A historical opportunity to change fatigue with Eastern Partnership with ambition

Vygaudas Ušackas
DELFI / Orestas Gurevičius

The European Union and six Eastern Partnership states will meet in the fifth Eastern Partnership summit on November 24. It has already been dubbed the “survival meeting”. We will either finally doom Eastern Partnership or will inspire it to a new era. It is a historical opportunity for Lithuania once more.

As is known, the initial political ambition to aid countries such as Ukraine and Georgia to finally shed Soviet heritage and gradually integrate with the EU was eventually replaced by inertia and disappointment.

The European Commission came to deal with coordinating technical details free trade agreement details. Most member states diverted their resources and attention to resolving the refugee crisis. The entire ambition was as if conveniently forgotten.

While this was happening, Russian aggression toward Ukraine undercut the European security architecture and shocked the West. Hybrid, internet attacks from Russia made the Western democracies defend and strengthen their public and technological resilience.

And instead of this shock turning into a uniting factor, the political couloirs echoed with certain European officials’ accusations to the authors of Eastern Partnership. For supposedly damaging relations with Russia and even sparking war.

This way Eastern Partnership, important to Lithuania and not only, came to vanish from EU leaders’ policy priorities.

Yes, such a situation turned into a victory for hostile forces. However analogously it brought about an opposite reaction.

Former state and cabinet leaders gathered into the Ukrainian friends group, led by former NATO Director General Anders Fogh Rasmussen have appealed to current European Commission and European Union member state leaders, urgently calling to grant Eastern Partnership a new impulse which would change the current technocratic inertia.

This has to bear a clear message – Eastern Partnership must not only return to the top of EU priorities lists, but also into the consciousness of its citizens. Our security depends on these borders. Our economic welfare depends on the integration of the citizens of these states.

We present the unredacted text of this appeal and the list of its signatories. It is a historical opportunity for Lithuania and other countries to once more retake leadership.

Failing to outline long term prospects for our Easter Partnership partners, we would be making a massive geopolitical mistake. In such a case they would have even less motivation to transform their post-soviet economic systems, control state borders and would become increasingly vulnerable to Russian destabilisation.

Thus the nearing Eastern Partnership Summit grants the opportunity to renew the Union’s commitments to the neighbours of Europe. European leaders should make use of this and propose a clear political vision to Eastern Partnership states or be met with the risk of reform stagnation.

The Eastern Partnership programme helped strengthen the governance structures and economies of Eastern European states. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine committed to pass almost 70% of EU legislation and standards. Trade and visa liberalisation prospects encouraged reforms in these countries, which otherwise would not have happened. It is one of the essential examples how the European Union can encourage difficult reforms in the region through opportunities for further integration, creating added value to not only the EU, but also the partner states.

Unfortunately in recent months Eastern Partnership discussions were simplified to a narrow duality – membership or non-membership. Countries such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova deserve a European perspective. We understand that the time is not yet suitable for membership itself. Nevertheless, a political “third war” solution is needed, which could broaden this narrow choice.

The European Union has other appealing forms of cooperation – not just membership: sector integration or such popular projects as removal roaming charges. This also includes the prospect of membership in the European Union electronic trade area, energy union and of course customs union, if and when the countries adhere to all requirements.

The alternative to a positive agenda is a dangerous inertia. It would appear that the European Union is entering a period of political stagnation with the hopes that the Eastern Partnership states will continue to perform existing agreements without integration prospects throughout the coming decade. This would be akin to driving a bike uphill without pedalling and instead rolling backwards. We already see the growth of a harmful disappointment in the EU in Eastern Europe.

The Eastern partners have to do most of the work themselves and their main motivation should be an understanding that fundamental reforms, fighting corruption and the rule of law will make their countries more robust and wealthier. The European Union leaders know well that reforms are difficult and citizens have to see long term benefits. If the societies in the region do not see positive prospects, we should not be surprised that the representatives they elect relinquish difficult reforms due to how unpopular they are.

Proposing a European Union long term vision is the best guarantee of reform in Eastern Partnership states. The time has come to relinquish inertia and demonstrate that the EU remains a driving force for change in its neighbourhood.

We understand that for various reasons currently it is too early to grant membership prospects to the states. However by aiming to motivate and grant a positive impulse for necessary reforms, we can by other means help Eastern Partnership states become a part of a territory where, for example, roaming charges do not apply. And this way to gradually integrate into the European Union digital market, energy market and customs union.

The time has come to change inertia to ambition, which would return faith and trust in the European Union through a deep and meaningful contribution in creating security, stability and welfare in the Eastern neighbourhood.

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