Sunday 19 April 2009

Ethics and the Eastern Partnership

The European Union promotes itself as a force for peace, and a organisation of shared values. So how do we, and how much should we, let values guide the foreign policy aspects of the EU?

The Eastern Partnership is interesting in several aspects:

1. It is made up of countries who could join the EU in the future - unlike the Union for the Mediterranean, so the member countries have more of a stake in its operation. Even if EU membership is long delayed or even ruled out, the member countries can probably count on a degree of economic integration and benefit.

2. The Commission could potentially be the top institutional actor on the EU side in this case, rather than the Council, which normally deals with the grander aspects of EU foreign policy. Why? Because a lot of the policy meeting in the Partnership will be with Commissioners from the relevant policy area, whereas meetings with the Council will be much rarer.

3. Russia. The Eastern Partnership is an economic sphere of influence, and Russia fears that it stands to loose a lot of influence in the region. That Belarus did not recognise the breakaway republics in the Caucasus when Russia did suggests that Russia may already be loosing influence, as Minsk tries to balance the EU on one side and Russia on the other.

There will be an Eastern Partnership summit, and the invitations have been sent. And some of the invitees are controversial, especially Belarus, which has been described as the last dictatorship in Europe.

Given the stated values of the EU of democracy and human rights, should Belarus be invited? It's my understanding that Belarus will be involved at a lesser level than the other states, but this still gives Belarus a major boost in relations with Europe - without any real attempt at reform.

However, I am persuaded of the value of engagement - it doesn't mean that we should be soft on Belarus, but a forum where the EU can engage with Belarus can create an environment more favourable to reform. Belarus is a close ally of Russia, and it could easily slip back into being isolated from Europe. It also means that even if we do engage, any process of reform with Belarus will be painfully slow: that Belarus is balancing Russia and Europe shows that it's looking for a political constellation that gives it the most leeway to do what it likes, not that it is starting to see any value in European values. Yet this opening means that, through the Eastern Partnership, some reforms could be achieved.

The EU is all about slow institutional change: it's what it does best. The benefits of Europe can only be shared with the Eastern Partnership states through joint reform and opening up on both sides. This road isn't inevitable, and Belarus could stop at any point along it (as could any of the others), yet some reform is better than no reform, and some influence is better than raging impotently outside.

That is, if the EU plays it's cards right. (And is this more likely if the Commission has the key role? Consistency is an important factor in foreign policy; especially if one actor is playing both sides and looking to exploit any opening it can find...).


  1. EaP aims to promote economic and political stability in the countries and reduce Russia’s influence in the region. It includes free trade agreements, visa waivers, financial aid and economic integration with the EU. In return, the eastern neighbors are expected to step up progress toward economic modernization, democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

    EaP can be seen also part of geopolitical Great Game. U.S on the behalf of its military-industrial complex and oil giants has last two decades tried to play Russia out from their way to gain control of Eurasian energy sources e.g. b "Silk Road Strategy" and GUUAM organisation. With Eurasian corridor from Balkans to Afghanistan through Caucasus U.S./Nato could control whole Russian southern border blocking same time Russia-Iran north-south connection. The military part of this Game has been prospects about Nato enlargement.

    However this Game has partly failed - GUUAM is almost dead, U.S. allies like Georgia are not so reliable, Russia has been active making energy-deals with ex-Soviet republics in region, Nato enlargement has almost slowed in region etc.

    With this no-progress EU's EaP has its role; it can use soft power to integrate countries more close EU economically and prepare ground for U.S./Nato (and its military-industrial complex) interests. Ethics has nothing to do with this Game.

    More about issue in my BalkanBlog -

  2. The US does have an interest in EU expansion, but I think that the EU and its member states have geopolitical interests bound up in the Eastern Partnership countries quite independent of the US and its interests. It could be good news for NATO if it proves possible in the future for it to expand into that region. But Europe has a vital interest in the economic and political stability of the region, and the development of the region could open up more trade and economic activity. Gaining a sphere of influence is also a goal - sadly Russia and the EU are becoming increasingly insecure about each other.

    On the ethics front, I was talking about the ethics of inviting some of the countries at this point (particularly Belarus), versus the value of gaining access and influence in Minsk which could mean reforms towards a freer economy and political sphere in Belarus. So ethical engagement and ethic/value exportation versus old-fashioned practical diplomacy.

    If America and it's military-industrial complex is pursuing a grand stratgey against Russia, then they're pretty incompetent. My personal feeling is that it would be unwise to expand NATO any closer to Russia's borders without Russia and NATO growing closer or even Russia joining.