The EU has published an Eastern Partnership (EaP) policy which outlines the Union approach for 2020 and beyond towards the six former Soviet states bordering Russia. This comes amid fears that the EU has not been able to fully implement its previous Eastern Partnership policy as Georgia and Ukraine, the states which most successfully implemented the reforms, have not become EU members.
The new policy document is therefore an important step, serving as a continuation of the EU’s resolve to further integrate the 6 former Soviet states into the Union’s institutions.
The new policy document is a result of consultations launched in 2019 by the European Commission. The previous document made an emphasis on engaging with civil society to ensure effective reforms. There also was a focus on increased public accountability, advanced human rights and local development.
The new policy document outlines changes in 3 out of 4 priority areas. The EU again will work on building stronger economy, connectivity and stronger society as a guarantee.
In the new policy, bilateral cooperation will remain the main way to ensure the implementation of policy recommendations. According to the document, “the EU will continue to provide support in bilateral, regional and multi-country fora, including targeted sectoral assistance in line with the principles of inclusiveness and differentiation. In addition, the EaP will continue to be flexible and inclusive, allowing countries to tackle common and global challenges jointly in a wide range of areas, fostering regional integration”.
Overall, there are the following long-term Eastern Partnership policy objectives the EU plans to implement beyond 2020: building resilient, sustainable and integrated economies, accountable institutions; increasing the rule of law and general security; making progress in building environmental and climate resilience; implementing a resilient digital transformation; building a fair and inclusive societies.
There are also purely geopolitical clauses. For example, “the EU and the partner countries will invest in physical connectivity and infrastructure (in transport, energy and digital) as underpinning conditions for economic development”.
The new document also underlines the importance of increasing bilateral trade which builds upon the previous progress. For example, in the 2010s, EU-EaP trade has nearly doubled, turning the partner countries into the EU’s 10th largest trading partner.
This has the geopolitical ramification of Russia gradually losing the economic battle as the EaP states diversify their economies. The EU is the first trading partner for four partner countries (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine), while for Armenia and Belarus the EU is the second biggest trading partner.
The diversification in exports of goods of EaP states helps to better integrate those states into the global value chains. Another sign of closer interaction between the EU and EaP states is the number of companies trading with the Union. In Georgia, the number increased by 46%, from Moldova by 48% and from Ukraine by 24%.
Building upon this achievement, the new document calls for deepening of “the economic integration with and among the partner countries, particularly that of the three associated countries through continued support for the full implementation of the current DCFTAs”.
Another geopolitical realm covered by the new document is transport. The EU will be focusing on upgrading key physical infrastructure in road, rail, port, inland waterway and airport facilities, and logistics centers, in order to further strengthen connectivity between the EU and the partner countries and among the partner countries themselves. This is in connection with the energy connectivity in the South Caucasus, as the Southern Gas Corridor is nearing completion with first gas from Azerbaijan likely reaching the EU in 2020.
Yet another important sphere of cooperation will be strengthening the EU’s cooperation with the partner countries to create a strong financial system for sustainable economic growth.
Within the measures to minimize organized crime, the EU will continue its support for the EaP states to cooperate with EU justice and home affairs agencies to fight human trafficking and trafficking of illicit goods (notably drugs and firearms), etc.
Among other policies the EU’s support for the cyber resilience of the partner countries stands out. This is particularly important for Georgia as the country was recently subject to massive external cyber attacks.
Author’s note: First published in Georgia Today