At the upcoming Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit in Riga the EU aims to define its relations with (at least some of) the six EaP countries and to agree on a common philosophy – or approach – to Europe’s eastern periphery. The following collection of views from eight EU capitals not only demonstrates the lines of divisions within Europe but also offers explanations for the motives of the various governments and publics.
Winning the Past
Europe’s divisions don’t just run through current policies – they are also about the legacy of the EaP to date. The initiative’s past betrays a process that is in fact utterly EU-esque: from a set of technical measures the EaP turned into a process that created radically new political realities on the ground, to the surprise of most of the EU itself. But member states see the results of this process very differently. It is a success to countries such as Poland which compare it with the EU’s traction in the Southern Neighbourhood. But it is a failure to countries such as Italy or Spain which blame the EaP for today’s frosty relations with Russia. Winning the narrative about the past and setting the record straight about the EU’s motives, actions, and achievements within the EaP is not only important for the initiative per se, but also politically sensitive for the stakeholders. The issue will not be decided in Riga but the summit will provide indications of where the consensus might emerge.
Offering Carrots: How Big and To Whom?
The biggest stumbling block on the road to Riga was the agreement among the member states to include the language of the Vilnius Summit declaration in the Riga document, namely the “acknowledgement of the European aspirations and the European choice of some partners”. The phrase signals a distant perspective for membership (and is also included conditionally in article 49 of the Treaty on European Union), and it divides European countries according to their reading of the “aspirations”. For those who have fairly recently transformed from a Soviet satellite, the European perspective in any form is the only carrot that can drive reforms. In Ukraine, where the popularity of the government is likely to decline amid painful reforms and a costly war, the message of political support from Europe is key for sustaining the acceptance of its society’s transformation.
Other member states fear the spectre of enlargement and strongly oppose the Europeanisation paradigm. Some also want to avoid repeating the Vilnius scenario and would like to offer Russia a carrot as well, whether by modifying the implementation of the DCFTA with Ukraine or by removing sanctions. The illusion that going back to “business as usual” with Russia is possible seems to be regaining momentum in some parts of Europe.
These two trends will cancel each other out in Riga, which is likely to weaken or even eradicate Europe’s message towards the “aspirations” of the eastern neighbours.
East vs South; Elites vs Publics
The summit in Riga takes part amid revision of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), driven by its failure to respond to realities in the regions concerned. The migrant crisis in the Mediterranean highlights the demand by countries in the EU’s south such as Italy for more solidarity and political attention to the crises in the broader Middle East. Against this backdrop, the redistribution of funds within the ENP – currently two-thirds for the southern ENP countries vs one-third for the eastern ones – will be difficult to satisfy. Yet spending as much money on Ukraine as on Morocco seems unreasonable and groundless.
The failure of the Arab revolutions in most of North Africa and the return of sectarian politics shifted the debate in many European states from human rights and democratisation to security. Maintaining stability has become the priority for European foreign policy action (often represented by the “interests vs values” dilemma).
However, the division can sometimes occur within the countries themselves: in the Baltic states or Poland, for example, the public sees policies towards the eastern partners as critical for the domestic political agenda; in Sweden or France, decisions are often made by the elites, with the public largely uninterested.
Thus the goals of the EaP summit will become part of a greater bargain for Europe’s priorities in its immediate neighbourhoods, east and south, driven by competing incentives and public sentiments.
Redesign or status quo?
Between the desire to redraw the EaP (in countries such as France) and the desire to reiterate the existing instrument and the goals of the initiative (in member states such as Poland, Sweden, or Romania), there is of course Germany. However, Berlin seems more often to take a bilateral track towards the more promising neighbours, instead of using the EaP framework.
There will obviously be little appetite in Riga for Vilnius-like boldness. The message to the EaP countries will be neither very committal nor very satisfying for those who seek closer cooperation with the EU. It should at least be formulated ambiguously enough so that the EU maintains its leverage in region. Europe should converge here.
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The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.