The European Union and the Eastern Partnership: What if Europe built itself within its borders as well?

, by Clara Dassonville, Eurosorbonne, Nané Hanoyan, Translated by Paola Lo Bue Oddo

The European Union and the Eastern Partnership: What if Europe built itself within its borders as well?
Photo: Torsten Muller / Unsplash

The European Neighbourhood Policy, initiated by the EU in 2001, aims to improve the EU’s relations with its eastern and southern neighbours. Under the name of “Eastern Partnership”, the EU seeks to establish new links with countries in the Caucasus and to cooperate with them more closely. The underlying purpose of this partnership is to avoid new fractures across the continent, divided between the East and the West. However, the 2014 Ukrainian crisis and the EU’s subsequent and increasing mistrust of Russia presents the partnership with a mixed record.

What does this project consist of, and what are the interests of the EU in this complex geopolitical sphere? Far from the Eurocentrism of Brussels, this neighbourhood policy could demonstrate that Europe’s main challenges lie within its borders. Nezim Tandjaoui from Eurosorbonne discusses the EU’s Eastern Partnership.

The Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership: Europe’s borders at the heart of EU concerns

Let us start with the ambitious Eastern Partnership, launched by the European Union in the context of its neighbourhood policy. The European Neighbourhood Policy was conceived in March 2001 at the Stockholm European Council. It has a the objective of helping to avoid the emergence of new fractures across Europe. It is through cooperation that Europe has to respond efficiently to a series of issues, including concerns related to border management such as organised crime, illegal trafficking and irregular immigration.

The Neighbourhood Policy does not end here: through the Eastern Partnership, inaugurated in May 2009 at the Prague Summit, the EU aims to conclude agreements with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus. Unfortunately enough, these are countries that Western Europeans are not too focused on. The EU’s policy does not exactly entail an accession procedure but does provide a good basis for strengthening relationships on issues such as security, stability and economic development throughout the Eastern neighborhood. The first Eastern Partnership forum was held in Tbilisi in May 2012, and resulted in new negotiation agreements with certain countries, which replace the partnerships concluded in the late 1990s after the collapse of the USSR. However, the only agreements that have currently succeeded are those with Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

The challenges and objectives of the Eastern Partnership: can the EU unify the region?

Through the Eastern Partnership, the EU is part of a multilateral perspective with dual interests. Firstly, the EU must strengthen its political, economic and cultural ties with interested countries, thus enabling them to move closer to the EU. Secondly, the EU must conclude bilateral and non-binding agreements in order to respect the interests of the countries of the Caucasus as much as possible. Indeed, according to the Jacques Delors Institute, "The EU must take into account that it is not alone in defining the rules in the region”.

For example, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine consider the Partnership as “the antechamber of a hypothetical enlargement”. As for Armenia and Belarus, they seek to strengthen their ties with the EU whilst continuing with their relationship with Russia. This difference in interests is reflected in individual agreements: very comprehensive integration agreements with Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine allow them access to the EU internal market, while the EU’s cooperation is founded on rather circumscribed partnerships with Belarus and Azerbaijan.

The Caucasus is a complex geopolitical area which the continent’s cohesion depends on. In 1990, at the end of the Cold War, the Paris Charter for the New Europe recognised that “the era of confrontation and division in Europe was over”. Yet today Europe seems to be confronted with the emergence of new East-West divisions - which it thought it had got rid of. Would this project be an opportunity for Europe to establish itself as a unifying regional power?

Europe is mainly focusing on building a security cordon of prosperous states along its periphery. However, the internal political situation of these states doesn’t always correspond to democratic principles: what should we do with a state like Belarus, where political dissidents are imprisoned? The issue around the integration of Caucasus countries with European values ​​raises many debates within the EU community.

The EU and Russia: understanding is necessary for a smooth functioning of the Eastern Partnership

Even after the end of the Cold War, the European continent is characterised by two regional powers, sometimes perceived as opposite to one another: the EU and Russia. If the Caucasus were to have stronger relationships with the EU, it could not afford to have economic problems. On the other hand, European voters could refuse to grant financial aid to the Eastern Partnership countries. More broadly, the success of the Eastern Partnership depends on good relations between the EU and Russia.

The project’s challenges are part of the broader context of historical mistrust between the EU and Russia. If Eurasian relations improved between 1990 and 2000 - especially with the NATO-Russia Founding Act in 1997 - the conflicts in Kosovo and Ukraine increased the tensions between the EU and Russia.

These tensions are at the heart of the Eastern Partnership. Indeed, Russian strategists believe that the Eastern Partnership defies their interests in the region, particularly in the area of ​​energy routes – considering that Russia still is Europe’s leading energy supplier. But Russian mistrust does not solely derive from economic issues: strategic and geopolitical matters are also of high importance. The Russian Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, stated that “the EU alone cannot be blamed for regional instability. Nevertheless, the brutality with which the EU seeks to ’civilise’ the region and impose its own standards and values ​​has not made the European Neighbourhood Policy more attractive”. Therefore, it is up to the Caucasus countries to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the EU without compromising their historical relations with Russia.

The Eastern Partnership could be of great importance for the future of the continent: while Europe’s challenges are within its borders, cooperation and partnerships with Eastern Europe can rely on civil society in order to uphold democratic principles.

This article, courtesy of Eurosorbonne, is a part of “Le Grand Format Européen”, a cooperation initiative between The New Federalist and three Paris-based student journals. This week, we publish articles concerning enlargement and the edges of Europe, coming from Eurosorbonne as well as Voix d’Europe and Courrier d’Europe - Made in Sorbonne.

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