The European Union and its Neighbourhood: Time for a Rethink

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

The EU’s new foreign policy initiative, the Eastern Partnership (EaP), was written in “ambitious terms”, but must show greater sensitivity to the intricacies of its target region, argues Helen Wallace of the London School of Economics (LSE) in a paper for the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP).

Published ahead of the launch of the EaP on 7 May, Wallace’s paper recalls that the new policy is targeted at Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. It is designed to “renew and reinvigorate” the EU’s relations with these East European neighbours, it adds. 

Security 

Last summer’s Georgia-Russia conflict gave the EaP “added urgency”, in Wallace’s view. But she argues that in its present state, the policy has been “sketched out only in outline,” suggesting a number of improvements that could be made with further “Council discussion”. 

The fact that there are several conflicts awaiting resolution in the region makes it “crystal clear” that the security dimension needs to be dealt with, argues Wallace. Yet the EaP contains “only a very light reference” to defence and security-related cooperation, she cautions. 

The professor warns EU policymakers against presuming that NATO will provide the “default anchor” for the EaP countries, arguing that “it has become clear” that further NATO enlargement could prove to be an “intolerable provocation for the Russians”. 

Fresh perspective 

Wallace criticises the European Commission for its “quaint path dependency” when it comes to foreign policy, identifying a “disjunction between the Commission’s emphasis on social and economic governance, and the geopolitical reality”. 

Indeed, EaP target countries have stressed the importance of bilateral relations with the EU to further their aim of eventual EU membership. For this reason, Wallace advocates blurring rather than sharpening the line between ‘candidates’ and ‘potential candidates’. 

But a fresh and more nuanced perspective on the region could be undermined by the “bureaucratic politics of the EU”, laments Wallace, arguing that there is a “strong case for an institutional spring cleaning, and a strong case against the proliferation of institutional frameworks”. 

In addition, the ELIAMP report calls on the EU executive to “re-engage a larger number of EU member states in the development of policy” and harness their interests and experiences in the region. 

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