Eastern Partnership: Looking beyond the 2017 Summit

Athens, 8 November 2017


Organized by ELIAMEP and the European Commission Representation in Greece,

in cooperation with the Embassies of Estonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden


Dr. Panagiota Manoli

Coordinator, Russia and Eurasia Studies Programme, ELIAMEP


The conference “Eastern Partnership: Looking beyond the 2017 Summit” was held with the goal to nurture discussion at a policy and academic level in view of the 5th EaP Summit held in Brussels on 24 November 2017. The Conference gathered representatives of the diplomatic world, policy makers and academics who casted light on various aspects of the EaP.

The Eastern Partnership (EaP) marks nearly a decade of existence. Presented for the first time in May 2008 at the EU’s General Affairs and External Relations Council it was the result of a initiative of Poland jointly proposed with Sweden. The EaP was expected to govern EU’s relations with its eastern partners that had no immediate membership prospect; Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, while integrating them in a common European economic space. Expeditated by the ‘5 days war’ of August 2008 between Georgia and Russia, the EaP has been through a period of crises which hindered its implementation and put under question its overall policy relevance. As a result of crises and the deterioration of relations between the West and Russia, especially since 2014, the EaP acquired a stronger geopolitical significance and turned more political. Rather than blocking EaP, crises triggered its further development.


The Eastern Partnership as a successful EU policy

The EaP constitutes a sui generis policy which is both an external governance policy (non-coercive creation of liberal order based on rules around which actors’ expectations converge) and an integration policy (integrating non-EU areas into a single European space in material and normative terms). As such, it has marked progress especially at the institutional level. Despite security challenges on the ground, the policy has sustained a path of approximation between the EU and its eastern partners. Ten years since the launching of the first round of negotiations on an Association Agreement, three partner countries (Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) have working Association Agreements, visa-free regime and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTA) with the EU. Especially the DCFTA have proven a tool of political, social and economic reforms rather than a mere technical instrument.  Thus, today the partnership between the EU and its eastern neighbours has taken successful steps ahead:

  • The Association Agreements/DCFTA signed with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are in force and provide a clear agenda for reforms in all three countries.
  • Three years after a visa-free regime was set up with Moldova, the EU has eliminated obligatory Schengen visas for citizens from Georgia and Ukraine who hold biometric passports.
  • The initialling of the Comprehensive Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Armenia, signed in the margins of the Eastern Partnership Summit in November 2017
  • Progress in negotiations for a new agreement with Azerbaijan and enhanced contacts with Belarus are clear signals of the EaP’s ability to adjust to changing circumstances
  • EaP countries contribute to CSDP missions (currently Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine), as well as EU Battle Groups (Ukraine).

Twenty (20) key deliverables have been identified in the framework of the priorities agreed in Riga, on the basis of already existing commitments on both EU’s and EaP Partner Countries’ side. Each deliverable is complemented by: milestones and targets to be achieved by 2020; implementation modalities, and main actors involved. This structure allows for the 20 key deliverables to act as a work plan guiding joint actions in the next phase of the EaP until 2020.

The most outstanding challenge for EaP’s success has been the Ukrainian crisis which has created war conditions and continuing instability in eastern neighborhood. Still, despite the crisis in Ukraine and perhaps because of it, EU-Ukraine rapprochement has taken a new upturn with significant advancements in all fields of cooperation bringing about structural changes in the Ukrainian state. These include wide-scale judiciary and administrative reforms towards strengthening the rule of law while in the course of last two years, EU has become the largest market for Ukrainian products, absorbing more than 40% of Ukrainian exports. Market forces along with politics have segmented Ukraine’s European choice.

Georgia, a front runner in EaP, has advanced to 1st place in anti-Corruption and Open Government Index among the 19 countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia and it has also become a regional leader in the Rule of Law Index, scoring 34th position worldwide. Georgia was 13th in Economic Freedom ranking (by Heritage foundation), which actually is a place between the UK and Luxembourg and 9th in the World Bank “easy to make business” ranking for 2018. Moldova another frontrunner in EaP, has been making some headway in democratic and economic reform despite troublesome political periods. The EU is Moldova’s first trading partner and biggest investor in the country. Reforms pushed forwarded by the EaP have played a crucial role in making this progress.

Constrains are also present and vary from operational capacity problems, to the counter role of competing powers in the region, especially Russia, the local regimes’ willingness to push ahead with painful reforms and the resistance to dominant governance models. It is of course difficult to assess EaP against specific benchmarks and measurable targets due to its long term, comprehensive perspective, while it is early to make firm assessment of EaP’s impact as AAs have just one or two years of actual existence (Moldova’s and Georgia’s agreements were operational by 2016, Ukraine’s by September 2017). EaP is however certainly a flexible and adaptable policy, as witnessed by the various Reviews of the ENP.


The Future of EaP: creating a vision beyond the Summit

On the EU side, the EaP vision has been recently built by two guideline papers which set the overall policy framework in the short term. The first is the “Eastern Partnership – 20 Deliverables for 2020: Focusing on key priorities and tangible results” and the second is the 2016 communication on the ‘Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy’. The EU should however become more proactive about selling the long-term benefit of EaP policy, rather than taking the virtues of the ‘Brussels model’ as a given.

From the partner countries’ perspective, expectations on EaP’s development are high though often diverse on the level of integration with the EU to which they aspire. These expectations have been evident in the common position prepared by the three EaP countries, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, in view of the Declaration of the Brussels Summit Meeting. The EaP is expected to gain more political weight while at the same time acquiring a stronger project – oriented agenda. Energy security, development of trans-border cooperation, migration and business support are areas for practical cooperation that will give tangible outcomes. Accession to Schengen zone, EU Customs Union, Energy Union with the EU and a Joint Digital Market are steps which are specifically put forward. For at least the three front runners in the EaP, this project based approach should not be however an end to itself, but it should prepare the partners for their integration in the EU.

Though the policy was launched as a government centered one, it has acquired a strong civil society element and turned more towards people to people contacts (education, mobility partnerships, and business). This ‘people first’ approach should remain as it strengthens the visibility of the policy. An issue that regularly comes up while discussing EaP is its potential in addressing issues of hard security, namely conflicts in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.  Though the EaP was neither designed as a security policy, nor is equipped with conflict resolution tools, it could develop as a policy against annexation and occupation tactics in Europe and stipulate defence cooperation between partners and the EU.

The EaP has been successfully balancing two fundamental policy principles – differentiation and inclusiveness. To this end, the EaP should give more motivation for further reforming and modernizing those participant countries which clearly identify the European way of development as the main internal and external policy priority. An efficient and successful EU policy strengthens the flank of pro-European forces and underpins the view that the EU continues to be a successful project of regional and global importance. Building resilience among the engaged partners is the guiding principle in substantiating EaP.


Annex I.  Programme

Annex II. Conference presentations

  1. Panos Carvounis, Head of European Commission Representation in Greece_Welcome Remarks
  2. Archil Karaulashvili, First Deputy State Minister of Georgia_Talking Points
  3. Vassilis Maragos,Head of Unit for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus & Eastern Partnership, DG NEAR, European Commission_Presentation

Annex III: EaP factsheets

  1. EU is strengthening businesses in Eastern Partner countries- factsheet
  2. EU Develops Digital Economies and Societies in Eastern Partner Countries
  3. Eastern Partnership a Policy that Delivers (from 2015)


Annex IV:5th EaP Summit’s Joint Declaration