Is the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP) running out of partners? Certainly not, say those who pioneered the initiative back in 2009. True, the recent EU-Ukraine summit did not announce a breakthrough in the negotiations on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) but it did end with an action plan that may, in time, lead to visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens. Current governments in Moldova and Georgia are still committed. The EU’s Ostpolitik got high marks from Andrzej Ciezskowski, Poland’s special ambassador for EaP. His talk was the highlight of a discussion co-hosted by ECFR-Sofia and the Polish Embassy on 25 November (special thanks to the indefatigable Joanna Pilecka, the Second Secretary, to Lezsek Hensel, the newly appointed ambassador, and, not least, our very own Nickie Gabrovska!).
We, however, thought that a healthy dose of realism is much needed. With ‘soft authoritarianism’ becoming ever more fashionable across the East, Brussels have to think hard how to deal with countries which are ‘balancers’ rather than ‘joiners’. Using more effectively the Union’s extensive economic leverage is certainly the way forward. Sadly, democracy promotion is less and less an option. Deyan Kiuranov of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia observed that in cases like Belarus the ‘democracy lingo’ is actually counterproductive. It inflates expectations and breeds frustration, hardening, in effect, the authoritarian consensus in society. Furthermore, the EU cannot provide is sufficient protection from Moscow for the likes of Yanukovich and Lukashenka. Yet, even power-hungry elites are keen on the benefits coming from the EU by way of trade, funding or even energy security. But what is the right price the EU can exact in terms of reforms that will be bearable for its interlocutors? No definitive answer at this point.
Another area of heated debate: Russia as an agent of change. ECFR’s latest report sees scope for EU-Russia cooperation in their overlapping neighbourhood. Experts, such as Ognyan Minchev, head of the Institute for Regional and International Studies who spoke in the session, seem to agree. In the run-up to the Belarusian presidential elections on 19 December, Mr Medvedev is lambasting his dear colleague in Minsk through his now famous video blog. But in the unlikely event Lukashenka is replaced, the new man (low probability of having a woman!) will be no genuine friend of neither Dmitry Anatolievich nor Brussels. Well, as the Russians themselves say, pozhyvem, uvidim (let us live and see).
6th December 2010 at 12:12pm
The official website for Poland’s forthcoming EU presidency (second half of 2011) has posted an account of the round table too.
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