hidden europe 42

Meaningful partnerships for eastern Europe

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: What next for Ukraine? The European Union's Eastern Partnerships initiative catalysed protests in Kiev. 100 days of unrest still leave many unanswered questions (photo © Mykhaylo Palinchak).


The worrying developments in Ukraine highlight the challenges experienced by countries eligible for support under the European Union's Eastern Partnerships (EaP) programme. Tugged in one direction by Brussels and in the other by Moscow, it is no surprise that loyalties in the region are being sorely tested.

It has always been our view that the Ukrainian people deserve a better deal. Indeed, we wrote just that in an oped column in a Ukrainian newspaper on 24 August 2011 — the 20th anniversary of Ukrainian independence. Now, Ukraine is in crisis. The article that follows was penned as that crisis reached a dramatic climax, with the ousting of the country’s democratically elected leader, Viktor Yanukovych. It reflects developments until 26 February 2014.

In hidden europe 40 last summer, we published an optimistic little note about the European Union’s Eastern Partnerships (EaP) initiative. When we wrote that piece in early July 2013, Lithuania was just a few days into its spell presiding over the Council of the European Union — a six-month term in which a key policy initiative was to focus on the nations that lie beyond the eastern borders of the current members: the six ex-Soviet states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and of course Ukraine.

Progress with the EaP — in particular the sealing of Association Agreements with some of the partners — looked set to be one of the showpiece achievements of the Lithuanian Presidency. The Foreign Ministers of Sweden and Poland, the two countries which have over the years most actively championed the EaP, both spoke with enthusiasm about a series of EU initiatives which would cement closer links between the 28 EU members and the six ex-Soviet partners to the east. So Poland’s Radosław Sikorski stressed the capacity of the EaP to bring “change to countries that are not just neighbours of Europe — they are our European neighbours.” His Swedish counterpart, Carl Bildt, spoke of “the next steps towards a reunited Europe, which could include an Eastern Partnerships economic area.”

The six months of the Lithuanian Presidency turned out to be a fascinating, sometimes even frightening, period as the EaP programme slowly unravelled, most dramatically in Ukraine but to some extent across the entire EaP target area. Conspicuous calls for “the Europeanisation of the Eastern Partnerships region” (a phrase used by Adam Balcer, an advisor to Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski) were not what Moscow wanted to hear.

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