Could a successful Eastern Partnership encourage Russia to reform?

We need some courageous EU policymaking to ensure our Eastern partners can become free, united and democratic, argues Witold Jan Waszczykowski.
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Almost 30 years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The ideals spread by Poland’s Solidarity movement put an end to the ruthlessness of Communism, restored the sovereignty of Central European countries and led to the creation of new, independent states from the Baltic to the Caspian Sea.

However, even although it has been more than three decades, divided, partially subjugated and undemocratic states still exist in Europe. Countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe have been knocking on the gates of the EU and the transatlantic communities.

Southern Europe was offered an EU membership perspective, and this incentive brought about a sense of urgency that led to extraordinary measures and ended a years-long disputes. Macedonia was renamed and Serbs and Kosovars were finally able to hold conclusive negotiations.

On the other hand, eastern Europe was presented with a perspective of an extended process of implementing European standards. Following the 2004 enlargement of the EU, eastern European countries were offered the new, German-made neighbourhood programme; a regional mutation of European Neighbourhood Policy focused on applying good management practices. Even Russia was welcome to join in.


The 2009 Eastern Partnership (EaP), forged under the diplomatic leadership of Poland and Sweden, offered more than assistance with political and democratic reforms. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine were to receive comprehensive support on their way to Association Agreements with the EU as well as visa-free regimes.

Indeed, the EaP’s most meaningful achievement was the signing of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area agreements with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, integrating their economies into the Single Market. Doing away with import taxes and harmonising legal, sanitary and technical standards turned the EU into the Trio’s largest trading partner.

Russia’s aggression against Georgia and Ukraine, as well as its meddling in Moldovan affairs, also played a part in emancipating the top three from its influence. The Eastern Partnership may be bringing our partners closer to the West, but unfortunately it doesn’t offer a membership perspective with all the added benefits.

The unequal level of cooperation between the Union and particular EaP countries is a significant problem. There’s the ‘Trio’ and then there are those who take advantage of their cooperation with the EU for tactical reasons, in order to simultaneously strike deals with Russia. A multi-speed EaP framework could drive further reforms among the top three, but would likely end up in the failure of the programme as a whole.

The lack of a membership perspective places EaP countries in a grey area. They remain outside the Union, lacking the means to defend their national interests within the EU institutions and with no tools to safeguard themselves from external challenges. The lack of a membership perspective also discourages their political classes from initiating and implementing reforms.

Furthermore, their societies find it difficult to accept the costly reforms since the final prize of full EU membership is nowhere in sight. The experience of the Central European States should serve as a blueprint for how EaP ought to advance. A clear NATO and EU membership perspective drove Warsaw to undertake reforms.

Even although Poland’s prospects for re-joining the Western club seemed far off at that time, we were able to pull it off. The inability to protect the EU’s partners from Russia’s military aggression is an obvious weakness. Even if the EU did achieve strategic autonomy, it would not have the means to provide an effi cient level of military security against Russia.

The EU is, however, capable of demonstrating to Moscow the price it would have to pay for aggression, and should make sure Russia is aware of the sanctions and other penalties the EU has at its disposal. Despite Ukrainian and Georgian ambitions, full membership seems unrealistic even although many attempts have been made to create new and encouraging partial goals for the top three, particularly Kyiv.

"EaP’s success - marked by economic prosperity, democratisation and EU membership - may subsequently encourage Russian society to undertake similar reforms. Only then will the project of a free, united and democratic Europe be complete"

However, serious proposals, including Ukraine in the Three Seas Initiative infrastructure (3SI) projects have emerged, and it would be desirable to allocate EU funds toward Ukraine’s integration with the 3SI’s transportation network. Poland has already offered to include Ukraine in the Via Carpathia highway network project. Kyiv’s participation in the upcoming 3SI natural gas network is also worth mentioning.

Poland’s LNG terminals, along with the Baltic Pipe project, may play an important part in diversifying Ukraine’s energy needs and lowering its susceptibility to Russia’s pressure. A number of Western capitals believe that further development of EaP depends on Russia’s green light for emancipating those countries from its influence.

In a move supposedly aimed at not alienating Moscow, increasingly demanding standards are being created in Brussels, Paris and Berlin. Interestingly, not even the EU’s veteran Member States would be able to fulfil these new conditions, which go beyond the Copenhagen criteria and current Treaty commitments.

The goal of all this creativity is to keep our partners in the waiting room and maintain certain EU capitals’ lucrative business relations with Moscow. This road does not lead to a free, united and democratic Europe. The future democratisation and development of our Eastern partners depends on courageous EU policymaking in collaboration with the United States.

We cannot allow Russia to dictate which way the EaP countries should go. Most importantly, we should not let Russia decide who is eligible for membership of our own club - the European Union. A prosperous Ukraine, well on its way towards EU membership, will eventually draw back Crimea and Donbas with its attractive magnetic pull, just as the people of East Germany broke down the Berlin wall and joined the Free World.

EaP’s success - marked by economic prosperity, democratisation and EU membership - may subsequently encourage Russian society to undertake similar reforms. Only then will the project of a free, united and democratic Europe be complete.

On 1 July, Germany will assume the EU presidency and it will have the opportunity to rise up to the challenge. I will be keeping my fingers crossed for Berlin’s successful policymaking in this area.

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