In the Eastern Partnership, the EU fosters and intensifies its political, economic, cultural and intersocietal relations with its neighbours Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine on the basis of shared values and supports the transformation towards consolidating democracy, the rule of law and a free market economy in the partner countries. The form of cooperation can vary depending on the partner countries’ interests and ambitions and on how willing they are to undertake reforms. The Eastern Partnership also fosters the countries’ relations with one another.
Key aspects of the Eastern Partnership
Germany and the EU have a particular interest in developments in their immediate neighbourhood. Under the European Neighbourhood Policy the EU thus promotes political and socio-economic reforms in its neighbouring countries aimed at strengthening stability, democracy and prosperity. It also fosters closer political, economic and people-to-people relations between these countries and the EU and relations among the countries themselves.
The Eastern Partnership was set up specifically for the EU’s eastern neighbours (Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Georgia, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan) at a summit in Prague on 7 May 2009. Since then, it has formed the foundation for the partner countries’ bilateral relations with the EU, as well as for the multilateral relations between the EU and its 28 Member States and the six partner countries. European Neighbourhood Policy and thus the Eastern Partnership are part of the EU’s foreign policy and therefore separate from accession policy.
Following the historic changes in the former Soviet Union, the Eastern Partnership provides an opportunity to support the EU’s eastern partners on the basis of shared values on their path to becoming democratic societies based on the rule of law and the market economy. The Eastern Partnership promotes a reform course by the partner governments and offers EU support that gives additional impetus to their political, economic and social transformation.
Association agreements have been signed at bilateral level with partner countries Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, while an enhanced partnership agreement has been concluded with Armenia. The latter was signed on the margins of the Eastern Partnership summit on 24 November 2017. A new agreement is currently being negotiated with Azerbaijan. Belarus is the only country with which a framework agreement has not yet been concluded.
At multilateral level, four thematic platforms and a large number of programmes and projects associated with them address topics of mutual interest to all partner countries, thus facilitating the exchange of experiences and cooperation between them.
At the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga on 21 and 22 May 2015, good governance, market opportunities, mobility/people-to-people contacts and interconnections were chosen as key areas for cooperation. This was confirmed at the summit in Brussels on 24 November 2017.
Unimpeded people-to-people contacts are a key element of functioning neighbourly relations, regardless of whether these contacts are in business, science or research, involve collaboration on projects between civil-society organisations or take place 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. These conditions are laid down in action plans on easing visa requirements. After the conditions have been met, citizens of the partner countries will not require a visa to enter the EU, that is, holders of biometric passports will be be able to stay in the EU for up to three months without a visa. Visa requirements were eased on 28 April 2014 for the Republic of Moldova, on 28 March 2017 for Georgia and on 11 June 2017 for Ukraine. The EU continues to monitor the ongoing fulfilment of the necessary standards after visa requirements have been eased. In cases of severe deviations, visa requirements can be reintroduced. Visa-facilitation agreements are in place with Armenia and Azerbaijan. As a result, visitors from these partner countries can enjoy a host of technical benefits, including lower visa fees and the possibility of arranging appointments online. Visa-facilitation and readmission agreements are currently being negotiated with Belarus.
How does the Eastern Partnership work?
The Eastern Partnership is the most ambitious offer of cooperation under the European Neighbourhood Policy. It fundamentally offers the conclusion of comprehensive association agreements with the EU that also include the establishment of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTA). In 2014, the EU signed Association Agreements with Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. The agreements with Georgia and the Republic of Moldova have been in force since 1 July 2016. The agreement with Ukraine entered into force on 1 September 2017. As regards the countries that do not aim for EU association, the EU is endeavouring to intensify its bilateral relations and put them on a new footing. To this end, the current and partly outdated Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCA) with the partner countries are to be replaced by extended framework agreements. The negotiations with Armenia on a new framework agreement were concluded on 27 February 2017 and the agreement was signed on 24 November 2017. Talks on the same type of framework agreement began with Azerbaijan in early February 2017.
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: (1) democracy and good governance; (2) economic integration and convergence; (3) energy security and (4) 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 Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 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 and internet-based school partnerships.
Russia’s relations with the Eastern Partnership
At the start of the European Neighbourhood Policy in 2003, Russia decided not to be part of this policy, but rather to shape its relations with the EU on its own basis. This automatically meant that it did not become part of the Eastern Partnership.
Although the Eastern Partnership is fundamentally open to cooperation with third countries, Russia took an increasingly critical view of it. Since the summer of 2013, Russian pressure on the eastern partners to abandon association agreements with the EU and the implementation of the corresponding Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas has cast a shadow over the situation in the neighbourhood shared with Russia.
In response to pressure from Russia, the Ukrainian Government refused to sign the Association Agreement, which had been finalised in 2012, in the immediate run-up to the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in 2013, thus sparking protests against the Government in Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine and ultimately leading to its removal. The Ukrainian interim government decided to sign the political section of the Association Agreement with the EU on 21 March 2014 and the trade section on 27 June 2014. Its commitment to closer relations with the EU is not affected by Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of eastern Ukraine.
Following Armenia’s accession to the Eurasian Customs Union at Russia’s instigation, the association and free trade agreement that had been agreed with Armenia could no longer be signed, as membership of a Customs Union is not compatible with the bilateral conclusion of a comprehensive free trade agreement. However, Armenia continued to show interest in more intensive cooperation with the EU and started negotiations again in 2015. On 24 November 2017, a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) was signed on the margins of the Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels. However, this does not provide for political association or the establishment of a free trade zone.
Belarus in the context of the Eastern Partnership
The release of political prisoners on 22 August 2015 and the comparatively peaceful parliamentary elections on 11 September 2016 in Belarus laid the foundations for this country to also have closer relations with the EU. Since the end of February 2016, the EU has lifted most of the sanctions it had imposed in 2010 against members of the Belarusian regime who were responsible for repression at the time of the presidential election that year. Only an arms embargo and asset restrictions/travel bans on four people with links to as yet unresolved disappearances are still in force. These sanctions are currently due to expire on 28 February 2019.
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 steering the political process. Following the founding summit in Prague in 2009, the second summit, which was 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, at which the association agreements with Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine were initialled. At the summit in Riga on 21 and 22 May 2015, all participants underlined their commitment to the Eastern Partnership and to intensifying relations, particularly in view of the Ukraine crisis. At the same time, the principle of differentiation was underlined. This means that relations are tailored to the various partner countries.
The fifth Eastern Partnership summit took place in Brussels on 24 November 2017. The key areas defined in Riga, that is, good governance, market opportunities, mobility/people-to-people contacts and interconnections, were intensified at this summit. The European External Action Service and the European Commission have defined aims for each of these four areas to be achieved by 2020. Further key issues have included implementation of the agreed reforms by the partner countries, improvement of the partner countries’ resilience and better communication in the Eastern Partnership.
In addition to the summits, meetings of the Eastern Partnership Foreign Ministers are held annually. There is also regular direct exchange between other ministers, such as the Eastern Partnership Environment Ministers meeting.
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. The Eastern Partnership’s Civil Society Forum meets annually and is closely involved in the work of the four multilateral platforms. The partner countries have also set up national civil society platforms. 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.