Januar 17, 2013

The Fall of the Eastern Partnership? Or even Ukraine?

Eastern Partnership countries, Graphik: Hristofor Hridsoskulov
Six different neighbouring countries - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine - one concrete idea for enhancing relationships with those countries - Eastern Partnership.  A lot of time has gone by since the Eastern Partnership has been launched. And what happened? The European Union has taken some slow steps in its primal dierection. The idea is not bad: association agreements including deep and comprehensive free trade agreements with those countries willing and able to enter into a deeper engagement and gradual integration in the EU economy; gradual visa liberalisation, accompanied by measures to tackle illegal immigration; promoting democracy and good governance, strengthening energy security; promoting sector reform and environment protection, encouraging people to people contacts, supporting economic and social development and offering additional funding for projects to reduce socio-economic imbalances and increasing stability. That is all well and good, of course, but the European Union can hardly put any of this to the test at a time when the six countries are undergoing a very difficult and sometimes really strange orientation process.

The European Union had expected after several elections in the neighbouring countries democracies and democratic leaders who will precede a democratic path of their countries. From their intentions that they will follow a path of European integration lead mostly to disappointment among European leaders. 

Štefan Füle and Mykola Azarov; Foto: Photographic service of the Council of the EU ©
European Communities
Ukraine - An unendless game of cat and mouse

Viktor Yanukovych remained in power after October 2012 election, but international observers, with OSCE claimed the poll has yet again been tainted by manipulation and inconsistencies. And Ukraine is the country that was celebrated by European leaders and media after the Orange revolution in 2004 as a country on the right way to a better democrcy. Democracy is and remains dead loss in Ukraine. And now the new old problem wheter to take a stance on European led or Russian led integration: Freedom and democracy against secure gas supply and transit? 

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said that the country will be ready this year to sign the much anticipated association agreement with the European Union, as "The Epoch Times" reported. MP and former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Petro Poroshenko stated that Ukraine has no alternative to its movement to the EU, and it should develop the most extensive ties with Russia, cited by UkrInform. According to the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara, it is very difficult to predict the next ten years of European international policy, as well as to determine which position will be taken by Europe globally. And more: "Ukraine's commitment to European standards in public life absolutely does not imply its geopolitical, economic or cultural disconnection from our friends, among them the Russian Federation," Kozhara said. With so much mutual sympathy, it is not surprising that Ukraine has a difficult choice. But it would be wrong to first look for the special democrcy offer by the European Union, and then look for a secury gas supply and transit.

According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, "(t)alks are being intensively held regarding the development of new formats of cooperation in the sphere of supplies to Ukraine and transit through Ukraine to European consumers of Russian gas. We proceed from the need to ensure in this area stable and mutually beneficial conditions that meet the long-term interests of Russia and Ukraine,"as cited by UkrInform. Then Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev interferes and everyone is curious whether the Ukraine's choice is right or false. "Our partners have not only to share the principles of the Customs Union, but also to be ready to implement them. When joining the Customs Union they should sign all documents, not just some of them," he said, cited by UkrInform.

Ukraine - To be, or not to be...part of EU or Customs Union? Is this the question?

Is Ukraine bluffing over Russia's offer, asks Steven Pifer in the Financial Times. Probably yes. Perhaps not. Although the EU still does not know what Ukraine will? "Kyiv was only bluffing Moscow in pretending to be interested in joining the Customs Union; the idea baing to scare the EU into imposing less severe prequisites. (...) What seems obvious is that it is impossible to reconcile both possibilities," UkraineUpdate writes in the article "The Rat Race". However, some European leaders are concerned over these developments in Ukrainian foreign policy. What Ukraine has achieved is that Ukraine shocked European (and US leaders), as for Alexei Kovalev.

And then this: According to Freedom House in its new report "Freedom in the World 2013" the situation in Central and Eastern Europe/Eurasia is worsening with regard to Ukraine: "The return of Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency ushered in a new period of accelerated repression. With Russia setting the tone, Eurasia (consisting of the countries of the former Soviet Union minus the Baltic states) now rivals the Middle East as one of the most repressive areas on the globe." All these aspects will allow the European Union to better see when certain players, in this case Ukraine, are bluffing and gain a better understanding of how to play better. 

What happened to the so praised Orange Revolution path of Ukraine? Does the European Union really need Ukraine?

The European Union should operate immediately, but it remains to be seen whether the political will of its institutions and its members can be secured in practice. The European Commission delivers soft tones on possible EU-Ukraine Visa Liberalization for the upcoming summit in February 2013. As KyivPost reported, "(v)isa dialogues are step-by-step processes, based on substance and progress in the implementation of the benchmarks of relevant Action Plans".

And the EU member states? Lithuania's forthcoming Presidency of the EU Council could be one solution, which considered the development of the EU's Eastern Partnership initiative as one of its priorities, as The Baltic Course reported. Big and influential EU member states are having in mind another picture of current problems in Europe. Germany is preparing, on the one side, for a very important election year in late 2013. On the other side, German politicians have struggled to find the right policy mix towards the present economic debt crisis in the Euro zone. France is getting more (military) involved in Africa. And Great Britain asks a very fundamental question: Should the UK stay in the European Union? The Southern EU members have to tackle to worst economic crisis in the last decades.

It remains the case that once again "Germany’s Eastern policy should take into account a new political situation on the post-Soviet space", Andreas Umland writes. And I would finish my post by citing Andreas Umland again: "The future German approach could combine a high level of attention to Russia and constant care about the so-called “Intermediate Europe” (Zwischeneuropa), first of all, about Ukraine." This conclusion can be transferred into a European approach: Both parties (EU and Ukraine) are able to learn how to talk the language of integration by considering all the challenges and implications of being partners.

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