The European struggle for the East

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Eastern Partnership [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic]

The Eastern Partnership Initiative (EaP) lacks a more tailored approach to partner countries as well as comprehensive security element, wrotes Václav Lídl.

Václav Lídl is Research Fellow in the Association for International Affairs (AMO). Prague-based think-tank AMO carried out extensive research on the Eastern Partnership Initiative (EaP) based on detailed questionnaires disseminated among important opinion leaders.

The EaP was commenced in 2009 and took shape against a backdrop of rising Russian resistance. The Kremlin, under Vladimir Putin, saw the establishment of the EaP as a European attempt to carve out a zone of influence or a new cordon sanitaire in post-Soviet space. It is noteworthy that according to a research project of the Prague-based think tank Association for International Affairs (AMO), 37.9% of respondents from EaP and V4 countries still view the EaP as a geostrategic EU tool directed against the Russian Federation’s interests.

This is certainly an interesting finding, as the EU is vociferous in its denial of EaP’s geopolitical significance, even though this is precisely what the West is being accused of by Russia. The fact of the matter is that the very existence of the EaP has helped local societies to build a sense of European identity, as the majority of EaP respondents share this view according to the aforementioned research. However, Russia viewed the entire process as a prolongation of the well-known wave of colour revolutions aimed at Russia’s definitive ostracism from global power politics.

Russia’s political elite believed that the country would be unable to reemerge as a great power in the absence of its control of the post-Soviet area since the second half of the 1990s. Russia has been prepared to overcome this European encroachment at any cost, whether by non-military means (through the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union) or by military might (through the war in the east of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea).

Enhance security element of the EaP

Russia is constantly trying to intimidate EaP partner countries by infringing their territorial integrity. Moreover, the pro-Western governments in Georgia and Ukraine were denied the opportunity of NATO integration at the Bucharest Summit in 2008. Consequently, they turned their attention towards the EU and its EaP project, but ended up bewildered again upon realizing that the EaP would have no sound security component.

The research revealed that the majority of stakeholders from EaP and V4 countries emphasized the lack of security-related issues under the EaP. Only 22% of stakeholders believe that the EaP has been a guarantor of security for the partner countries. In particular, 64.7% of respondents were also adamant that the EaP had not delivered stability or promoted security between the EU and EaP partner countries.

EaP’s energy security component also failed. It’s thus no surprise that only 39% of stakeholders (and falling to as little as 31.1% among Ukrainian respondents) believe that there has been positive progress.

Emphasize more tailored approach to each country

The EU neglected and ignored the national and energy security issues faced by EaP countries, undoubtedly paving the way for the Ukrainian crisis and Russia’s renewed neo-imperial goals. This could be interpreted to mean that, if the EU is to salvage the idea of the EaP, it must supply a robust security element. Regardless of the bleak situation in the east of Ukraine, there is still hope that the EaP, and indeed the entire ENP, can be repaired.

While the EU has its share of weaknesses and faults and it has to adopt the EaP to new challenges, it remains extremely attractive for partner countries. The EaP could have a bright future, provided that there is a more tailored approach to each country, combined with a more robust security element at a time of Russian neo-imperial revival.

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