Sunday 22 March 2009

Economic aid or Sphere of Influence?

At the European summit on Thursday and Friday, several measures were decided on to help both non-euro EU members and non-EU members. EUobserver has reported on the measures here. The support for non-euro members will be doubled to €50 billion, and a further €75 billion will be pumped into the IMF (which, though it will help non-European countries, is going to help both EU and non-EU European states). The much fought-over €5 billion, which was the initiative of the Commission, will help the older, richer member states more, but then it is peanuts in any case.

And the Eastern Partnership will be alocated €600 million. I know, still peanuts - in fact, hardly any peanuts at all. One of the most interesting aspects of the Eastern Partnership (perhaps so called to annoy those who like abbreviations?) is the level of Commission involvement there will be in the project: the number of meetings with the representatives with the eastern countries, negotiating and setting common policy, etc. Could this be a strengthening of the Commission's hand in guiding foreign affairs at the expense of the CFSP? Of course, this could be viewed as linked with the Commission's external relations department's traditional role of economic relations, and so it is to an extent, but the sheer amount and frequency of the involvement will surely mean that the head of the CFSP will be eclipsed by the head of the Commission's foreign relations.

Though it depends on the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty - which would merge the 2 posts, so it may be a bit much to emphasise this. The Council will also host foreign ministerial meetings every 2 years. However, the other departments of the Commission would also be heavily involved too. Perhaps this could lead to the Commission as a whole becoming more aware and sensitive to the needs of Ukraine, etc., and vice versa? It could mean that a lot of the substance of member states' relations with the Eastern Partnership countries will be handled by the Commission - would it help change (older) member states opinions and policies in the region?

Russia views it as a dangerous development - claiming that the Eastern Partnership represents an attempt by the EU at carving out a sphere of influence. It seems that any tightening of relations on Russia's western border amount to carving out a sphere of influence - basically: "EU and NATO: get out and stay out." At the same time, however, we should recognise that we sometimes get caught up in the same sort of thinking. Worries about Russo-German closeness is one example. In any case, a deepening of relations in the Eastern Partnership won't involve a security dimension, so how can you read these worries of Russia's without reading the implication that these countries should be in Russia's sphere of influence?

On the Belarus question, I think that the EU shouldn't be too lenient on Belarus. Russia is wrong to suggest that the Eastern Partnership has a coercive stance; Belarus can choose to join or not, but I think that the EU needs to be more demanding in its conditions for Partnership membership. A common stance on Georgia is good, but Belarus in my opinion is too oppressive to be considered for membership.


  1. The EU is definitely to lame against Lukashenkas dictatorship! In light of the 12 demands EU put on Belarus 2006 including democratic elections, freedom of information and press, an end to political harassment and imprisonment, legalization of civil society and ending its repression, proper judicial system based on rule of law, rights of unions, minorities and abolition of the death penalty, i really wounder how the conclusion was to include Belarus in the Eastern Partnership and lift visa sanctions against Lukashenka that has made no advances since. What a hit in the face will it be for Belarussian democratic forces if Lukashenka is invited to the Summit in Prague?

    But is not EUs lame policy towards the continents last dictatorship, including a visit by Solana in "poitive spirit" to Belarus 2 weeks ago, simply a symptom of a week EU that is lacking a single foreign policy? That is failing to give a strong voice in the world? It is definitely time for a real European foreign policy - a foreign policy based on real European values such as human rights and democracy and not energy....

    Have a look at (Young European Federalists) to see when statutes in 124 cities worldwide were gagged to symbolize the situation of our gagged neighbors in Belarus on the day of the summit last week.
    European Federalists

  2. Well, I would consider it more a question of continuity: a foreign policy must be carried out with some degree of "predictability" in order to produce the best results (though there are situations when this definitely isn't true). A "weak" European foreign policy towards Belarus would be much improved simply by showing that Europe has certain fixed conditions.

    There are also questions over how "idealistic" or value-driven foreign policy should be. Indeed, if the Commission does have more of a role in foreign policy due to the Eastern Partnership, it is arguable that giving in on this point and admitting Belarus leaves it more open to influence from a European line, set by the Commission.

    Of course there would also be many factors in examining how much power the Commission would have, and the influence of other institutional and national actors would have on the Commission, but I believe it would help "institutionalise" policy in this area to a degree. Institutionalisation of policy isn't always a good idea, but for the EU, it tends to improve result-delivery, as once the policy framework(s) is agreed, it is easier to carry it through.

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