Januar 05, 2011

2011 - A Year for the Eastern Partnership?

2011 could be a crucial year for the development of the EU's Eastern Partnership. There are some initial steps towards deeper rapprochement, but 2011 could be a year where the EU and the partner countries should show their will for.

Javier Solana, José Manuel Barroso and Mirek Topolánek
during their speeches at the Eastern Partnership Summit.
Foto: Photographic service of the Council of the EU ©
European Communities
Eastern Partnership - Background

The EU's Eastern Partnership was initially a Polish-Swedish initiative but was taken over by the European Commission in December 2008 and endorsed by the European Council in March 2009, under the Czech EU Presidency. It aims to complete the Union's foreign policy towards Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus by developing a specific Eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy. The countries concerned are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Radoslaw Sikorski, Nickolay Mladenov, Stefan Füle
Eastern Partnership Foreign Ministers Meeting, 13 December 2010

Foto: Photographic service of the Council of the EU ©
European Communities
Second Eastern Partnership Foreign Ministers Meeting

On 13 December 2010 the second Foreign Ministers' meeting within the framework of the Eastern Partnership was held in Brussels, including representatives of EU institutions (Stefan Füle, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, and Catherine Ashton). The participants discussed the results achieved so far, and aimed to prepare the agenda for the Eastern Partnership Summit in 2011. The discussion goes back to a Report "Implementation of the Eastern Partnership: Report to the meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers, December 13, 2010" prepared by the European Commission.

The Commission outlined the progress made in the implementation of the bilateral (Negotiations on the Association Agreement with Ukraine, also on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area; negotiations on Association Agreements with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia; enhanced mobility through visa facilitation and readmission agreements and through “gradual steps toward full visa liberalization as a long-term goal for individual partner countries on a case-by-case basis provided that conditions for well-managed and secure mobility are in place”; energy; launch preparatory activities in 2011, ahead of the start of the fully-fledged Comprehensive institution building /CIB/ actions) and multilateral aspects of the Partnership framework (progress made in the four thematic platforms) such as reviewed the activities of the Civil Society Forum (see Integrating Civil Society - The Case Civil Society Forum and Eastern Partnership).

According to the preceedings of the ministerial meeting, the participants made some proposals on the future development:

  • improved  coordination  of  the  work  of  International Financial Institutions and other donors in trying to achieve a more coherent and holistic approach to the EaP. In this vein, the ministers invited the Commission to further explore the potential of the informal Information and Coordination group which flanks the Eastern Partnership.  
  • the need to make further progress particularly in negotiations on Association Agreements, including Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas, where appropriate or Institutional Reform Plans linked to the Comprehensive Institution-Building Programmes. Better use of the existing agreements and the Visa Code was stressed.
  • Ministers held an initial discussion on possible areas where more could be done within the Eastern Partnership, notably: improving sectoral cooperation; facilitating the participation of the Partners to the EU programmes; strengthening cooperation in the area conflict prevention and resolution; consolidating the role of civil society. Particular emphasis should be given to easing the mobility of certain categories of people such as students, researchers, academics or business operators. 
"The ministerial meeting did not bring any new decisions vital for the future of the EaP. Its task was to prepare the ground for the summit of the EaP heads of state and governments scheduled for May 2011. It also seems that the partner states have been making efforts to show interest in relations with the EU, especially that the EU is starting an internal discussion on the 2014-2020 financial perspective and there are talks within the EU on the reform of the European Neighbourhood Policy. The outcome of these discussions will to a great extent determine the future EU policy towards its Eastern neighbours, including the level of financial support offered by the EU," Szymon Ananicz wrote in an article "The second meeting of Eastern Partnership foreign ministers".

Three Eastern Presidencies

For the first time, two Eastern European EU Members, Hungary and Poland will take up the chair of the EU Council of Ministers from the beginning of 2011. "Hungary and Poland take up their tasks seven years after enlargement. There was enough time to prepare for performing the duties effectively and efficiently. But this also means that the other member states' expectations from Budapest or Warsaw will be as high as they were from Stockholm (...) or (...) from Madrid," Warsaw Business Journal added. Both countries already coordinate their EU policy with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, notwithstanding the fact that a significant degree of harmonisation has already been achieved in the "Visegrad-Group" (see: EU's and Eastern Partners' Autumn 2010: Tipping Point in Terms of Rapprochement?).

Another Eastern European country and EU Member, Lithuania, will chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2011 "with a focus on internal and external threats in the OSCE area, fostering democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, notably freedom of the media, promoting energy security in Europe and building upon synergies between regional organizations". "Lithuania, as a part of the Baltic Sea region and a member of the European Union and NATO, believes that a network of regional and sub-regional organizations, complementing each other's activities and those of the OSCE, will be more than the sum of its parts. Synergies between such organizations are vital for building a stronger security community," Audronius Azubalis, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Lithuania said, cited by The Baltic Course.

And the main question is: What input will become the development of the EU-Eastern Neighbours relations during 2011?

Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the Europen Union

The Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union focuses on four main topics: growth and employment for preserving the European social model; stronger Europe; citizen friendly Union; enlargement and neighbourhood policy. However, the Hungarian EU Presidency is hampered by negative international and internal development:
  • The Hungarian Presidency begins at a time when the European economy is well on the road to recovery only in some parts of the European Union, mainly in Germany, but in large parts of Europe the opportunities for social and economic recovery are limited.
  • "Controversial legislation recently adopted by Hungary's ruling majority has apparently been straining relations with the European Commission since the country took over the rotating EU presidency at the beginning of the year. A row over a contentious media law adopted by the Hungarian Parliament on 21 December 2010, along with 'special taxes' imposed on foreign businesses, overshadowed a festive launch of the Hungarian EU Presidency over the holidays", EurActiv.com reported.
Hungary plans to review the Eastern Partnership’s previous achievements and to present prospects for its further development at the Budapest summit of the Eastern Partnership (26 May 2011). Moreover, it plans to hold, in the first half of 2011, a Partnership-related business forum.

Polish Presidency of the Council of the Europen Union

From 1 July 2011 Poland will hold the Presidency in the Council of the European Union. Poland is the biggest country among the new Member States joined the European Union in 2004/ 2007. Expectations on the Polish EU Presidency are high but expectations are important, and without stringent and demanding expectations there are no compelling reasons to rethink Polish Eastern policy. Under Prime Minister Donald Tusk, relations with Russia and Germany are better than ever. This is a good and notable precondition for a successful Eastern policy.

In an exclusive interview for Polish Radio, Secretary of State for European Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, Mikołaj Dowgielewicz, outlined the priorities for the Polish Presidency: “First of all we will concentrate on the exit strategy from the economic crisis. We want to push forward the relationship between the Union and its eastern neighbours – the Eastern Partnership. We also have energy policy on our agenda. We will start a discussion on EU defence policy and fifthly we will be very busy chairing discussion on the financial (EU budget) framework."

The Polish Institute of International Affairs in cooperation with the Representation of the European Commission in Poland addressed the opportunities and challenges involved in the implementation of Eastern Partnership from the perspective of the approaching Polish presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2011 in an international conference "Eastern Partnership: Strategy for 2011 and beyond" organised on 3–5 November 2010, in Lublin. For the Polish government, an important thing is to have the aims of the Budapest summit set out in concrete terms and realised:
  • "Priority is put on higher involvement by international actors (“the group of friends”) in supporting the Partnership and on enlisting international financial institutions’ support for the Partnership so as to supplement the modest allocation under European Neighbourhood Policy instruments.
  • Also identified as tasks to be addressed were securing  support  for  flagship  initiatives,  assessments  of  the  most  ambitious thematic platform programs for 2012–2013, the launch of Polish programs and projects under the Eastern Partnership aegis and the establishment of parliamentary cooperation - an initiative that had been delayed due to differences between the EU and the parliament of Belarus.
  • Important events during the Polish presidency will include a meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs of the Eastern Partnership countries in Warsaw in December 2011; ministerial meetings on matters of education, culture, economy, infrastructure, agriculture and, probably, visa  issues; meetings of the heads of customs services and the heads of statistical services; and, a forum on civic society in the Eastern Partnership states,  to be held in Poznań in November 2011.
  • The deepening of bilateral cooperation will proceed through the expediting of negotiations on Association Agreements and free trade area (the optimistic target is to sign an Association Agreement with Ukraine during the Polish presidency); the process of visa regime liberalisation; the launching of programs to support “the six” in their reforms and in their adoption of the EU acquis; and, through the making of final preparations for the launch, (scheduled for 2012) of new regional development programs, which are to be patterned on cohesion programs and available for the first time to outside states." ("Eastern Partnership: Strategy for 2011 and beyond")

Lithuanian Chairmanship of the OSCE

The last OSCE Summit in Astana have enjoyed little success on the whole. For Lithuania, the most important step would be to find a solution for the relations with Belarus and for the settlement of the conflicts in the European neighbourhood. "But any hope of changing Belarus' position has now been dashed with the violent crackdown in Minsk against pro-democracy activists following December's presidential elections. Last week, Belarus declared the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which had described the presidential vote as "flawed", as organizata non grata and expelled the watchdog. It is now clear that a 'coloured revolution' ­ like the one in Ukraine - will not happen in Belarus," Daniel Korski wrote for "The Spectator".

What to do with Lukashenko? German Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right coalition is considering reimposing European Union sanctions against Belarus (KyivPost). Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt has said that Belarusian leader Aleksander Lukashenko will be put back on an EU visa ban list along with dozens of officials responsible for post-election beatings and arrests (EUobserver). The OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis, said today that the Chairmanship had started consultations that aim to find a solution that would enable the OSCE to continue its work in Belarus, OSCE reported.

However, does sanction seem reasonable? "Isolation of Belarus has not produced the desired results. Actions taken by the Belarusian government against ordinary people and journalists who took part in the protest, as well as arrests and the use of physical force hamper cooperation with the official Belarus but not with the Belarusian people. I will approach the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, and the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, with the request to simplify the procedure for issuing EU visas to citizens of Belarus and to reduce visa prices," Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė said, quoted by The Baltic Course.

Chances for the Eastern Partnership in 2011

Areas, on which the Hungarian and Polish presidencies and the Lithuanian Chairmanship will focus their attention, will probably be consistent with the current countries objectives in the East. Frankly, the three Eastern presidencies could strengthen the Eastern dimension of the Union’s foreign policy:
  • The Eastern Partnership is a long-term strategy. It will be impossible to achieve immediate effects. But Hungary and Poland could refresh the discussion about allocation of financial resources and profilization of the political framework for deeper development of the relation between the European Union and the neighbouring states;
  • Both countries should improve the coordination efforts of all actors involved: EU institutions, Member States, regional and local authorities, and international institutions;
  • Probably one of the most important step should be the allocation of efforts to involve all the Member States of the EU, mainly the Southern EU Members. Even wider acceptance could be obtained, if Poland and Hungary can ensure wider support trough the framework of the "Visegrad-Group" and the "Waimer Triangle";
  • The Eastern EU Members could start a "listening tour" to identificate the different needs of the partner countries: visa liberalisation, establishment of free trade areas, strengthening the social dimension (civil society), integration into the Energy Community;
Lithuania's proposal already goes some way in this direction, through its simple, clear architecture. Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Audronius Ažubalis highlighted the need to promote mobility and people-to-people contacts, the necessity to facilitate visa regime for partner countries, to develop commercial relations and to resolve protracted conflicts in the Eastern Partnership countries: "I hope that next year will be the year of mobility. We already have a visa-free regime action plan for Ukraine and we hope to draft a similar plan for Moldova soon. Visa facilitation and readmission agreements with Georgia will enter into force early next year. I hope that negotiations will soon begin on such agreements with Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan,” the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs said, quoted by The Lithuania Tribune.
  • On 8 December 2010 the European Commission launched the EU Strategy for the Danube Region. The EU Strategies for the Baltic Sea and the Danube Region, and the Black Sea Synergy were put forward by the European Commission to increase cooperation with and between the countries surrounding the three regions, and were conceived as a collective solution of engaging local and regional actors across the regions. Growing EU concerns over energy security, environmental pollution, enhanced people-to-people cooperation, upgrading of transport infrastructure, democratic and economic reforms, linked enhanced EU involvement in the regions. Involving regional and local stakeholders should promote better respond to opportunities and challenges in a regional framework.

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