Experts slam red tape in EU Eastern Partnership

Eastern Partnership.jpg

After four years, the EU's Eastern Partnership has not delivered any tangible political or social results, say experts who slammed its bureaucratic procedures.

Speaking at a hearing in the European Parliament, Polish MEP Sidonia J?drzejewska (EPP) said the EU needs to guarantee that “scarce” EU funds for the Eastern Partnership countries are well-targeted and spent according to democratic rules.

The partnership covers Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

The hearing, held last week, marks the beginning of the process of the exchange of views of the Parliament’s budget committee with the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) on the financing of the Eastern Partnership (EaP). 

Olaf Osica, director of the Centre of Eastern Studies in Poland, said the four years since the inception of the Eastern Partnership were a very short period of time to make conclusions, but still provided the opportunity to draw some lessons learned.

Russia doing a better job?

Osica said that Russia was reaching out “better than the European Union” to many of the countries and their political elites and business communities.

Osica also stressed that the ultimate goal of EaP was not clearly underlined, which he said was not making its work easier.

“Are we talking about potential future EU membership, are we talking about deeper political cooperation or are we talking about economic integration?” he said.

Osica said the “official figure” of the volume of EU funding for EaP was of €2.8 billion for 2009-2013, but added that because of the “complexity of the EU funding”, his Ukrainian or Georgian colleagues were completely unaware of the available “huge amount of money."

“The numbers are really non-transparent. Nobody will really believe in EaP countries that there are almost €3 billion waiting for them, if they meet certain criteria,” he said.

The Polish expert argued that partners from the countries covered by the partnership believed that the funding was available for the purpose of bringing short-term financial benefits and technical support, but not as an instrument to back fundamental constitutional transformation based on the European model.

“They need the money because they need a lot of technical assistance, but they don’t associate the money with changing the way their country is functioning,” he said.

After four years, it appears that the EaP has not brought any political or social results, he said. Ordinary people don’t see the EaP as a factor in their life, he argued.

‘More for more?’

People in the administration in these countries openly say they have no motivation to become more involved in the implementation of reforms, because regardless of the progress, they would have received the funds allocated to them in advance, Osica said.

He argued there was a need for a “more-for-more” mechanism, allowing additional funding to be used “in a flexible way.”

Another issue Osica raised is how programmes should reach ordinary people, not just NGOs, as he said there was a kind of “NGOcracy” that “knew how to use this money, but the result had nothing to do with reaching civil society.”

“We need to go approach ordinary people, in rural areas, in self-governance, we need to go deeper into society with this money. It’s also about visibility, the EaP is not visible for ordinary people,” he said.

Summing up, Osica said that after four years, the political and social conditions in all EaP countries were at the same level, if they had not deteriorated.

“In Ukraine the situation has deteriorated, Georgia is a question mark, the EU is losing the momentum for the most ambitious countries: Moldova, Georgia, also to some extent Ukraine,” he said.

The EU needs fewer instruments but clearer priorities, and in those countries where the political elites are not really interested in integrating their countries into the European Union, the priority for the EU should be to reach out to societies, to younger people, Osica said.

Too much red tape?

Anna Christina Link from the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung described various EaP projects with which the German foundation has worked with, but said many hurdles were encountered.

For example, EU regulations made it very difficult for prospective candidates to apply. Restrictive selection criteria are another hurdle, she said.

Link also said the paperwork demands are burdensome. She said her foundation had to submit documents showing that it was not bankrupt, had paid its taxes and social security and did not commit any trade offences. This, she said, was not adapted to NGOs or foundations, as those don’t engage in trading activities.

Also, she said that the Commission required answers within 48 hours, putting excessive pressure on NGO partners, especially when they had to produce signed documents or consult within their organisation.

Link said there was a clear danger of applications being rejected on administrative grounds rather than merit.

During the discussion, it was noted that the 2014-2020 EU budget will gather the majority of the assistance within the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI). It will be higher than the present European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI), but its absolute figure is still unknown because of ongoing budget negotiations.

The EU's Eastern Partnership was initially a Polish-Swedish initiative but was taken over by the European Commission in December 2008 and endorsed by the European Council in March 2009, under the Czech EU presidency.

It aims to complete the Union's foreign policy towards Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus by developing a specific Eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy. The countries concerned are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

The initiative is called 'Eastern Partnership' or EaP, and not the 'East European Partnership' as the countries of the region would have liked. This is because the Commission wanted to distance itself from European Association Agreements (EAAs) with Central and East European countries, which contained the prospect of EU membership.

  • Nov. 2013: Eastern Partnership summit to be held in Vilnius

Subscribe to our newsletters