The second half of 2013 saw the increase of attention towards EU’s Eastern partners just like the beginning of 2014 saw its decrease. Even #Euromaidan has not really altered the direction of this downward curvature: Greece overtook the Council presidency from Lithuania, and EU priorities have switched from Europe’s East to the very European Union and from geopolitical agenda to everyday inner problems such as unemployment and economic crisis.
Yet thousands of people are standing on the Maidan square in Kyiv in freezing cold asking Europe to act. What can Europe do? To answer this question it is indispensible to understand that the future of EaP is not exactly same topic of that of #euromaidan. EaP countries have been paving their own “personalized” ways through and the answers should thus also be personalized.
Moldova and Georgia have initialled the association agreements with the European Union, and it would be unreasonable to put these relations on hold, as other two countries that were supposed to ‘join’ the club of those Euroexcited finally preferred not to. The EU should apply “more for more principle”: if Georgia and Moldova are providing “more”, then they have to be offered “more”.
Though, it does not automatically imply that Armenia and Ukraine should get “less for less”. Especially, when it comes to the latter, “more for more” principle is as applicable as ever. But at this point, this is the case among the EU and the Ukrainian people, rather than the government.
Thus as it has become impossible to go further with the European integration under the current Ukrainian government, the Union should get closer to the people of Ukraine that are rightfully asking for “more” in answer to their fight for the European dream – external demand that actually keeps the EU “on the market”.
It is quite possible to develop policies that would do good directly to the citizens of Ukraine until the political change is achieved. As there is unwillingness from the government side, EU funds should be allocated at the civil society level. The EU can offer “more” in terms of visas, “more” in terms of student grants, “more” cultural and societal integration. Specifically, visa availability is definitely a mean to strengthen cultural exchange and the civil society.
However, the EU at present is a weak geopolitical player in the region. In legal terms, the Union can always apply sanctions against the human rights breaches. The entity can also consider freezing bank accounts of the authorities involved in human rights violations and restrict their movement in Schengen area. Any other expectations of direct political actions are unrealistic. The EU is not that magical.
In the interim, the time can do its work. Thus, the loans given to Ukraine will soon create financial inconvenience to Russia, as Ukraine will not be able to service these debts. It would be an overestimation of Russian potential to believe that Russia can annually deliver 15 billion dollars to Ukraine. The prompt money in the Ukrainian governors’ pockets is the reality, but the 20 percent of GDP subsidies is more than Moscow can actually afford.
Moreover, the prime minister has already resigned, meaning that in the period of 60 days the whole new government will have to be re-installed. Yet people are not going home. They have resisted freezing cold and are now aspiring symbolic spring in Ukraine, the season of rebirth with the birth of more European country.
As for the Eastern Partnership in general, criticizing the policy is very easy. It is even easier to say that a new policy has to be developed without suggesting a real alternative. It is much more difficult to keep the framework and try to improve within. That is what EaP needs.
First of all, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, and Armenia should accept the fact that EaP is not a conflict resolution mechanism and can never be.
Secondly, Russia is not a part of the Eastern Partnership, but this state is an important participant in every conflict in EaP countries, be it Transdnistria in Moldova, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, or Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan. EaP countries should try to take EaP for what it is, rather than as a tool against Russia.
From its part, the EU should invest more to help democratic reform processes in EaP countries. The Union is offering practically no money while Russia can offer economic relief in terms of subsidies and decrease in the gas price. As for Moldova and Georgia, the EU should accelerate their integration process and try to sign the association agreements and DCFTAs under the current commission. Georgia and Moldova have “earned” to see at least the shadow of light in the end of the tunnel.
As a final point, the Union should work with governments where possible, but with civil society – always. Also, Eastern Europeans need to wait for the second part of the year 2014 when Italy takes over the Council presidency and very likely puts EaP on the agenda.