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Eastern Partnership — opportunity or barrier for European integration of Moldova?

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Oleg Cristal / March 31, 2009
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During the March 20, 2009 session of the European Council, EU heads of state and government approved the Polish-Swedish European Commission’s initiative on the Eastern Partnership. Besides EU member states the Eastern Partnership covers six eastern neighboring countries: Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. This regional cooperation instrument will have a 600-million-euro budget for 2007–2013. The Eastern Partnership will be officially launched in Brussels on May 7, with leaders of all countries covered by this initiative being invited to participate. Thus, the Polish-Swedish initiative is materialized with less than one year after being submitted (May 2008), and this is a great success for the notorious European bureaucratic machinery.

Which is the essence of this initiative and what new does it bring within the ENP? Is the Eastern Partnership an obstacle for Moldova’s accession to the EU or rather an opportunity? What advantages our country may harvest within this arrangement? These are some questions to be answered below.

Eastern Partnership in brief

As already mentioned above, Sweden and Poland proposed on May 23, 2008 to build an Eastern Partnership between the 27 EU member states and six Eastern European states. The goal of initiative is to strengthen relations with Eastern European neighbors over those from the Mediterranean area. Under Article 49 of the Treaty on the EU, any European state which respects the community’s principles may apply for the EU membership. This way, unlike southern neighbors (from the Mediterranean area), Eastern European states have at least the theoretical chance to join the EU. Therefore, developers of the initiatives noted, these countries shall enjoy a different treatment by the EU within ENP.

Although Poland and Sweden only are developers of the Eastern Partnership Concept, this project was supported through diverse ways by the Baltic States, Hungary as well as by Europe’s economic engine Germany. A negative reaction to this initiative came from Romania and Bulgaria only,[1], as they relied on another project proposed by these states for the south-east area — the Black Sea Synergy. Later, the position of these countries has changed and they became supporters of the Eastern Partnership.

A month after the Eastern Partnership initiative was released EU leaders convened in the European Council welcomed the Polish-Swedish initiative on June 20, 2008 and called on the European Commission to propose concrete methods to implement it in the spring 2009[2]. The August 2008 Russian-Georgian war enhanced the EU attention towards the eastern neighborhood and catalyzed the elaboration of the Eastern Partnership Concept. Therefore, the European Commission delivered on December 3, 2008 its vision concerning the Eastern Partnership to EU member states and European Parliament[3]. On that occasion, the European Commissioner for External Relations and Neighborhood Policy, Benita Ferrero Waldner, said that this instrument provides some prepared Eastern European states with the possibility to get an EU associate status[4]. In his turn, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso said that the Eastern Partnership is a political association and economic integration instrument.

On January 14, 2009, Czech Premier Mirek Topolanek presented in front of the European Parliament the priorities of the Czech EU Presidency. According to Topolanek, the Eastern Partnership will keep being the priority of the Czech Presidency. On February 18, 2009, the European Parliament approved the resolution on the annual report of the Council concerning main aspects of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) in 2007, which indicates the “necessity of a stronger EU presence in the eastern neighborhood”RU. Romanian member of the European Parliament Alexandru Nazare stressed when the document was discussed that the Eastern Partnership is a welcome stimulant for participating countries which will want to apply for the EU membership such as the Republic of Moldova[5]. European parliamentarians backed the European Commission’s proposal which says that the new relations within the Eastern Partnership should be built on association agreements typical to each country and this would be a better response to partners’ bids for a tighter relationship[6].

The February 23 EU Council’s sitting of foreign ministers discussed the beginning of work on the Eastern Partnership initiative under documents by the Czech EU Presidency. The Council stressed that a series of issues are left, particularly related to visa liberalization, establishing of equilibrium between the Eastern Partnership and the Black Sea Synergy initiative, participation of some third countries (Russia and Turkey were invited as observers to the Eastern Partnership) and funding, and they will be considered[7]. Next step will be the approval of the Eastern Partnership by the EU Council at level of EU heads of state on March 20.

Birth premises of the Eastern Partnership

The Eastern Partnership was launched on a field already prepared for changes in EU relations with eastern neighbors. Firstly, it is worth to note that the Eastern Partnership is part of the ENP. The Neighborhood PolicyRO was launched in 2004 to encourage good relations between the enlarged EU and neighbors, without providing them with the prospect to join the EU. According to the European Security Strategy, this policy was drafted to ensure the prosperity, stability and security of all the parties involved. The ENP covers 15 states and the Palestinian Authority, of them 6 Eastern European countries which are now part of the Eastern Partnership.

The ENP-provided advantages include benefits relating to economic and social development and possibility to accede to the domestic market and integration into other European policies:

Starting 2005, ENP member states have signed individual Action Plans with the EU, with Moldova being the first country to sign such a documentRO on February 22, 2005. These political documents set the program, strategic objectives and priorities of EU relations with the ENP-covered states for a three-year term.

In 2006 Germany started informal discussions on reformation of the ENP, in order to advantage Eastern European countries over Mediterranean states through differentiation[8]. The reformulated ENP was called “ENP+”, with “plus” meaning “more” that provided by the Neighborhood Policy. Talks about ENP+ failed very soon “because of the opposition of some Mediterranean states,” according to German Bundestag member Rainder Steenblock[9].

On April 11, 2007 the European Commission tabled a new EU cooperation initiative for the Black Sea region within the ENP. The Black Sea SynergyRO proposed by Romania and Bulgaria and strongly supported by Germany aims to develop cooperation in the Black Sea area and between this region and the EU. Along with the bilateral EU policies on countries covered by the ENP, the pre-accession process with Turkey and the strategic partnership with Russia, the Black Sea Synergy will complete the EU efforts to promote stability and reforms in countries around the Black Sea. This project covers six states which have boundaries with the Black Sea (Romania, Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Turkey and Georgia), as well as other countries which have a tight connection with the region (Moldova, Greece, Armenia, Azerbaijan). The Black Sea Synergy will be based on sectoral programs and community initiatives regarding good governance, move of people and security, energy, transport, environment, maritime policy, fishing, trade, research, education, employment, social affairs, science and technology.

In the spring 2008 German officials launched new talks about a new form of relations with the eastern neighbors. Thus, the deputy leader of the Christian Democratic Union from the European Parliament, Ingo Friedrich, member of the EP presidium, proposed in the mid-April 2008 the building of a Union of Eastern EuropeRO which would bring together Moldova, Ukraine and some Caucasian states bidding for the EU membership. The German lawmaker was calling for “a third way between the quality of EU member and non-member, between countries inside and outside of the EU.” A couple of days later, Elmar Brok, member of the European Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee, said that the EU was considering a new strategy for eastern neighbors, which would stipulate something between the quality of EU member and common neighborRO. He noted that talks will already envisage “European neighbors not neighbors of Europe.” The Eastern Partnership was proposed after a month.

Germany’s efforts to promote a deeper cooperation in the Eastern Europe made some observers say that this is the response of Berlin to insistence of a group of southern states headed by France to promote the Union for the Mediterranean, which calls for a tighter cooperation between the EU and its southern neighbors (former French colonies). After a decade of talks on the necessity to build the Union for the Mediterranean, it was launched in July 2008RO.

Essence of the Eastern Partnership

The Eastern Partnership calls for deep relations between the EU and the six eastern neighbors of the Union, being based on an individual approach. Association Agreements will be signed with these countries, but unlike those signed with the Balkan states, which have a perspective to join the EU. The Eastern Partnership calls for building a true and comprehensible free-trade zone and gradually removing all obstacles on way of free move of people (including visa free) and cooperation regarding all aspects of security, especially energy security[10]. The operational structure of the future multilateral framework of the Eastern Partnership will have four stages: 1) bilateral meetings at level of heads of state and government; 2) annual meetings at level of EU foreign ministers and Eastern European partners to assess progresses of the Eastern Partnership and point out new goals; 3) meetings at level of high-ranking functionaries which will focus on four cooperation platforms, in particular: democracy, good governance and stability; economic integration and convergence with EU policies; energy security; people-to-people contacts; 4) meetings at level of experts which will also focus on the four thematic platforms.

Moldova’s ambiguous position

Chisinau has hesitated much before commenting the Eastern Partnership, hinting via informal channels that he is unsatisfied with the essence of this initiative. The key reason is the lack of a clear EU accession prospect in this regional cooperation instrument. The clearest position expressed by Moldovan authorities with regard to the Polish-Swedish initiative belongs to chief of state Vladimir Voronin who stated to the Russian newspaper Kommersant on February 27, 2009 that the Eastern Partnership “is similar to a CIS-2.” The president wondered “why to build a CIS under the EU control?” adding that it “looks like a circle around Russia”RU. Voronin explained his discontentment with the Eastern Partnership through the fact that Moldova is far ahead Caucasian states in the European integration process.

The discontentment the Moldovan president has expressed a year after the initiative was launched repeats somehow the reserved reaction of the Kiev authorities from 2008. Without openly criticizing the Eastern Partnership, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry emphasized in a commentary on May 26, 2008 that this concept should foresee a clear EU accession prospect for Eastern European countriesRU. Former Ukrainian foreign minister Boris Tarasiuk, head of the Supreme Rada’s Committee on European Integration, criticized the Polish-Swedish initiative in July 2008. He said that “any new projects which do not bring the EU accession perspective to Ukraine cannot be regarded as priorities”RU. Unlike Moldova, Ukraine has more reasons to dislike the Eastern Partnership. This country is at the final stage of negotiating a new legal agreement with the EU, being expected to sign the Association Agreement in the second half of this year. Negotiations on this document last for more than two years. Following negotiations between Kiev and Brussels, Ukraine has actually got for the new document all provided by the Eastern Partnership: the soon signing of a Free Trade Agreement; it started negotiating a simplified visa regime with the EURO, so that to finally abolish it (Kiev hopes that the EU will abolish visas for Ukrainians by 2012); enlarged cooperation to ensure energy security, etc. To recall that as regards Moldova the European Commission did not finalise yet the mandate on opening negotiations on a new Moldova-EU legal agreement. As well, Ukraine is far ahead Moldova in terms of democratic reforms.

Ukraine’s tactic would be recommendable to Moldova. Kiev does not frontally attack the Eastern Partnership as such an attitude would raise the query of Europeans in the best of cases. Ukrainians try to give more value to this initiative, stressing the necessity to establish a European perspective for Eastern European countries which meet the EU accession requirements. For example, Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko said on March 25, 2009 that the Eastern Partnership is not an alternative for Ukraine’s European integration trendRU. He noted that Kiev’s expectations with regard to European integration will be materialised in the Association Agreement.

Advantages and shortcomings of the Eastern Partnership for Moldova

The negative side of this initiative is that the project does not stipulate a clear prospective to join the EU for the six Eastern European countries, which Chisinau, Kiev and Tbilisi seek insistently. Nor the inclusion in the same package with the Caucasian states, especially Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as Belarus makes Moldova happy. Moldova besides Ukraine are farer away on the European integration way than Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as Georgia, while Belarus does not aim to join the EU at all. However, Brussels speaks about personalized relations with states which will be part of the Eastern Partnership, so that each of them to be able to take “what it wants and how much it can” from this project. Therefore, the approaching to the EU depends most on quality and speed of reforms implemented in Moldova.

The Eastern Partnership brings some advantages that Moldova should enjoy. The launching of the Eastern Partnership this spring will catalyze the process of negotiations on the new Moldova-EU legal framework. Moldova has chances to sign an Association Agreement with the EU by 2010. Thanks to the Eastern Partnership Moldova has the certainty that sooner or later it will have a deep and comprehensible Free Trade Agreement with the EU, a more facilitated visa regime or even its abolition. This way, Moldova will have access to all four freedoms of move of the EU: of goods, of capital, of services and people.

As well, Moldova will be able to benefit of various EU-funded projects within the Eastern Partnership, inclusively related to infrastructure, energy security, education, etc. By 2020, the EU will raise its expenses per capita in our region from 6 Euros up to 20 Euros. It will spend approximately 2.1 billion Euros for this change. Meanwhile, by 2013 when the new community budget will be adopted, the EU will allocate new funds worth 350 million Euros to its eastern partners, while another 250 million will fund regional projects within the multilateral dimension of the Eastern Partnership[11]. It is worth to recall that these countries are funded by the EU within the ENP as well. The overall ENP budget for the budgetary period of EU 2007–2013 counts for 12 billion Euros.

Therefore, Moldova shall use all opportunities provided by the Eastern Partnership in order to improve the quality of people’s life, really continue democratic reforms. The Eastern Partnership neither sees the EU accession prospect nor restricts countries bidding for integration, and Moldova shall be ready when the Big European Family will open its doors.

  1. “Eastern Partnership” could lead to enlargement
  2. Presidency Conclusions — Brussels, 19/20 June 2008
  3. The Eastern Partnership — an ambitious new chapter in the EU’s relations with its Eastern neighbours; Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and Council; Eastern Partnership
  4. Video address by the European Commissionner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero Waldner
  5. Eastern Partnership on top of EU priorities? /
  6. Revision of the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI)
  7. European Council approves Eastern Partnership
  8. German EU Presidency — expectations and prospects /
  9. Germany backs Moldovan package of Transnistrian settlement proposalsRO
  10. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and Council
  11. In parallel, the European Commission will recommend EU member states to increase the crediting rate of the European Investment Bank for Eastern Europe, which counts now for 3.7 billion Euros and will likely be spent before 2013. The EU assistance will focus on promoting democracy and good governance, strengthening administrative capacities needed to take over/implement the EU legislation, economic development and integration into common EU market, facilitating mobility of East European citizens to EU, developing regional electricity markets, optimising the border control, etc.
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