The Eastern Partnership from Vilnius to Riga: Achievements, Challenges and Future Prospects

This article has originally been published on Atis Lejiņš' blog.

The Baltic Assembly under the Lithuanian 2015 presidency organized a conference on the Eastern partnership with a view to what can be expected in the EU presidency Riga summit on May 21-22.

Representatives from the EU External Service, Georgia, Moldava, the Nordic Council, the EU parliament also participated. The representative from Ukraine was an MP from the Ukrainian parliament Jaroslav Markevich who had fought in eastern Ukraine for three months. In an emotional statement he said that for Putin nothing is impossible if he can get away with it. But for Maidan we would now have a reincarnation of a new Soviet Union with Russia and Ukraine forming its backbone.

The following is my intervention:

The Riga inter-parliamentary conference for the CFSP and CSDP held in March set the framework for the upcoming Riga summit on the Eastern partnership. As seen in the final conclusions of the conference (in total 43) there must be a differentiated approach to the six EP countries. Three have signed Association agreements, i.e. Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, one – Azerbaijan has chosen a somewhat halfway house with the EU in the form of a proposed Strategic partnership, while Armenia has decided to join the Euroasian Economic Union instead. Only a month before the Vilnius summit Armenia was persuaded by Moscow to backtrack from her intention to sign the Association agreement. Despite this geopolitical reality, Armenia still wants to foster close interaction with the EU.

Belarus is signaling that it would like closer contacts with the EU despite being firmly in the Russian camp. It is to be noted that the venue chosen for the meetings to resolve the war in Ukraine is the capitol of Belarus.

It is in the interest of the EU to support Azerbaijan’s bid for a Strategic partnership with the EU even though it would be mainly of a technical nature. With Armenia there could be cooperation in justice and law enforcement, thereby helping Armenia come closer to Western standarts in this area.

The main issue of the three coutries with the association agreements is implementation of them, i.e. are they able to undergo the necessary modernization programmes that are set forth in the Association and DCFTA treaties?

Comparisons have been made between Poland and Ukraine; where were they 25 years ago and where are they today? Starting from an equal position in GDP in 1991 today Ukraine is far behind Poland. The task ahead for Ukraine is enormous. The wrenching turn-around from a bankrupt soviet political and economic model to that of modern states has only now been put on the agenda of Ukraine.

For example, Bloomberg’s has cited that there are 10.500 clerks working in the Department of Statistics in Kiev. That is still back in the USSR! The National Reform Council headed by president Poroshenko has as many as one third of personnel who have never sent an e-mail!

This is the reason why Angela Merkel is advising the IMF not to lean too hard on Ukraine in forcing through reforms. Certainly the EU must do what it can to assist in helping Ukraine to gain what has been lost in the past 25 years.

It is important to recognize that the Eastern and Southern partnerships are organically tied together. They are twins of the EU’s neighborhood policy. This was recognized by the Riga inter-parliamentary conference already mentioned.

There are over 100 former Volga Germans residing in Germany now fighting for Russia in Eastern Ukraine! Why if they prefer to live in Germany and not in Russia? Many of them have even served in the German army! And other Germans descended from immigrants from the Near East are fighting for the IS. They also have served in the German army. This sad phenomenon alone binds the eastern and southern dimensions together.

Then there are some 400 IS fighters coming from such a very northern EU country such as Sweden, second and even third generation descendents of immigrants from north Africa and the Near East. In addition, the EU as a whole cannot cope with the enormous waves of illegal immigration coming from the south. This is a looming political, security, social, and economic threat.

One final observation. Latvia has revived the EU’s strategy on Central Asia which has been neglected since Germany first introduced it during its presidency in 2009. The reasons are obvious. It must be noted that in the Minsk 1 and 2 agreements two points refer to an economic area from Lisabon to Vladivostok, and that Ukraine must have full control of its eastern border.

Yet in the EU’s official position on Central Asia it is stated that the states wishing to join the Euroasian economic union must have a free choice of whether to join the union or not. Clearly this is not always the case. Russia began a war against Ukraine to block its free will. Futhermore, to enable potential economic cooperation with the EU, the Euroasian economic union should be fully based on WTO principles and rules, which Russia now is violating.

And how can it be possible for Ukraine to regain ful control of its eastern border under Putin? Can such a climb down be envisaged? If not, the sanctions cannot be lifted. Unless there is regime change in Russia.

Published 26 March 2015

Author Atis Lejiņš