This blog is hosted on Ideas on EuropeIdeas on Europe Avatar

Post-Crisis Democracy in Europe

Exploring the EU’s struggle for legitimacy


Trading ambition for cooperation: What’s next for the Eastern Partnership?

The European Neighbourhood Policy and its Eastern Partnership are key strategic policy frameworks for European Union external action. However, after little effective transformation and many unanticipated consequences, the EU admitted in 2015 that its once prized policy was overly ambitious. In response, it was scaled back to an incentivized reward mechanism for good government behavior, yet unfulfilled promises remain. Now, the Eastern Partnership countries are rethinking the original EU-led partnership framework in favor of a balanced, mutual cooperation that amplifies their voices in their diverse and evolving region.

Ex-Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker with president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. Photo: Etienne Ansotte

Grandiose and unattainable ambitions are (hopefully) left in the past

After unexpected challenges, the European Union (EU) downgraded the Eastern Partnership in 2015. Originally intended as a path towards EU Membership, the policy framework did not perform as anticipated, leading the EU to scale down expectations, and instead refocus it as a reward system for good government behavior. My doctoral research examined the build-up to and fall-out from this decision as it pertains to the critical relationships between the EU and the formerly Soviet Eastern Partnership countries, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. The Eastern Partnership falls under the EU’s broader European Neighbourhood Policy framework, which is a core responsibility of the European External Action Service (EEAS). However, its complex and comprehensive design involves various agencies, policies, interests, and objectives.

The key objective of the Eastern Partnership is to manage the acclimatization of the post-Soviet region to EU integration standards. By the EU’s own account, however, this framework and its objectives proved to be far too ambitious. Involved policymakers and policy experts have criticized the European Neighbourhood Policy and Eastern Partnership for their “one size fits all” regionalism perspective, dependence on conditionality compliance, lack of reciprocity, ineffective democracy promotion, and under-estimation of security threats, among other concerns. These issues were met with promises from the EU to implement a tailor-made approach that differentiates between partner countries. However, such promises remain unrealized, and as a result, the future of the EU’s relations with its Eastern Partners is unspecified and lacking a long-term perspective.

The EU claimed that relegating the European Neighbourhood Policy, including the Eastern Partnership, to a reward system for good governance in 2015 would assume a less ambitious and more pragmatic, flexible approach moving forward. Yet, merely increasing funding packages as ad-hoc rewards takes on a diminished “payer not a player” role compared to a mutually engaged and beneficial strategic partnership. Consequently, applying this incentivized reward perspective across the board has not worked out as the EEAS intended. The EU’s influence in its Southern Neighbourhood, the Middle East and North Africa, has continued to decline since 2015. Similarly, despite the EU’s aim to bring its Eastern Partners up to its own standards, the EEAS has not managed to effectively promote democratization or stabilization in its Eastern Neighbourhood that is left vulnerable to longstanding regional tensions.

Unidirectional governance obstructs cooperative partnership

The lack of mutual exchange between the EU and its Eastern Partners substantiates criticism that the Eastern Partnership was not intended as a balanced and equal cooperation. While democratic peace, economic progress, and civilian safety may generally inform EU policy standards regarding societal needs, the inability to provide those needs abroad as promised challenges views of EU external action as merely humanitarian and civilian-oriented. Contrary to claims that the EU is simply a promoter of universal norms, its EEAS objectives and behavior towards its targeted Neighbourhoods do not corroborate merely apolitical intentions. They instead reveal that considerable power would be required to accomplish foreign compliance with the EU’s conditions and standards. As such, the claim to be “one of the most important, if not the most important, normative powers in the world” does not communicate a non-hierarchical and mutual cooperative exchange.

The EU’s emphasis on prescribing its own standards and values to its Eastern Neighbourhood confirms that the Eastern Partnership was not designed as a horizontal and equal relationship, especially since the partner countries were meant to acclimate ‘up’ to EU standards. Moreover, this prescriptive, asymmetrical association has communicated to the stronger countries in the Eastern Neighbourhood region, such as Turkey, Russia, and Azerbaijan, that integration with the EU is not pragmatic and offers little comparative value. Other Eastern Partners’ recent statements of disappointment in the EU suggest similar reservations.

The value of recognition

The 10-year Anniversary Summit of the Eastern Partnership in May 2019 marked an important milestone for the policy framework, as well as for the EU’s relations with the Eastern Partners. From the EU’s side, there was an expectation for all involved parties to sign a Joint Declaration regarding progress made and future goals. However, the Anniversary Summit came and went without the anticipated signing of the Joint Declaration. Azerbaijan’s refusal to acknowledge a statement that did not mention its conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh was the most adamant position against the Joint Declaration. Nevertheless, the other Eastern Partners also expressed disappointment with uncertainties and delays, including the lack of EU accession prospects.

Soon after, in December 2019 the Euronest parliamentary assemblies of Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Armenia proposed a new partnership agenda called the “Trio Plus Strategy 2030.” This strategy better acknowledges these specific Eastern Partners’ many years of reforms measures in compliance with the EU’s partnership conditions. It also emphasizes these partner countries’ preferences for potential deeper integration with the EU. Rather than including all original six Eastern Partners, the Trio Plus Strategy proposes finally abolishing the EU’s regionalism perspective. It holds the EU to its differentiation promises, and demands greater recognition and reward for their greater compliance.

Conclusion: mutual exchange can support fair and realistic cooperation

The EU should clarify that its objective for future partnerships within its Eastern Neighbourhood is to in fact still have them. In order to save itself – and its Eastern Partners – the trouble of further over-ambitious governance goals or unrealized promises, the EU must show that it does not take its relations in the region for granted. Additionally, it is important to express that it recognizes and appreciates the steps towards positive reforms that have occurred. Most importantly, while EU support may encourage such steps, any meaningful change is expressly the result of the Trio Plus countries’ own diligence and resolve.

Rather than unidirectional, prescriptive governance from a foreign institution, the future iteration of the Eastern Partnership should entail a cooperative and strategic framework that outlines shared interests and goals. The framework should also design mutually beneficial and reciprocal action steps that the EU and its Eastern Partners can take together in order to achieve their common objectives.


Recent Articles

Will multinationals’ hunger for tax benefits prevail?

Published on by | No Comments

Multinationals have taken advantage of tax benefits for a long time. Leading the fight against multinationals, Margrethe Vestager, Vice-President of the European Commission and DG-Competition Commissioner, has been referred to as “Silicon Valley’s dragon slayer”. The idea that large companies can finally be held accountable by Vestager has gained her a worldwide reputation as a […]

Doctoral supervision in an international team PhD: lessons learned

Published on by | Comments Off on Doctoral supervision in an international team PhD: lessons learned
Large sheet with words written by hand in different colours

In this blog post, Chris Lord reflects on lessons from PLATO for doctoral supervision. As an international, cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral PhD network, PLATO has created an unusual opportunity to compare supervision practice. But its innovative supervision arrangements and collaborative nature have also placed unusual demands on supervisors and PhD researchers. PLATO is an Innovative Training […]

Strangers at the gates: denying residence rights in Europe in the 21st century

Published on by | Comments Off on Strangers at the gates: denying residence rights in Europe in the 21st century
Thank EU poster on street wall

Seeking work and shelter in another EU country proves more difficult today than at the end of the last century. Despite existing EU legislation, national administrations seem reluctant to facilitate the residence of certain European citizens. Julien Bois calls for the European Commission to again clarify citizens’ free-movement rights, taking into account societal and judicial […]

The Coronavirus crisis as a test to the EU’s fiscal and banking policy reforms

Published on by | Comments Off on The Coronavirus crisis as a test to the EU’s fiscal and banking policy reforms
Man on speaker's chair

The reforms in the EU’s economic and financial governance structure in response to the Euro crisis have been put to the test by the Coronavirus pandemic. While the resurfacing of the sovereign debt crisis has highlighted the inadequacies of the Union’s fiscal policy reforms, the relative stability of the banking system so far hints at […]

Why EU institutions alone cannot reform the Common European Asylum System

Published on by | Comments Off on Why EU institutions alone cannot reform the Common European Asylum System
Armband of Frontex staff

The aim of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is to harmonise asylum procedures across the European Union. As several crises have shown, however, this goal is far from being achieved, and a reform of Europe’s asylum policy is long overdue. Radu-Mihai Triculescu argues that such reform should also incorporate the perspective of street-level bureaucrats […]

The Netherlands doesn’t understand Southern Europe’s pain

Published on by | Comments Off on The Netherlands doesn’t understand Southern Europe’s pain
Hoekstra and Rutte

In the Netherlands, the public underestimates how much Southern Europe has already suffered. And how we benefited ourselves, says Joris Melman, analysing the Dutch stance in the negotiations on the EU’s economic responses to the corona crisis. The Dutch stance in the EU negotiations about the economic response to the corona crisis has sparked criticism […]

The difficult role of consumer groups in the shaping of financial regulation

Published on by | Comments Off on The difficult role of consumer groups in the shaping of financial regulation
tourists taking photos of statue in NYC

Although European financial regulation directly affects citizens as consumers, it is only to a limited extent exposed to public debate. There has also been widespread criticism that European regulators were too close to the financial sector, both before and after the financial crisis. The EU introduced permanent advisory councils, so-called Stakeholder Groups, to include more […]

Promise of democratic renewal or shaky idea? Recommendations for the Conference on the Future of Europe

Published on by | Comments Off on Promise of democratic renewal or shaky idea? Recommendations for the Conference on the Future of Europe
A wooden dome on a public square

Can participatory democracy be the solution to the EU’s democratic deficit? This seems to be the European Commission’s intention with launching the Conference on the Future of Europe. If this is to work, the Conference must however itself be democratically legitimate. Based on past experiences, Camille Dobler gives four recommendations for citizens’ consultations. Can participatory […]

The euro: scapegoated by politicians, supported by the public

Published on by | Comments Off on The euro: scapegoated by politicians, supported by the public
Euro notes in a back pocket

Public opinion has a central role in the politics of the Eurozone. But how do citizens form their opinions? Joris Melman’s original research indicates that opinions on the euro are often embedded in more general political orientations. For most people, the euro is above all a practical artefact in their daily lives, which makes them […]

  • Recent Posts

  • Tags

  • Latest Tweets

  • UACES and Ideas on Europe do not take responsibility for opinions expressed in articles on blogs hosted on Ideas on Europe. All opinions are those of the contributing authors.