Eastern Partnership: Where´s the Common Ground?
Beyond Technicalities, Heading towards a Joint Agenda
After the Prague Summit of May 2009 the relationship between the EU and its eastern neighbour countries have entered new grounds. The Eastern Partnership´s agenda launches closer cooperation and an enhanced vision towards democratization in the region. On 26 June 2009 Iris Kempe, Director of Heinrich-Boell Foundation’s South Caucasus Regional Office, and Alexander Iskandaryan, Director of the Caucasus Institute, brought together representatives of the civil society and policy experts from Georgia and Armenia to take up the challenge and to put this vision forward. Ambassadors of Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Latvia attended the Conference as well as Staff of the European Commission’s Delegation to Armenia and other diplomatic personnel.
On four panels the participants discussed the agenda of the Eastern Partnership and its importance for the South Caucasus. A Focus was set on the role of the Eastern Partnership in conflict resolution, democratisation and the facilitation of regional economic and energy issues. With the mid-term goal of generating input for the Polish Presidency of the EU Council in mind, the participants formulated policy recommendations from individual perspectives of their countries.
During the debates the importance of key issues for the South Caucasus became clear: easing the visa regime, introducing free trade agreements, generating a perspective of EU membership, contributing to conflict resolution, strengthening democratic developments, and the role of civil society in all of these issues. The conference in particular acknowledged the critical role of the Eastern European EU member states in intensifying the cooperation and rapprochement between the EU and the South Caucasus.
The conference showed that, on the one hand, both Armenians and Georgians expect the EU to be more pro-active in the region and formulate more tangible paths towards closer cooperation that would go beyond the current declarative character of the Eastern Partnership documents. On the other hand, it is also understood that the Eastern partner countries themselves have to initiate the processes of reforms and develop a strategic vision of further rapprochement with the EU, if they chose to make this a foreign policy priority.
Dr. Alexander Duleba, Director of Research at the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, argued that each partnering country should identify key sectors to focus on as they take the Eastern Partnership discourse further. A realistic goal for the time being could then be sectoral integration into the EU institutions, acquiring a status similar to Norway in these sectors and thereby deepening institutional ties with the EU.
Several participants uttered concern about Russia´s attitude towards Eastern Partnership. It was suspected that Russia might impede progress on that agenda. Several participants insisted, however, that Russia´s democratic elements should be eligible to cooperate in the framework of the Eastern Partnership. Particularly the role of civil society is a strong pillar of the enhanced Eastern Partnership agenda and this should also be key to including Russia in certain elements of the Eastern Partnership.