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A new Eastern Partnership summit will take place in Brussels in November 2017. Until then, the EU aims to obtain concrete results in its relationship with each of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries, based on a Plan of Action for 2017-2020. The achievement of tangible results is a major objective set out in the strategic documents of the EU, such as EU Global Strategy (IPN, July 2016) and the revised European Neighborhood Policy (IPN, November 2015). So, the EU is determined to switch over to concrete deeds, with measurable results. This necessity is not at all accidental.
On the one hand, the Eastern dimension of the European Neighborhood Policy started to ‘maturate’. This results from the acknowledgement by the EU of the real potential of the Eastern Partnership. At the same time, this derives from a better understanding by the EU of the socioeconomic and political ‘anatomy’ of the countries, including as a result of the numerous crises witnessed in the region after 2009. On the other hand, the EU needs to inject pragmatism, self-promotion and strategic thinking in a difficult and volatile region. The difficulties related to the Eastern Partnership are mainly related to its susceptibility to the Russian influence. Furthermore, the countries of the region are led by unpredictable political players with visible defects and shortage of legitimacy.
So, the EU’s intention is to make the EaP as operational and effective as possible, which is practical. This can be enough for reducing the political formalism of the initiative. However, no matter how useful the Partnership becomes, this will most probably keep the initial (geo)political load. The amplification of benefits for the EaP countries will mean natural rapprochement between the region and the EU. This is yet unacceptable for Russia, which, according to its new foreign policy conception (IPN, Decembrist 2016), describes the ex-Soviet area as a major external priority.
Consequently, the goal of the EU is to ensure actions tailored for each country apart, from which the people will benefit first of all. Vice President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, noted that obtaining tangible results in each area, which would serve the interests of the people, is what actually matters.
Priorities of Eastern Partnership
The EU’s objectives for the Eastern Partnership were set out in the plan of action included in the paper “Eastern Partnership – focusing on key priorities and deliverables”, which contains 20 “deliverables”. These were planned for 2017-2020, with a series of activities being scheduled for 2017.
The actions will support the efforts of the EU and EaP countries in four key areas are: 1) economic development and opportunities for entering the European market; 2) strengthening institutions and good governance; 3) connectivity, energy efficiency, environment and climate changes; 4) mobility and people-to-people contacts.
Moreover, a more structured engagement with a wider range of civil society organizations will be pursued by increasing their qualifications and abilities to assess public policies. Gender equality and non-discrimination will be at the heart of actions undertaken under the EaP. Therefore, special attention will be devoted to increasing the women’s participation in activities dedicated to leaderism among young people and capacitation of the business sector, alongside the advancement of the implementation of the anti-discrimination legislation. Better, clearer and tailored-made strategic communications will be provided, leading to more understanding of and increased credibility for the EU among citizens across the EaP. Continued support to media plurality in EaP region is added to this, with emphasis on comprehensive EU Russian language press and information service.
Until the Brussels summit of November 2017, the EU wants to have evidence of the EaP’s utility in figures and concrete examples. If this mission is accomplished, the EU’s image and, respectively, legitimacy, which decreased considerably in the region, will only improve. The maintaining of friendly and pro-European countries is as important for the EU as the fact that these countries should be governed democratically and sustainably is
Priority I – economic development
As regards economic development, the EU wants the economies of the EaP countries to become diversified and robust so as to attract investment and create new jobs. It aims to improve the regulatory framework for the business community (EU4Business initiative) and develop strategies for the SMEs and engage these in decision-making. Another goal is to increase access to financing infrastructure for the business sector, with the assistance of international financial institutions (EBRD, World Bank, etc.).
The creation of jobs at the local level, by assisting the local public authorities in stimulating local economic ideas (launch of the Mayors for Economic Growth initiative in October 2018) is another priority.
The harmonization of digital markets will be fostered to eliminate existing obstacles and barriers to the provision of pan-European e-Government and e-Business services, to develop digital ecosystems and start-ups in the EaP countries. The implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU is also among the objectives. In a straight line, this means larger exports to the EU market and their diversification by meeting the required (phyto)sanitary standards. This can diminish the impact of the coercion instruments used by Russia.
Priority II – strengthening institutions and good governance
By improved governance and good governance, the EU aims to fight corruption, strengthen public administration and assist the reform agenda. The rule of law and anti-corruption mechanisms are considered crucial, including for the safety of investment and improvement of the business climate. Justice reform comes together with these to increase the quality of justice, in particular by selecting judges based on merits, ensuring effective legal assistance and the independence of justice.
The local public administration reform is proposed to be continued by increasing transparency (budgets for the citizens) and accountability of the local authorities, in parallel with the extension of the citizens’ participation in local decision-making. It is also planned to support cooperation in civil security so as to increase the countries’ resilience to cyber, transfrontier and civil risks (industrial accidents, natural disasters, etc.), and to set up protection from Russia’s actions. The latter resorted to cyber-attack and espionage against a number of EU member states (Estonia, Germany etc.), influencing similarly the presidential elections in the U.S.
Priority III: Connectivity, energy efficiency, environment and climate change
Better transport links provide the necessary infrastructure to open new opportunities for economic development and to enable closer communication and exchanges between the EU and the Partner Countries, as well as among the Partner Countries themselves. Similarly, energy interconnections and sustainable energy help Partner Countries to reduce energy dependency and to bolster their resilience. In this area, the identification of financing possibilities is one of the key measures that cannot yet take place without the involvement of international financial institutions and private investments.
This includes interconnections in the energy sector (natural gas, electric power), the construction of the Iasi-Ungheni-Chisinau gas pipeline being identified as one of the sub-objectives. This evidently has an enormous value for the counties’ energy security. This way their dependency on Russian hydrocarbons can be diminished (especially in the case of Moldova and Ukraine).
The improvement of energy efficiency is grouped together with the use of renewable energy and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In this regard, steps will be taken to engage the business sector and local authorities. The adjustment to climate change includes measures aimed at improving the life and health of the population (for example, the quality of water), including by reducing exposure to unfavorable weather conditions.
Priority IV: Mobility and people-to-people contacts
As regards mobility and people-to-people contacts, emphasis is laid on the development of entrepreneurial abilities and adjustment to modernization process in the economy. Improvement of employment among the young people and promotion of cooperation in research and innovation were also included in this dimension.
The liberalization of the visa regime (with Ukraine and Georgia), development of mobility partnerships and integrated border management form another bloc of measures. Leaderism and entrepreneurship will be promoted among the youth, with actions dedicated to the development of academic abilities and mobility. This is the most dynamic dimension, also because it implies the most active category of society – young people (students). Furthermore, the innovation and research systems will be integrated through the platform Horizon 2020 (with a budget of about €8 billion until 2020).
Benefits for Moldova
Moldova is probably the most eligible for benefitting practically from almost all the aspects of the plan of action for the Eastern Partnership. The only factor that can create obstacles to using the benefits is the political one and the intensity with which this abuses the possibilities offered by the EU.
In general, we can distinguish objectives where the interests of the Moldovan authorities coincide with those of the EU and those where these run counter to each other. The first category includes the objectives to increase the volume of exports, to facilitate access to financial resources for SMEs, the mobility of the youth, etc. A linear dialogue will exist here with practically full openness on the part of Chisinau.
The second category is yet more problematic – justice reform, strengthening of institutions and good governance. The Moldovan government is not yet ready to make major concessions because its survival depends on the weakness of the institutions and their politicization level. But this will not change in the near future. This results from the mediocrity of the most powerful political parties and the low level of exigency of most of the politically active people to the political class.
If the government of Moldova does not limit its appetite for political monopole, selective justice, politicized institutions and others, other EaP countries will more consistently benefit from the opportunities provided by the EU.
Shortcomings of the Plan of Action for Eastern Partnership
Even if the EU formulated more concrete actions structured on priorities, indicating the responsible players and final stakeholders, the plan of action contains a series of conceptual and content defects.
The conceptual shortcomings include the absence of measures dedicated to the democratization of the political class, ensuring of transparency of political parties, fighting of political corruption, and de-monopolization of institutions. But namely the political factor determines the direction of reforms and is decisive for achieving the end results. The maintaining of the political factor in the current state will continue to produce negative effects on the EU’s image, which the latter wants to restore.
The Plan of Action also includes measures that do nothing but offer more opportunities to this category that already has access to different benefits (nongovernmental sector, youth and research). It is important to increase the opportunities for those who already understand the advantages of the European integration. But it is also necessary to diversify the categories of beneficiaries (socially vulnerable groups, rural population).
Among the main content defects is the non-covering of the aspects related to civil society of the countries that signed Association Agreements with the EU. But Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia created Civil Society Platforms and Development Consultancy Groups that also need human and financial resources for being functional. But these are omitted in the Plan of Action.
Also, even if the cooperation in security is mentioned among the objectives, this does not contain concrete measures related to the resolution of conflicts, prevention of crises and civil protection among the new threats (“hybrid wars”). This element is extremely necessary given that the countries of the region already have separatist conflicts and/or are subject to new ‘hybrid’ threat on the part of Russia (information war, commercial sanctions, etc.).
Instead of conclusion
The Plan of Action for the Eastern Partnership is a roadmap for 2017-2020, with concrete actions and different performance indicators. This seems to be the best document dedicated to the Partnership, drafted by the EU so far. But this does not fully meet the local realities of the EaP countries. Thus, many of the actions do not have measurable indicators or show resistance to particular aspects (cooperation in security).
The shortcomings of the paper derive from the structural defects of the EaP as a policy. This consists of two groups of states that have different European integration speeds. This aspect influences the level of expectations and the conditionality of the EU, set out appropriately in the Plan of Action for 2017-2020.
However, the political factor and the necessity of improving its quality are the major problem that is insufficiently addressed in the Plan of Action. The Eastern Partnership will further fail to bring about concrete results for the people if the political class is tolerated in its current state.
The increased role of civil society is a part of the solution, but the political processes and public policies cannot be improved essentially without depoliticizing institutions and democratizing the political class. The durability and irreversibility of reforms depends on the integrity of the political class on which the credibility of the EU among the people of the Eastern Partnership countries depends for its part.
Dionis Cenușa is a politologist, holding an MA degree in interdisciplinary European studies from the College of Europe.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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