Friday 8 May 2009

Could this be the beginning of a great Partnership...?

The summit launching the Eastern Partnership was held in Prague today, though you might miss the good feeling that was presumably supposed to burst forth from the summit, with some leaders not attending, some leaders (ok, just Georgia) being annoyed with Russia, and Russia being annoyed with the whole thing.

Of course, everyone has said that the EaP isn't a sphere of influence at all (apart from Georgia, which proclaims it as having an integrational direction), and that Russia shouldn't get so worked up about it. Though the effect is ruined somewhat by a former EU official saying:

"This is only happening because Russia has annoyed everyone."

The EaP is a sphere of influence, but I don't think that there's any malign intent behind the project - I'd say it's a mix of needing to politically finding a way of stalling the push for enlargement, trying to ensure political and economic stability along the EU's eastern frontier, and building a buffer zone when it comes to Russian influence. It's debatable whether or not the EU would have pursued the project if Russia was perceived to be a more reliable partner in EU eyes, though Polish ties with Ukraine and the EU's (and EU member states') tendency to view the whole thing as purely economic affair along with intra-EU politics on the need to balance the Union for the Med. in the south with an eastern project... well, perhaps the EU would have done it anyway without really thinking that much about Russia.

EU-Russian relations are mainly pursued through the Common Spaces. Is it time to change the relationship with Russia?

Meanwhile, Bruno Waterfield over at the EUobserver has blogged that the EaP has nothing to offer Ukraine and that the agreement doesn't have enough on the table to tempt Ukraine westwards. Beyond this he raises questions of ethics. I've mused on the ethics of the Partnership before, though in a foreign policy sort of way - Bruno raises the question (at least, this is my reading) of the EaP denying Ukraine's European identity; of not living up to pan-European ideals by going far enough to offer Ukrainians more rights and opportunities. Particularly in the area of visas.

His assessment is that the EaP could destabilize Ukraine further.

A case of creating an expectation-capability gap?

Restrictions on travel certainly weaken the EU's soft power in the region, but I don't think that the EaP is a destabilising force. Restrictions on the movement of Ukrainians into its EU members have existed since the big bang enlargement of 2004 - the EU's presence and economic power means that it was always going to have an impact, the question was only what form it would take and if there was going to be a structured political will behind it (or any sort of will at all). The idea of a "Common European Home", which the EU has effectively claimed the mantle of, is a powerful political call, though it may seem very weak to us from inside. The management of the EU's influence is vital here, since the biggest foreign policy tool is essentially to turn the foreign policy question into a domestic one.

Bruno is right that the lack of a visa agenda will be a blow to the EU's influence in the region, though the size of the blow is debatable. In my opinion though, we're just still at our default position - a missed opportunity - rather than having heedlessly rushed into an empty arrangement that made things worse. The EaP is a start in regularising relations between the EU and its "Eastern March", and could open a lot of doors diplomatically for wider co-operation. Like any foreign policy, it will depend much more on the political will and the effectiveness of co-ordination over time perhaps even more than the structures that the EU will work within.

It will be extremely interesting to see if the high level of Commission involvement will lead to greater co-ordination and effectiveness, or if a lack of member state support behind the Commission will hamper the whole process. And that's beside the question of whether or not whoever has the most influence will do the job well anyway.

Plus the Russian factor...

1 comment:

  1. You may be interested in this initiative, which over the last 2 years has influenced both Ukrainian and US policy changes.