Monday

26th Sep 2022

Opinion

Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova vs EU's Eastern Partnership?

  • Russia's invasion of Ukraine has expedited discussion of a new format for relations with Ukraine, but also for Moldova and Georgia (Photo: Wikimedia)
Listen to article

The EU's Eastern Partnership has been a key instrument in promoting democratic development across the region and in supporting democratically-minded actors within authoritarian states.

Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia's democratic track record is not perfect, but granting them EU candidate status would further support their journey towards stable democracy, strong rule of law and a functioning market economy.

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

  • Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia's democratic track record is not perfect, but granting them EU candidate status would further support their journey towards stable democracy, strong rule of law and a functioning market economy (Photo: Wikimedia)

While doing so, the unity of the Eastern Partnership should be preserved to avoid fragmenting the EU's Eastern Neighbourhood. Experts and officials should also be careful about rhetoric turning decisions on candidate status into a 'now-or-never' scenario.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has expedited discussion of a new format for relations with Ukraine, but also for Moldova and Georgia.

The need for enhanced cooperation was already acknowledged during the last EaP Summit in December 2021 and pressure is mounting to grant all three countries EU candidate status.

The decision has to be taken by the European Council and will be based on the European Commission's assessment of their suitability for membership in accordance with the Copenhagen criteria, but also with respect to political considerations.

Several aspects will have to be weighed up before the decision is made, from gauging political momentum both in the EU and in the specific country, to fairly assessing the trio's democratic track record, to keeping in mind the overall Eastern Partnership policy coherence, all while managing the expectations of the population.

The EU institutions' final decision on granting Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia EU candidate status is inherently political, but should not be too far removed from the situation on the ground.

So far, the Eastern Partnership policy — with its dedicated financial, administrative and technical support — has effectively guided their democratic progress.

According to the results of the Eastern Partnership Index 2020-21 — a monitoring tool produced by the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum — the trio has already cemented considerable normative and legal approximation to the EU.

Analysing democratic developments in the EaP countries since 2015, the results of the Eastern Partnership Index demonstrate steady improvement in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia towards the standards set out by the Copenhagen criteria — a functioning market economy, stable democracy, strong rule of law, and the capacity to implement all EU legislation.

This is not to say that things are perfect: progress has not always been linear, and inertia and backsliding are also apparent.

Legislative frameworks are often in place, but gaps persist between the law and the implementation of norms. All three countries continue to struggle with the fight against corruption, and the independence of the judiciary in both Georgia and Ukraine have worsened.

However, while these difficulties should not be underestimated, neither should it be forgotten that becoming an EU candidate country is just the beginning of the accession process.

The democratic progress achieved so far by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia is a testament to the far-reaching effects of the Eastern Partnership Policy framework and their Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements with the EU, and a preview into the democratic development potential of a continuing complementary regional path under the EU candidate status framework.

At the same time, granting EU candidate status to the AA trio should go hand-in-hand with maintaining a strong, regional Eastern Partnership framework.

While the principles of differentiation and conditionality helped secure progress for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, the EU should be wary of further fragmenting relations with and within its Eastern Neighbourhood.

The Eastern Partnership policy — particularly in its multilateral dimension — has functioned as a framework to address priorities that are key for all six countries, such as democracy, human rights, rule of law and structural reforms. Coherence in the EaP region will be essential to address common challenges that the region faces, and will continue to face, such as corruption, the rule of law, connectivity and climate change.

Azerbaijan and Belarus

For Azerbaijan and Belarus, the EaP multilateral track has been the only possible platform for dialogue. The results of the EaP Index show that Belarus and Azerbaijan — countries without the structured framework provided by AA and DCFTA — remained at the bottom of the ranking.

Both countries scored lower in 2020-21 than in previous editions of the Index, suggesting that the gap between the associated and the non-associated countries became palpably wider.

Maintaining a strong regional framework while acting on Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia's applications for EU candidate status would recognise that the Eastern Partnership has delivered substantial results, sending a message to stakeholders in Armenia and to democratic Azerbaijani and Belarusian actors about the opportunity that exists for their countries.

Equally, as discussions on the granting of EU candidate status continue, European stakeholders, the Ukrainian, Moldovan and Georgian governments, and the expert community should refrain from framing the granting of EU candidate status with "now or never" rhetoric.

The EU will continue to support democratic development in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia regardless of whether they hold EU candidate country status or not and this should be clearly communicated, with expectations carefully managed.

Conveying an impression of abandonment if the candidate status is not granted, while European values are being defended on the frontline in Ukraine, is a risk that democratic Europe should not take.

Author bio

Ana Furtuna is director of the secretariat of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum.

Disclaimer

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

Who are right-wing forces that attacked Georgia's LGBTIQ+ ?

Just weeks before Tbilisi Pride, the ultra-conservative Georgian activist, Levan Vasadze, who is affiliated with the group that organised the counter-protests, held a press conference at the Tbilisi Marriott Hotel.

In Moldova, a sense of foreboding

Moldova relies on Russian gas and it has 1,500 Russian troops fully in control of part of its territory, Transnistria. In light of the situation in Ukraine, it's all rather ominous.

Eastern Europe: Between hammer and anvil

For peace in Europe in the short term, Ukraine must win the war. But for peace in the long term, Germany must be contained and Russia must break apart.

The EU Eastern Partnership summit - a rethink needed

For the sixth Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels on Wednesday, the EU should better differentiate between slow and fast reformers, deepen integration of the 'Association Trio' (Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia), and address the burning security issues in eastern Europe.

Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine - the case for granting EU candidacy

Granting EU candidacy status to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will firmly anchor their ties with Brussels — and enable the EU to secure its place in the Black Sea region, connecting Europe to China and energy-rich Central Asia, bypassing Russia.

Agenda

Russia sanctions and energy dominate Next WEEK

The EU Commission is expected to put forward the RePowerEU plan, which aims to help the diversification of fossil fuel imports in the bloc, as the EU aims to get rid of its dependence on Russian energy supplies.

Column

How to respond, if Moscow now offers peace talks

It is difficult to see how Vladimir Putin can survive more major setbacks or outright defeat. Should this happen, Russia will find itself in a major political crisis. But offering him negotiations now would help him, by easing domestic pressure.

News in Brief

  1. Confirmed: EU drops call for 'independent' Abu Akleh probe
  2. EU plan to stop firework abuse in football stadiums
  3. More Russians now crossing Finnish land border
  4. Report: EU to propose €584bn energy grid upgrade plan
  5. Morocco snubs Left MEPs probing asylum-seeker deaths
  6. EU urges calm after Putin's nuclear threat
  7. Council of Europe rejects Ukraine 'at gunpoint' referendums
  8. Lithuania raises army alert level after Russia's military call-up

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  5. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling

Latest News

  1. Europe's far-right celebrates Meloni victory
  2. EU mulls more police powers for west Africa missions
  3. EU fight on illegal fishing must move from paper to online
  4. EU adding Bahamas to tax-haven blacklist
  5. Czech presidency proposes fossil-fuel tax compromise
  6. Ukraine's cyber resistance is impressive - but hard to replicate
  7. 'Grazie Italia': Far-right wins power in Rome
  8. How the EU is failing to help the hippo

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us