Monday

19th Feb 2018

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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

News in Brief

  1. Merkel: Nord Stream 2 pipeline poses 'no danger'
  2. Spanish king in Barcelona next week
  3. Turkey jails journalists for life
  4. Make budget cuts in farm and regional funds, the Dutch say
  5. UN: Hungary's anti-migration bill is 'assault on human rights'
  6. Journalist Deniz Yucel freed in Turkey
  7. New organic farming bill not ready until late spring
  8. Commissioner: Western Balkans in EU is 'obvious'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  2. EPSUMovie Premiere: 'Up to The Last Drop' - 22 February, Brussels
  3. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  4. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  6. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  7. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name
  8. Dialogue PlatformBeyond the Errors in the War on Terror: How to Fight Global Militarism - 22 February
  9. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  10. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  11. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  12. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections

Latest News

  1. EU asks charities to explain anti-abuse measures
  2. ECB, Budget, EU elections This WEEK
  3. EU states stay mute on implementation of mercury bill
  4. Baltic states demand bigger EU budget
  5. Germany raises concerns over Hungary's 'Stop Soros' bills
  6. EU ties Brexit transition talks to divorce agreement
  7. EU divided over Western Balkan enlargement
  8. Facebook and Twitter weak on protecting users, says EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  2. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  3. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  4. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  6. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  8. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC President Warns Europe as Holocaust Memory Fades
  10. European Free AlllianceNo Justice From the Spanish Supreme Court Ruling
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  12. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%