Saturday

15th Aug 2020

Opinion

Rethinking the Eastern Partnership

  • Ambassador Natalie Sabanadze: Last week's virtual summit was a useful affirmation of the importance of the Eastern Partnership - but it also revealed a lack of purpose about where the relationship is going (Photo: Mission of Georgia to the EU)

Last week's virtual summit between the EU27 and the Eastern partners was a useful affirmation of the importance of the partnership but it also revealed a lack of purpose about where the relationship is going.

Before the live summit due in early 2021 it is important to consider various policy options that might better reflect the interests of partners.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

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

... or subscribe as a group

One such option could be an EEA-style entity lining progress to integration into the single market that could have a powerful transformative influence on the most pro-EU partners such as Georgia.

18 June was supposed to be the date when the EU would hold its Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit.

However, Covid intervened and instead of a summit, heads of the EU-27 and six EaP countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine) got together in the virtual leaders conference.

It was a signal of political support and solidarity in times of crisis with the main outcome being the decision to hold the physical summit early next year and start preparing post-2020 set of deliverables that would set the agenda for the years to come.

Before drawing road maps, however, the EU needs to decide on the destination. The objectives should be set and technical criteria drawn to serve a particular political purpose.

Ten years have passed since the conception of Eastern Partnership and to its credit, many things have changed.

The EU is much more present in the region, with the three EaP countries having signed Association Agreements with DCFTAs and achieved visa free travel for its citizens.

The linkages, be they institutional, socio-economic or simply emotional are much stronger and political ties deeper.

The EU's assistance is having a real impact on the lives of people on the ground and in general, bilateral relations of each partner with the EU are at a more advanced state than ever before.

Nearer neighbours

Simply put, the EaP has considerably reduced the distance between the partners and the EU.

Distance, both as a metaphor and literally, a physical category has been shrinking thanks to various connectivity projects, people to people contacts as well as growing political, economic and bureaucratic links.

Georgia is a case in point, a country which was not even considered as a neighbour in the beginning of 2000s is today an associated partner with free trade and visa free travel.

It even hosts the first European school outside of the EU.

Despite positive changes, however, challenges persist.

A majority of the EaP countries are plagued by the security deficit and overall political stability in the region is not a given.

Wars are a reality, borders are contested and poverty and underdevelopment are facts on the ground.

Under the circumstances, the new vision of the EaP should shift from overcoming the distance to overcoming the difference; from creating linkages to building a common space where those inside and outside of the EU will become increasingly alike.

Once the overall objective is defined and we know what we are trying to achieve, we can start thinking about how to achieve it.

At the 18 June conference, gradual integration into single market for certain EaP countries has been floated as a possible next goal by some member states and partners, Georgia included.

Prior to this, Georgia has looked at the EEA for inspiration and found that while not fully replicable, it is an example that can be instructive for offering interested EaP countries something like an Association plus.

An objective which is to be translated into effective policy needs to satisfy at least two main criteria.

First of all it has to be in the mutual interest of all sides concerned and secondly, it has to have a measurable achievement indicator.

Creating an EEA type entity to the East does just that. It can be framed as the next step from association, acceding to which will be conditional and criteria based and progress evident and measurable.

It can be used as leverage by the EU and by the population of interested partners who will be able to keep their governments accountable for their achievements or failures.

A combined impact of the EU conditionality and local pressure from strongly pro-European public would considerably increase the EU's transformative impact on the ground.

It will also allow the EU not only to expand a common market but also create more sustainable stability and security on its borders.

The new Commission has announced the end of EU's geopolitical innocence, admitting that the exiting international system is competitive.

The commission has not yet clarified how it is going to play in this competition and try to win in. Structuring the neighbourhood to its geopolitical advantage could be a good place to start.

Author bio

Natalie Sabanadze is ambassador of Georgia to the EU.

Disclaimer

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

'Covid passports' for Eastern Partnership neighbours?

Belarus' incidence of the disease is currently higher than in Italy. Ukraine and Azerbaijan have counts comparable to Poland and the Czech Republic, where the outbreak had an average intensity. Whereas, Georgia compares well with Greece and Slovakia.

Eastern Partnership must now improve media freedoms

The EU can hardly criticise Eastern Partnership countries for disrespecting media freedom. Five EU member states, including current presidency Croatia, came below Armenia and Georgia in the 2019 RSF Press Freedom Index. Bulgaria ranked nine places behind Ukraine.

Column

Drums of war again, in Europe

Just a few weeks ago, as Europeans in several countries put their furious debates about masks and corona appsinto higher gear, Turkey and Greece almost came to blows in the Aegean Sea.

Schrems privacy ruling risks EU's ties to digital world

With more and more trade moving to the digital realm, Europe can ill-afford to cut itself off. Meanwhile, China continues to advance a vision for an internet that is fractured along national boundaries and controlled by governments.

Worrying rows over future EU chemicals policy

It is of utmost concern to the environmental health community that forces within the EU Commission are actively trying to push back against a European Green Deal that is supposed to put people's health at its core.

News in Brief

  1. Most EU states oppose US sanctions on Russia pipeline
  2. UK imposes quarantine on France, Netherlands, Malta
  3. At least 3.5m EU nationals to stay in UK
  4. UK urged to 'calm down' on migrants
  5. Pompeo starts EU tour with anti-Chinese 5G deal
  6. Dutch lawsuit seeks billions from tech firms
  7. Amazon people urge EU banks to stop funding pollution
  8. Russia vaccine could be "dangerous", Germany says

Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

As with the German government – which presented its own hydrogen strategy last month – the European Commission and other EU institutions appear to be similarly intoxicated by the false promises of the gas industry.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us