The EU–sponsored Eastern Partnership (EaP) is at the crossroads. It faces at least three different perspectives. First, the program can be used to prompt a rather unified neighborhood-area governed by the EU-compatible norms and friendly attitudes to Europe. A second option is based on a realist vision of utilizing the EaP as a tool for counter-balancing and even challenging Russia in an area that Moscow dubs its “near abroad” and which Brussels prefers to consider its “common neighborhood.” A third alternative is to turn EaP into a platform for competition between the six countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine) for reaching European normative standards. In this sense the EaP may be seen as a framework for emulating European practices and implementing the ambitions of those countries interested in associating themselves with Europe.
It is the third scenario that was promoted at the presentation of the European Integration Index held at DGAP, a Berlin-based think tank. It represented the views of those who want to stimulate competition between the EU eastern neighbours, and want the differentiation between them to become public. This is something new in comparison to the previous tackling of EaP countries with a single set of principles and rules.
The findings of experts show that in 2012 the best performer is Moldova. The “silver medal” was awarded to Georgia, and the bronze to Ukraine. Armenia was ranked fourth, followed by Azerbaijan and, quite predictably, Belarus.
Antje Leendertse, the German Foreign Office’s envoy for Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, made a number of important statements in response to the Index. First, she quite clearly determined the group of EaP-interested countries with whom Germany wishes to work on coordinating their policies—it consists of Poland, Baltic states, Czech Republic, and Sweden. What one could read between the lines is a tacit detachment from policies of those EU member states that are more interested in engaging themselves in the conflicts caused by the Arab spring.
Secondly, she made clear that “we absolutely have to make the Vilnius summit of EaP, to be held next November, a success. The goal is to sign as much association agreements with EaP countries as possible.” This means that next year Germany will focus its Ostpolitik on achieving practical results with the leaders of the Index.
Thirdly, Antje Leendertse argued that competition is always good, but it is not stimulated from the outside, “it comes out naturally.” This is a typical German reservation. Berlin is hesitant to be viewed as a power that is pushing its neighbors in a certain direction. Germany prefers to act as a soft power that streamlines the course of events, but always as part of multilateral groups or coalitions.
Yet the very idea of competition is not universally accepted in the region. Irina Solonenko (Renaissance Foundation, Kyiv) mentioned that the Ukrainian government believes that larger countries would anyway have superiority over their smaller neighbors in negotiations with the EU. This is definitely not the case, and Ukraine has to draw lessons from its third-ranked position in the Index.
Whether the competitive model of EaP would evolve into harsher competition and even conflicts with Russia will mostly depend on Moscow. In particular, Russia may get tougher on countries – like Moldova – that achieved the best results in their bids for association with the EU. Russia may demand from the new government in Tbilisi to publicly denounce plans of joining NATO and returning Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Such a stand will certainly prompt further clashes of interest between Russia and its neighbors to which the EU won’t turn a blind eye.
Andrey Makarychev is a Guest Professor at the Free University of Berlin, blogging for PONARS Eurasia on the Russia-EU neighborhood.