The Prague seminar, hosted by the Czech Association for International Affairs and the Polish Institute of International Affairs, focused on Poland's priorities for its upcoming EU presidency in the second half of 2011, one of which is the Eastern Partnership.
The Eastern Partnership, ceremonially launched in Prague during the Czech EU Presidency in the second half of 2009, aims to develop a specific Eastern dimension to the European Neighbourhood Policy and concerns relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
Despite some achievements in mutual cooperation between the EU and the six countries, the Eastern Partnership seems to be slowly losing the attention of political elites. Backed by the Czech Republic, Poland wants to bring it back to the top of the EU agenda.
An Eastern Partnership summit will take place on 26 May, hosted by the Hungarian EU Presidency, which comes before that of Poland.
A long-term perspective
Jaroslav Dziedic from the Eastern Department of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged that a six-month EU presidency does not give sufficient scope for to achieve all the major goals of the Partnership, such as initiating visa-free regimes and signing association agreements.
''These are long-term processes. The EU presidency, which lasts six months, is not about starting or finishing such processes. All we can do is to speed up some of those that we consider to be the most important,'' he said at the seminar.
Dziedic also believes it is very important to inform the general public about the ongoing work – especially in the six partner countries themselves.
A chance to succeed
Poland will take up the chair of the EU Council of Ministers from the beginning of July to the end of December next year. According to Dziedic, ''the year of 2011 will be the crucial one for the Eastern Partnership'.'
Petr Mareš, a Czech ambassador and special envoy for the Eastern Partnership, agrees. Next year is so crucial that it could even decide the entire project's fate – whether it will succeed or be doomed – he warned.
Yet Mareš is optimistic that the political circumstances will result in success rather than failure.
''During 2011 we are in a perfect position to succeed. There will be two presidencies of countries [Hungary and Poland] that are deeply involved in this initiative and there is also [Enlargement] Commissioner [Stefan] Füle, who perfectly understands the meaning of the Eastern Partnership,'' he stated.
More transparency in funding
The most critical aspect of the further development of this ambitious and expensive project could be money. The EU provides funding assistance to Eastern Partnership countries under the European Neighbourhood Policy Instrument (ENPI). The total amount reached €450 million in 2008 and will rise to €785 million in 2013. But according to some, this is still just a drop in the ocean.
Petra Kuchyňková from the Faculty of Social Studies at Masaryk University in Brno (Czech Republic) says that one of the main challenges for the Polish presidency will be funding the project – especially in the context of negotiations over the EU's multi-annual financial perspectives for 2014-2020.
Besides increasing its financial assistance, the EU should work hard to ensure the money is spent efficiently, stated Mareš. ''The distribution of finance has to be more effective and transparent,'' he said.
According to Kuchyňková, another challenge for the Poles will be their relationship with Russia. Moscow, which is not involved in the Eastern Partnership project, needs to be persuaded that this is not at all an anti-Russian initiative. The most sensitive matter in this respect is negotiations on visa liberalisation, she noted.
Support of the West
The Polish government has repeatedly announced that it will force the Eastern Partnership to the top of the agendas of both the 'Visegrad' group (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) and the so-called 'Weimar Triangle' group – cooperation between Poland, Germany and France.
Mareš of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs predicts that the Weimar Triangle platform will be much more important for the advancement of the Eastern Partnership than that of the Visegrad group.
The reason? Because to be successful, the project needs to gain the permanent support of Western EU countries – who themselves are not directly involved – he affirmed.