EU against escalating City-of-London battle
  3. Brussels mulls extending data-roaming regime for 10 years
  4. Full list of European firms US forced to ditch Russia pipeline
  5. French diplomat calls Johnson 'inveterate liar'
  6. French town's switch to vegetarian meals prompts backlash
  7. Police seize 23 tonnes of cocaine in Europe's biggest haul
  8. WHO Covax programme delivers first vaccines to Ghana

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. Who are the EU's new Russian deplorables?
  2. Afghan asylum family beaten in Greece, set adrift at sea
  3. EU leaders face Covid-mutations dilemma at summit
  4. EU sets out plan to mitigate 'unavoidable' climate events
  5. Questions for Germany on EU's Russia strategy
  6. Greenland's snap election exposes global mineral demand
  7. Covid-19 certificates back on EU leaders' agenda
  8. Ethiopia war creating new 'refugee crisis', EU envoy warns

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us