The European Union's Eastern Partnership, launched in May 2009, is a “deepening and enhanced version” of the European Neighborhood Policy, the previously existing cooperation channel between the European Union and its six eastern neighbors: Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The European Union is committed to creating a stable and prosperous environment beyond its eastern boundary, so as to further boost economic integration and facilitate the flow of people and multicultural cooperation, while safeguarding regional security and settling conflicts. The European Union's Eastern Partnership Declaration focuses on democracy, economy and safety. Since the launch of the Eastern Partnership five years ago, a complete framework of bilateral and multilateral cooperation between the European Union and its eastern neighbors has been built on the basis of the European Neighborhood Policy, but the Ukraine crisis and the power struggle between Russia and Europe have cast a shadow over the future development of the Eastern Partnership1, and sparked a new round of reflection and discussions in European political and academic circles. This article explores the progress of the Eastern Partnership and Russia's response to it from the prospective of Europe's external governance.
The Implementation of the Eastern Partnership
As an influential regional body and a normative power since its inception, the European Union has carried the mission of popularizing its successful experience in norms and values beyond its boundaries, and sought to establish profound political and economic relations with its neighbors, and therefore realize “Europeanization”. Its mission of exporting values is delivered through its expansion policy towards semi-insiders and its neighborhood policy towards semi-outsiders.
The EU's expansion policy has remarkably promoted Europe's peace and prosperity, which is the best example of the European Union's effective use of soft power. Thanks to its strong economy, influential values, and sophisticated and desirable institutions, the European Union restrains and shapes neighboring countries through strict conditionality, and forces or induces them to be willingly subject to the EU's values and institutions and to adapt to them. However, given the increasing difficulties in internal integration, lack of effective actions, and the complicated security environment after the “Eastern Enlargement”, the Eastern Partnership, since its launch in 2004, has focused on the governance of semi-outsiders. That is to say, based on the European Union's situation, its focus has shifted from “expanded Europeanization” to “good-neighborly Europeanization” through the popularizing of its values and norms, so as to influence and shape neighboring countries.
Theoretically, Europe's external governance is not about making a choice between “wider” and “deeper”, it is about finding a plausible approach to include its neighbors without the prospect of accession to the European Union as part of its “external expansion of internal policies”. In practice, since Romania and Bulgaria's entry to the European Union in 2007, the European Union has recognized the importance of building closer relations with members of the Commonwealth of the Independent States (CIS) as its boundary extends southwards and southeastwards. Besides, the European Union has been more determined to safeguard its boundary security after the Russia-Georgia conflict in August 2008 and the gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine at the beginning of 2009. Given that the European Union's eastern neighbors, including Ukraine and Georgia, are all suffering serious economic and political crises, the European Union wants to help them in return for them standing closer to the European Union economically and politically. In May 2008, Poland and Sweden suggested at the EU's General Affairs and Diplomatic Conference that the existing cooperation framework of the European Neighborhood Policy did not apply to the current situation in many ways, so the European Union should increase its political contact with its eastern neighbors. This proposal was passed at the European Union Summit in July that year. On May 7, 2009, 27 representatives of the European Union reached an agreement with the government leaders or representatives of its six eastern neighbors on building the Eastern Partnership and signed the European Union's Eastern Partnership Declaration.
The Eastern Partnership is an extension of the European Neighborhood Policy, centering on the joint participation of the European Union members and its partners, mostly driven by political coalition and economic integration. In 2004, the European Union included its eastern neighbors within the European Neighborhood Policy framework. In 2009, based on the Action Agreements of European Neighborhood Policy, the Eastern Partnership committed to enhancing bilateral and multilateral cooperation. From the perspective of the European Union, the Eastern Partnership emphasizes common interests and common values without the commitment of accession to the European Union. Instead, the “Association Agreements” signed between partner countries and the European Union act as an important link. The Eastern Partnership replaced the Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation of 1994 (PCA) as the new fundamental document regulating the EU's relations with the six countries. As the most valuable economic part of the PCA, the Deepening and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) aimed to reduce tariff barriers and reach an agreement on trade-related laws with partner countries in accordance with the EU's standards and acquis communautaire so as to establish a bilateral free trade area and furthermore, a deepening and comprehensive economic community. The European Union uses its market as the bait to gradually make associated countries abide by free trade. The “dualway track” cooperation focuses on the “more for more” principle. For example, the Eastern Partnership Integration and Cooperation Project established in 2011 offer additional incentives to those eastern partners who made the most progress in political reform.2 The multilateral cooperation framework of the Eastern Partnership consists of the biennial Eastern Partnership Summit, annual ministerial meeting, annual EURONEST, local and regional CORLEASTERN PARTNERSHIP and the Civil Society Forums, etc. From the perspective of civil society, meetings focusing on “practical and core objectives” are held at least twice a year where communication and cooperation will be made among government departments, parliament, civil society organizations, international organizations, international financial institutions, private sector, etc on case-by-case basis.3
The Eastern Partnership plan will last a long time because the European Union expects to transform the economies, politics and societies of its six eastern neighbors through “Europeanization”. In terms of policy, the European Union will set up free trade areas with them and facilitate them entering the EU market. The plan will also facilitate citizens from the six eastern countries to get visas to visit the European Union, enhance cooperation in energy, increase financial aid, promote negotiations on security and defense issues, encourage bilateral cooperation among the EU's neighbors and forge closer political relations with them so as to drive change in their national and foreign policies. In terms of strategy, the Eastern Partnership is an important geopolitical strategy, indicating the European Union's new policy towards the CIS. The European Union aims to ensure stability, security and prosperity on its eastern boundary, and further improve its energy supply security and enhance its influence among the CIS countries. Such efforts are expected to transform the position of CIS partners toward Russia from neutrality to estrangement so as to squeeze Russia's interests. In terms of institutions, based on the bilateral and multilateral cooperation mechanism between the European Union and its eastern neighbors, the Eastern Partnership takes into account the imbalance between normative civilization and material success while continuing to adopt the EU's internal management in its external management. But there is no denying that although the EU's external strategy focuses on using its strong economy and economic integration to attract the members of the CIS, it cannot escape from the traditional geopolitics and security difficulties with Russia.
Further Implementation of the Eastern Partnership
During its five-year implementation, the Eastern Partnership Plan has abided by the EU's traditional way of external governance with the economic support of the EU members, and it has integrated the EU's institutional and regulatory agenda.
As for the layers of governance, the European Union implements its external governance mainly through the participation of all departments of the European Union, relevant member countries and civil society. “Each partner can decide how to develop their relations with the European Union according to their own capacity and deadlines”. Besides this, they can enhance cooperation and exchange at different levels, and meanwhile “develop relations between other partner countries”.4
The economy is always the fundamental tool of the EU’s external governance.
For Ukraine, the EU Commission put forward three priorities in its 2011-2013 National Indicative Program, namely democratic governance, ensuring that the Association Agreements and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area come into force, and sustainable development.5 The EU's external governance regarding the three Caucasus countries focuses on economic and social areas: For Armenia, the key is to improve its democratic structure and good governance, promote reform of rules and regulations, and improve management skills as well as public services. For Azerbaijan, the key to cooperation lies in good governance, economic and social reform, and energy. Cooperation with Georgia concentrates on employment and education, poverty alleviation, social reform and finding solutions to conflicts. In a word, the European Union wishes to tap the potential of the existing cooperation agreements and partnerships so as to make closer economic integration a reward for effective reform.
As for the ways of governance, the European Union does not intend to impose restrictive clauses or ask for priority, but as a powerful union economically and politically, no matter what the European Union does to emphasize an equal partnership, relations can hardly be equal. In order to participate in and fully benefit from specific bilateral projects implemented by the EU Commission, as well as to obtain a share of the “internal market”, the eastern partners need to fulfill at least 80 percent of the European Union's established laws, promote reforms in particular sectors so as to be more easily accepted by the EU market. For example, they must comply with some of the EU's rules for food safety standards and must adopt the EU's customs procedures. Due to no ultimate commitment to EU accession, the European Union cannot forcibly impose the pressure of both favorable and unfavorable reform on its eastern partners as it does to acceding countries. However, the Eastern Partnership includes the favorable criteria of the expansion policy, so the more progress the EU's neighbors make in reform, the more rewards they will receive.6
The economy is always the fundamental tool of the EU's external governance. After the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument came into force in 2007, the European Union gradually increased its aid to its six eastern neighbors from 450 million euros in 2008 to 785 million euros in 2013. On December 17, 2009, the EU Commission announced a financial program under the framework of the Eastern Partnership, began fund-raising and the use of funds, and suggested doubling the aid budget to 1.5 billion euros by 2020. From 2010 to 2013, the European Union has allocated 2.5 billion euros to its bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the Eastern Partnership.7 Besides, from 2014, eastern partners could also join “Horizon 2020”, the EU's new research and innovation program.
In terms of governance outcome, progress has been made in the Eastern Partnership Plan over the past five years. One, the bilateral cooperation between eastern partners and the European Union has been enhanced. The European Union has signed Association Agreements with Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, as well as Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area agreements with Georgia and Moldova. Improvement has been made in visa liberalization with Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, while Moldova has been provided short-term visa-free access to the European Union.8 Negotiations on visa facilitation and re-accepting agreements with Belarus are underway. Two, in terms of multilateral cooperation, a governance network has been established covering the 28 members of the European Union and the six partner countries. Three, cooperation in energy, environment, transportation and education, etc., has been enhanced. Apart from policy guidance, the European Union also provides financial and technical support. Four, the European Union and its eastern partners have strengthened interaction with civil society. A platform of governance at the sub-national level has been set up including the Civil Society Forum, the annual EU-Neighborhood East Parliamentary Assembly, regional leader's meetings and the Eastern Enterprises and Youth Forum.
The European Union’s enlargement cannot be realized without Russia’s cooperation.
In September 2014, Ukraine finally signed an Association Agreement with the European Union, which was a hallmark agreement to promote the Eastern Partnership Plan. However, the negative impact the Ukraine's pro- EU agreement had on relations between Russia and the European Union indicates that the Eastern Partnership Plan did not fully take into account Russia's response. The European Union's enlargement cannot be realized without Russia's cooperation. Therefore, in order not to provoke Russia's anger further, part of Ukraine-EU Association Agreement has been delayed to 2016. Meanwhile, the crisis in Ukraine has made the European Union realize that although their Association Agreement serves the interests of those who are pro-EU in Ukraine, it did not have the same attraction for those who are pro- Russia and it might have a long-term impact on EU-Russia relations. Thus, it is important to develop relations between the EU and its eastern neighbors and to insist on the Eastern Partnership Plan. Stefan Füle from the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy has called for greater determination to implement the Eastern Partnership and the possibility of accession to the European Union for Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.9 The Czech Republic's Association for International Affairs (AMO) put forward three proposals at an international conference themed “Eastern Partnership Five Years On: Time for a New Strategy?” with representatives from the EU Commission.
First, the EU Commission should build a new cooperation framework taking into account the needs of its six neighbors, and increase the possibility of EU accession. The enlargement of the European Union still remains an effective incentive for them to reform. Moreover, the EU's integration can effectively prevent Russia's infiltration.
Second, the European Union should allow Russia to participate in the Eastern Partnership, which has already been discussed at the EU-Russia Summit. The European Union and Russia are not separated by each other's sphere of influence any more.
Third, the European Union should assist its eastern neighbors to deal with the potential economic impact of the deep and comprehensive free trade areas. In the future, the European Union's aid to its eastern partners should focus more on quality rather than quantity.
Russia's Attitude and Response
The EU's enlargement indicated in the Eastern Partnership Plan impacts on Russia's “sphere of influence”, or even its national boundary. Russia regards it as an anti-Russia proposal, a substitute for NATO's eastern enlargement. Given that, it has imposed pressure on the European Union through three main channels. First, Russia directly or indirectly pressures the Eastern Partnership process through dialogue with the European Union. Second, Russia uses its bilateral relations with EU members to impede the process of the Eastern Partnership. Some European countries do not expect increasing economic, political and diplomatic costs to affect their relations with one another. For example, Bulgaria fully supports the Russia-led “South Stream” project; Due to closer economic relations with Russia, Germany can hardly sustain the interests of its eastern partners at the cost of its relations with Russia. Besides, Poland, an active participant in the Eastern Partnership, is also unwilling to develop its relations with the European Union at the cost of those with Russia. Poland is concerned that this might lead to it having less voice in the European Union. Third, considering its cultural and historical background, Russia still has an influence with most of the EU's six eastern partners. Russia claims that these countries can hardly adopt Western democracy, and it supports Belarus implementing “sovereign democracy or managed democracy”. In addition, Russia in recent years has strongly promoted “Eurasian integration”. Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that to complete the integration of the former members of the Soviet Union is an historical and strategic goal for Russia and is a key way to revitalize Russia. Whether it can realize that depends on whether its way of development is attractive and whether it can provide capital, techniques, public products and markets to its members. From the fourth quarter of 2011 through the first half of 2012, Russia offered a gas discount of 40 percent to Belarus, from $263 per cubic kilometer to $166 per cubic kilometer.10 The Customs Union (CU), a replacement for economic integration, and the Eurasian Union are both strong competitors to the Eastern Partnership. Belarus has already joined the Russia-led CU and signed the Eurasian Economic Union Treaty. Meanwhile, Armenia also plans to join the CU.
On the other hand, the effects of the Ukraine crisis have been a demonstration of Russia's hard power. In particular, Crimea and Sevastopol's announcement that they were joining Russia after a “referendum” led to increasing tension between Russia and Ukraine. Given that, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia officially signed the Association Agreements with the European Union in June, 2014. Meanwhile, the European Union and its eastern partners continue to enhance cooperation on Common Security and Defensive Policy (CSDP). The European Union has called for joint efforts from Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in settling the crisis under the framework of Minsk Agreement, and do not admit the results of the local election held in eastern Ukraine on September 14 after Russia “annexed” Crimea and Sevastopol.11 When supporters for a peaceful settlement of the Ukraine crisis won the majority seats in Ukraine's parliamentary election on October 26, delivering the opportunity of re-abiding by the Minsk Agreement, the European Union once again urged Russia to assist the two states in eastern Ukraine to hold local elections in accordance with the law of Ukraine. In February 2015, the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France signed a new peace agreement on Ukraine crisis, an enhanced version of Minsk Agreement. However, whether this agreement will be strictly enforced cannot be taken for granted. The Russia-led Eurasian Union and the EU's enlargement will continue to center on the geopolitical competition over Ukraine. The deteriorating relations between Russia and the European Union will be an impediment to their cooperation on some of Russia's urgent non-traditional security issues. Besides, Russia has introduced some countermeasures to Western sanctions, which has weakened the once close trade ties between Russia and the European Union. And Russia has begun to seek new trade and investment partners. Given all this, in the long run, the Ukraine crisis and deteriorating relations between the European Union and Russia will have a negative impact on the global economic order led by the United States and the European Union.
Prospect of the Eastern Partnership
Regarding the prospect of the Eastern Partnership, the EU European Union will continue to focus on three areas. One, the European Union will implement the Association Agreements and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area agreements, and provide full political support, technical and financial aid to accommodate regional development. Two, the European Union will abide by the principle of “differentiation” in improving its relations with its eastern partners. While the European Union is enhancing cooperation with the associated states, it will continue to improve its bilateral relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus under the framework of the Eastern Partnership. Three, the European Union will engage in more dialogue with Russia, showing that it will not develop relations with its eastern partners at the cost of Russia's interests, and instead it will seek to find more common ground with Russia.12 The European Union understands that the stability and prosperity of its six neighbors cannot be realized without itself. As the largest project targeting its eastern neighbors since the EU's enlargement, the Eastern Partnership Plan, a symbolism of the EU's way of governance, mainly meets the needs of the EU's expectations towards its neighbors regardless of the strategic pressure it has imposed on Russia. Thus the Eastern Partnership Plan has not brought security and stability to the region because the European Union greatly depends on Russia's energy resources while its foreign strategy toward its neighbors is unfavorable to Russia. Therefore, the European Union should reach a general agreement with Russia, and regard Russia as an essential cooperative part of this the agreement. However, that will lead to a paradox: Given that the Eastern Partnership Plan includes normative principles and, to promote economic integration with eastern neighbors it is essential to achieve that end, Ukraine's efforts are bound to reduce Russia's influence on it. The European Union asks Ukraine to make a choice between itself and Russia and in response to that Ukraine has signed an Association Agreement and made its accession to the European Union a long-term objective. Therefore, EURussia relations face daunting prospects and cooperation among the various parties will be hard to achieve. Nonetheless, the European Union has no better policy to choose. While looking forward to improving its mechanism and bridging the gap between EU members, the European Union will continue to implement the Eastern Partnership Plan, as it is only way to secure its eastern boundary.
Song Lilei, Associate Professor at the European Study Center of Tongji University, which is located in Shanghai, China.
1 Neil MacFarlane and Anand Menon, “The EU and Ukraine,” Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, Vol. 56, No. 3, 2014, pp. 95-96.
2 “‘More for More' Principle in Action – EU Rewards Moldova, Georgia and Armenia with €87 Million to Boost Reforms,” EU Neighborhood Info Center.
3 “Concept paper for the EaP Civil Society Forum presented for discussion in Poznan,” Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, November 2011.
4 Laure Delcour, ‘The institutional Functioning of the Eastern Partnership: An Early Assessment,” Eastern Partnership Review, No. 1, 2011, pp.7-8.
5 “Ukraine: National Indicative Programme (2011-2013),” European External Action Service, p.8.
6 Dimitry Kochenov, “New Developments in the European Neighbourhood Policy: Ignoring the Problems,” Comparative European Politics, Vol. 9, No. 4-5, 2011, pp. 581-595.
7 “Vademecum on Financing in the Frame of the Eastern Partnership 2010,” European Commission.
8 “Mobility Partnerships, Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements,” European Commission Migration and Home Affairs.
9 “EU Commissioner Supports Ukraine's Accession,” http://www.dw.de/eu-commissioner-supportsukraines-accession/a-17673773.
10 Agata Wierzbowska-Miazga, “Support as a Means of Subordination. Russia's policy on Belarus,” Warsaw: Centre for Eastern Studies, 2013.
11 “Council conclusions on Ukraine,” Council of the European Union, Foreign Affairs Council meeting, Luxembourg, October 20, 2014.
12 “Opening Remarks by Commissioner Füle at the Plenary Session of the Foreign Affairs Council on Eastern Partnership,” European Commission, July 22, 2014.
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