The European Union: Eastern Partnership

Tuesday, 31 August 2021 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Editorial, EU blog post series, European Union
Reading Time:  9 minutes

The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is a joint initiative of the European External Action Service of the European Union (EU) together with the EU, its Member States, and six Eastern European partners governing the EU’s relationship with the post-Soviet states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. The EaP is intended to provide a forum for discussions regarding trade, economic strategy, travel agreements, and other issues between the EU and its Eastern European neighbours. It also aims at building a common area of shared values of democracy, prosperity, stability, and increased cooperation. The project was initiated by Poland and a subsequent proposal was prepared in co-operation with Sweden. It was presented by the foreign ministers of Poland and Sweden at the EU’s General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels on 26 May 2008. The Eastern Partnership was inaugurated by the European Union in Prague, Czech Republic on 7 May 2009. The first meeting of foreign ministers in the framework of the Eastern Partnership was held on 8 December 2009 in Brussels.

The Eastern Partnership (EaP) was established as a specific Eastern dimension of the European Neighborhood Policy, which contains both a bilateral and multilateral track. The Eastern Partnership complements the Northern Dimension and the Union for the Mediterranean by providing an institutionalised forum for discussing visa agreements, free trade deals, and strategic partnership agreements with the EU’s eastern neighbours, while avoiding the controversial topic of accession to the European Union. Its geographical scope consists of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Unlike the Union for the Mediterranean, the Eastern Partnership does not have its own secretariat, but is controlled directly by the European Commission.

In May 2008, Poland and Sweden put forward a joint proposal for an Eastern Partnership with Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, with Russia and Belarus participating in some aspects. Eventually, Belarus joined the initiative as a full member, while Russia does not participate at all. The Polish foreign minister Radosław Sikorski said “We all know the EU has enlargement fatigue. We have to use this time to prepare as much as possible so that when the fatigue passes, membership becomes something natural” It was discussed at the European Council on 19 and 20 June 2008, along with the Union for the Mediterranean. The Czech Republic endorsed the proposal completely, while Bulgaria and Romania were cautious, fearing that the Black Sea Forum for Partnership and Dialogue and the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation could be undermined. Meanwhile, Germany, France, and others were not happy with the possibility that the Eastern Partnership could be seen as a stepping stone to membership (especially for Ukraine), while Poland and other Eastern states have explicitly welcomed this effect.

The Eastern Partnership was officially launched in May 2009 when the Czech Republic invited the leaders of the six members of the initiative. Meanwhile, Germany attended the summit to signal their alarm at the economic situation in the East. Russia accused the EU of trying to carve out a new sphere of influence, which the EU denied, stating that they were “responding to the demands of these countries…and the economic reality is that most of their trade is done with the EU”.

Eastern Partnership © Concus Cretus/cc-by-sa-4.0

European Union (blue) and Eastern Partnership (green) © Concus Cretus/cc-by-sa-4.0

The participation of Belarus in the Eastern Partnership and their President Lukashenko, who has been described as authoritarian, at a summit in 2009 was the subject of debate. On 30 September 2011 Belarus seemingly withdrew from the initiative because of: “unprecedented discrimination” and a “substitution” of the principles on which it was built two years ago. However three days later Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov refuted this. On 28 June 2021, the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Belarus would suspend its membership in the Eastern Partnership.

The Eastern Partnership is a forum aiming to improve the political and economic trade-relations of the six Post-Soviet states of “strategic importance” – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine with the European Union. Promotion of human rights and rule of law in former Soviet states has been reported to form the “core” of the policy of the Eastern Partnership. The EU draft of the EaP states that: “Shared values including democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights will be at its core, as well as the principles of market economy, sustainable development and good governance.” The Partnership is to provide the foundation for new Association Agreements between the EU and those partners who have made sufficient progress towards the principles and values mentioned. Apart from values, the declaration says the region is of “strategic importance” and the EU has an “interest in developing an increasingly close relationship with its Eastern partners…” The inclusion of Belarus prompts the question whether values or geopolitics are paramount in the initiative. EU diplomats agree that the country’s authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has done little to merit involvement in the policy at this stage. But the EU fears Russia will strengthen its grip on Minsk if it is left out. It is, however, assumed that in the long-term, Lukashenko will become less important with time. There are plans to model the concept on the Stabilisation and Association Process used by the EU in the Balkans, including a possible free trade area encompassing the countries in the region, similar to BAFTA or CEFTA. A future membership perspective is not ruled out, either.

The EC has earmarked €600 million for the six partner countries for the period 2010–13 as part of the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument, constituting about a quarter of the total funding available to the Eastern Partnership countries in this period. The funds will be used for three main purposes: Comprehensive Institution Building programmes, aimed at supporting reforms (approximately €175 million); Pilot regional development programmes, aimed at addressing regional economic and social disparities (approximately €75 million); and Implementation of the Eastern Partnership, focusing on democracy, governance and stability, economic integration and convergence with EU policies, energy security, and contacts between people with the aim of bringing the partners closer to the EU (approximately €350 million). In December 2010 the European Investment Bank has established the ″Eastern Partnership Technical Assistance Trust Fund″ (EPTATF). It includes the ″Eastern Partnership Internship Programme″ which is open to students who are nationals of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova or Ukraine.

Read more on Wikipedia Eastern Partnership, VOLT Europa, United Europe, Pulse of Europe.


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