Basic aspects of the Eastern Partnership
Germany and the European Union have a particular interest in developments in their immediate neighbourhood. Under the auspices of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) the EU therefore promotes closer political, economic and societal ties with its neighbouring states, as well as relations among these states.
The Eastern Partnership was launched in 2009 (Prague, 7 May 2009) by Germany and its European partners along with the EU’s neighbours Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The decision to establish the Eastern Partnership had been taken by the EU Heads of State and Government at their summit on 19 and 20 March 2009 with a view to promoting political association and economic integration with these eastern neighbours.
Following the historic changes in the former Soviet Union, and given our shared values, the Partnership provides an opportunity to support our eastern partners on their way to becoming democratic societies based on the rule of law. The Eastern Partnership promotes the reform course these countries have embarked on and offers EU support that gives additional impetus to their political, economic and societal transformation.
Unfettered interpersonal contacts are a key element of functioning good neighbourly relations, whether in business, in science and research or in the private sphere. That is why visa liberalisation is one of the Eastern Partnership’s long-term goals. In a gradual process, the EU is helping its partners to create the necessary conditions for safe, well-organised travel. Travellers from partner countries already enjoy a host of technical benefits, including lower visa fees and the possibility of arranging appointments online.
The Eastern Partnership does not address the question of EU accession.
How does the Eastern Partnership work?
The Eastern Partnership is the most ambitious offer of cooperation under the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy. It is based in the first instance on the conclusion of comprehensive association agreements with the EU, a fundamental part of which comprises DCFTAs (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements). These association agreements will replace the existing and in some respects outdated partnership and cooperation agreements with the partner countries and place their relations with the EU on a new footing. Negotiations on association agreements have been ongoing with all eastern partners except Belarus since 2010.
At the same time, the Eastern Partnership aims to promote enhanced cooperation between all the partners. This project-related cooperation focuses primarily on the following areas:
- democracy and good governance
- economic integration and convergence
- energy security and
- people-to-people contacts.
Corresponding platforms have been set up, which allow projects in these areas to be discussed and agreed upon and in which all EU and partner countries may participate, often in cooperation with international organisations (such as the OSCE or the Council of Europe) or non-governmental organisations. It is envisaged that third countries will also be eligible to participate on a case-by-case basis. Projects currently under way cover a broad spectrum, ranging from disaster prevention to support for small and medium-sized enterprises to internet-based school partnerships.
How have relations with the eastern partners developed?
Relations with the EU’s eastern neighbours have developed in a very promising way over the past few years on this basis. Since summer 2013 however, Russian pressure on the eastern partners to abandon association agreements with the EU as well as the implementation of the corresponding Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas has cast a shadow over the situation in all of Russia’s neighbourhood.
Just before the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Russian pressure caused Ukraine to refrain from signing the association agreement finalised in 2012 and since Crimea was annexed in violation of international law and eastern Ukraine has been destabilised, the country has been in a state of serious crisis. Nevertheless, on 21 March Ukraine’s interim government chose to sign the political section of the association agreement. In conjunction with this, the EU decided to provide additional support to Ukraine in the form of unilateral trade and customs facilities.
The remaining sections of the agreement (in particular those pertaining to free trade) were signed together with the agreements with Georgia and Moldova on the fringes of the European Council of Heads of State and Government on 27 June 2014. This occasion prompted EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy to speak of “a great day for Europe”, one which, according to him, future generations in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia would remember. Until the agreements enter fully into force following their complete ratification by the EU, the partner countries and all EU Member States, parts of the agreements (provided they are not the responsibility of the Member States) will be provisionally applied by the EU and the partner country in question. This also involves the deployment of an Association Council, which will closely guide and evaluate the association process and will be supported by an association committee and subcommittees. Germany ratified all three agreements on 22 July 2015.
After Russia exerted its influence and Armenia announced that it would join the Eurasian Customs Union, the association and free trade agreement which had been negotiated could no longer be signed, as membership of the Customs Union is not compatible with an EU free trade agreement. The negotiations with Azerbaijan are not yet ready for conclusion, but there has been some progress. Azerbaijan is not a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), so there is as yet no basis for negotiations on a free trade agreement.
Given the political situation in Belarus, there can be no negotiations on any further intensification of bilateral relations at present. The EU has tied the launch of negotiations to the end of repression and the release of political detainees. As part of a two-pronged approach, the EU is pursuing a critical dialogue: on the one hand, it has imposed sanctions, on the other it gives support in particular to the country’s civil society. Nevertheless, Belarus is actively involved in the Eastern Partnership on the multilateral level.
Who steers the Eastern Partnership?
Meetings of Eastern Partnership Heads of State and Government take place every two years. These summits are the forum for the political steering of the process. Following the founding summit in Prague in 2009, the second summit, held in Warsaw on 29 and 30 September 2011, primarily concentrated on how to take the Eastern Partnership forward. Among other things, it agreed on enhanced cooperation in the economic and trade spheres. Lithuania hosted the third Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius on 28 and 29 November 2013. The 2015 Summit will take place in Riga.
Meetings of the Eastern Partnership Foreign Ministers are held annually, most recently in Brussels on 22 July 2014, with Germany attending. Germany is also active in other formats among particularly committed EU member states in seeking the further development of the Eastern Partnership. The European External Action Service (EEAS) has been mandated to conduct the negotiations and, in keeping with its political instructions, is responsible for implementing the Eastern Partnership on the EU side, along with the European Commission.
The German Government is particularly keen for civil society in the partner countries to receive continued support and develop closer links with NGOs in the EU. In November 2010, Berlin hosted the Second Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, which brought together over 200 representatives of civil society organisations from across the EU and from partner countries. A further forum took place in Poznań (Poland) in 2011, and another was held in Stockholm in November 2012. On 4 and 5 October 2013 the Republic of Moldova hosted the Civil Society Forum on Working Together for a European Future, becoming the first of the partner countries to do so. In 2014, the annual meeting of the Civil Society Forum took place in Tbilisi, Georgia, on 20 and 21 November. Under the keynote heading “EU Integration and Common Security: Making it Happen”, more than 250 representatives of civil society organisations in all six Eastern Partnership countries and the EU discussed topics including free elections, the media and freedom of expression, corruption, visa liberalisation, energy and human rights and formulated policy recommendations. In addition, joint principles were laid down for the civil society platforms to be included in the association agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova.