Last update: 26 04 2010
Neighbours of Visegrad and EU: Eastern Partnership
Following 2004 enlargement, EU has gained new members but also new neighbours. Eastern partnership initiative is designed to address diverse expectations of eastern neighbours concerning European integration and offer them new type of the contractual relationship. The upgraded European Neighbourhood Policy is also an expression of foreign policy priorities of Visegrad countries supporting European aspirations of Ukraine.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy brought to life the project of Union of the Mediterranean during the French Presidency of the European Union (July - December 2008). To balance the focus of the European Neighbourhood Policy, the Polish-Swedish duo tabled a new vision of EU´s relations with Eastern neighbours that were once part of the Soviet Union.
Eastern Partnership specifically applies to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus (see the map). Out of these countries, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia explicitly expressed wish to join EU eventually. The most realistic and most controversial at the same time is the case of Ukraine. Kyiv is constantly asking for the clear European perspective, something EU seems reluctant to offer.
European Commission presented new document on Eastern Partnership on 8 December 2008, which the former Czech deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexander Vondra called "the best document Commission has ever produced" (Alexander Duleba, Zahraničná politika). European Council gave the green light to this initiative on June European Council.
Eventhou Eastern partnerships is an upgrade of European neighbourhood Policy (ENP), this upgrade owns for its existence to the Visegrad countries, writes analysis by DespiteBorders.com. It is also logical, that even designed as a common policy, countries of Central Europe, Baltic’s and Germany will be more active in this field. That might also be a source of tensions, experts warn.
The Czech Republic fully supports the European Neighborhood Policy and especially its Eastern dimension. The launch of the Eastern Partnership was one of the priorities in the domain of external relations of the Czech EU presidency in the first half of 2009.
The Czechs worked hard to prepare everything for the summit in Prague in May, where the Partnership was officially launched by approved declaration of the EU and six former Soviet republics which are involved in the Partnership. The Czech Prime Minister Topolanek said during the summit: “The completion of the Mediterranean Union with the project of the Eastern Partnership was a logical consequence of the European Neighbourhood Policy.”
The EU representatives have stressed that this initiative is not aimed against Russia. Nevertheless most of the analysts say that it is designed to tie the states of the important Black sea region closer to the EU. This region gained more importance as the possible transfer route of the energetic resources to Europe and with Russia gaining more and more influence it has become clear that for Europe the relations with these states are of vital importance.
The Czech Republic supports this initiative because it is regarded as an opportunity to balance the ENP which has recently gained its southern dimension. The Czech Republic’s foreign policy is traditionally oriented towards states of this region. The Czech Republic endorses the democratization process of the former Soviet Republics.
From the Czech point of view Belarus should be included in the Eastern Partnership but before full engagement democratic reforms of larger scale have to be implemented.
The Committee for the EU Affairs of the Czech government formally approved on the 13th July the intention to preserve the development of the Eastern Partnership as one of the priorities of the Czech Republic in the field of foreign policy. The Committee “stated” that the relations with states from the Eastern Europe are important for the Czech Republic on one hand from the bilateral point of view and on the other hand in the field of the external relations of the EU and also within the framework of NATO.
The Czech Republic would like to influence the future formation of the Eastern Partnership being the 4th largest contributor to the ENPI (European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument). Czech Republic will try to make the best of this and use it for the better involvement of Czech enterprises in the projects which are connected with the Eastern Partnership.
Eastern dimensions of the European Neighbourhood Policy plays key role in Hungary’s European and foreign policy. Therefore, Eastern Partnership will be a strategic pillar of the Hungarian Presidency’s program that starts in 2011 and is already a priority in its V4 presidency paper.
As Hungary is a border country of the European Union it has strategic interests to have a peaceful and prosperous cooperation with the Eastern neighbours of the block. But this classical aspect of security is not the only to be taken into consideration. Energy-security, economic relations and minority questions play also an important role. And all this puts a special emphasis on Russia. However, Hungary has a very balanced relationship with Russia that it does not want to knock over, hence it supports a common European approach.
As all participating countries – except for Armenia- have a common border with Russia, Eastern Partnership is a pain in Moscow’s neck. While the EU repeatedly is trying to secure Moscow, that the Eastern Partnership “is not anti-Russian”, Hungary tries not to take stance, leaving explanations to Brussels. If not inevitable, Hungary also tries to stay in background in such cases like the Georgia-conflict.
However, Hungary actively seeks cooperation with Eastern Partnership countries, especially Azerbaijan. The Hungarian MOL is one of the five partners in the Nabucco-consortia, and one of the priority resource-areas of the Nabucco is Azerbaijan. The Eastern Partnership and the accompanying financial resources could very well have an impact on Baku’s decision whether to sell gas for Nabucco or not. So if Hungary wants to play significant role in the EU energy policy and diversify its energy resources, it has to take the risk of worsening relations with Moscow, and lobby for the EU pipeline project.
And so it does. At the Budapest Nabucco Summit in January, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány called Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, his “close friend” and let him speak right after his opening remarks and before Mirek Topolánek who was representing the EU Presidency (EurActiv.hu 2009.01.28.). Later on during his visit to Moscow, Gyurcsány made it clear, Hungary believes that Russia and Ukraine both have a responsibility in the January gas crisis. Neither this opinion did open new doors in the Kremlin.
At the same time, Hungary tries to play double pipeline politics (see our Fact Sheet on energy security), also supporting the construction of the South Stream. Moreover, Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai underlined the importance of a “common European approach” in the gas crisis, to “ensure the long term [Russian] gas transit through Ukraine”.
From the other Easter Partnership countries only relations with Ukraine are on a significant level. Not too much after the January gas crisis, the former Foreign Minister of Hungary, Kinga Göncz opened a new embassy in Tbilisi. Later, as s part of a structural reform (and as a measure for cutting expenditures), new Foreign Minister Peter Balázs reduced the number of Hungarian embassies. However, the newly erected Tbilisi post stayed in place.
The relations between Kiev and Budapest could be best described by close cooperation. The high level visits occur quite often, and also the ministers meet on a regular basis. This is not just because of the important economic relations between the two countries, but also the Hungarian minority-policy is a reason. As approximately 150.000 ethnic Hungarians live in Subcarpathia, Southern-Ukraine, Hungary considers Ukraine a priority area.
While the relations seem to be patient, Budapest regularly reminds Kiev to respect the rights of minorities. This happened last time in 2008, when the Ukrainian parliament adopted the new education law which aimed to displace minority languages from public education institutes.
As the main idea of the Eastern Partnership is to consolidate the social, economic and political situation of the partners, and the applicable EU funds will include the criteria of respecting and promoting European values -including the respect of minority rights- in these countries, it is first priority for Hungary to support this project.
Nevertheless it is still an open question if the Eastern Partnership countries will adapt to EU requirements, or chose the easier way and seek protection behind the back of Moscow, who does not control whether their inner policy is value-based or not.
As the initiator of the Eastern Partnership, Poland has been since the beginning interested in the fullest realization of the project. The head of Poland’s diplomacy Radosław Sikorski regards this Polish-Swedish initiative also as a key element in the relations with Russia. Russia also seems to have accepted this new EU initiative. In mid-May this year, the Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov even said that “Russia does not rule out participating in individual projects of the Eastern Partnership initiated by the European Union”. The head of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs assured during the presentation of the information about the Partnership in the Sejm: “The Eastern Partnership is not an attempt of the EU to create an area of influence in the East, it is not directed against anybody”. Sikorski stressed: “The stabilization and modernization in the East-European region is an advantage for the EU and its eastern neighbours but also for all those who view this region as vital to their interests”.
Poland, as the strategic partner of Ukraine, is mainly interested in the deepening of the EU-Ukraine relations and in the presenting of the so called European perspective to this country which is to say - the vision of the EU membership. After the September 2009 meeting with Ukraine’s president Viktor Yushchenko, Poland’s president Lech Kaczyński said: “The highest-rank representatives of two big European nations connected by strategic relations have met. I think that Europe – if it is to be a Europe of co-operation and not of domination – has to be based upon many strategic partnerships”. He stressed that Polish-Ukrainian partnership was extremely important and that it should be “maintained and deepened”. “It has different forms: economic, cultural and that related to the borderland, however the political co-operation between our two nations has an enormous significance, both in terms of Ukraine’s aspirations regarding the EU and NATO and in many other issues” Polish president added.
The issue of energy security of Poland (and of the whole EU – Poland is an ardent advocate of a common energy policy) is an important subject in Poland, relatively frequently present in the media. However – despite last winter’s experiences, when Russian gas supplies via Ukraine were limited due to a dispute between the two countries) – it is rather not connected with the idea of the Eastern Partnership.
As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasizes, the Eastern Partnership is “Poland’s first original initiative introduced into the system of external relations of the European Union”, approved by the leaders of the member states. Prior to that, Poland won Sweden over to this idea and both countries put forward this initiative in the EU forum (the Partnership is one of the priorities of the present, Swedish EU presidency). In June last year, this initiative was backed up by the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Poland also managed to convince the European Union to allocate an additional EUR 600 million from the EU budget until 2013 for the development of the Eastern Partnership.
One of the first actions taken after the program of the Eastern Partnership had been adopted, was the introduction of visa facilitations. Even though one of the purposes of the Partnership, namely the visa-free travelling is no yet in sight, the Poland-Ukraine small cross-border movement agreement became effective on 1st July, and prior to that, Poland reduced the visa fees to many categories of travellers. Poland assists Ukraine in meeting the conditions of signing the association agreement with the EU this year. However the Minister Sikorski stressed in a press interview that he can “frankly tell Ukraine that it has wasted much of goodwill and political capital arisen during the Orange Revolution”.
Strengthening relations with our eastern neighbours is “a natural concern of Slovakia”. Therefore, Slovakia has actively supported a more ambitious Eastern dimension of the EU external policy.
Slovak government believes that Eastern Partnership initiative will bring „strong impulse” into further qualitative development in bringing EU and East European neighbouring countries closer together. As mentioned by official representatives, this initiative’s added value lays in “real possibility of creating a common space of values and rules based on EU model”. Therefore Slovakia is determined to actively contribute to the fulfilment of tasks of the Partnership.
Fostering ties with eastern neighbours should also encompass the policy of open doors of the EU and Eastern Partnership should develop together with the policy of EU enlargement, Slovak diplomacy argues. In this process Slovakia is ready to share its experience from transformation and European integration, which will be one of „our inputs to the fulfilment of the goals of Eastern dimension”. Slovakia “regrets that in this phase it was not able to push trough the perspective of membership into the initiative”, vice-president of the Slovak government Dušan Čaplovič said during his visit of Moldova in 2008.
Slovakia is pleased to have Belarus included in the initiative, as it has “no intention to exclude Belarus from the European area”. Bratislava wants to support the democratisation of the country parallel to strengthening economic and trade ties. Slovak Foreign Minister visited Minsk in August 2009. He met with the president Lukashenka as well as with the opposition. Fostering business links via establishing common trade forum was also among the aims of the Slovak delegation visit.
Slovak government is aware that Russia views Eastern Partnership with certain suspicion and as a Trojan horse of the European interests in their sphere of influence. “It is our task to patiently work on the change of this logic about relationships in Eastern Europe”, said Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák in June this year.
“Slovakia rejects forcing of outworn concepts of hostility, or blocs in Europe. We know that partnership of the Union with Russia will never be easy. We will hardly ever be united on every issue, but the real national interest of Russia lies in the long-term strategic partnership with European Union”, Lajčák argues.
In the Eastern Partnership, Ukraine is one of the Slovak priorities, states Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In May 2008 Slovakia signed an agreement on small cross-border movement, enabling Ukrainian citizens living within the distance 50 km from the border to travel to Slovakia without visa (This move was necessary due to enlargement of Schengen area in December 2007) However, due to redundant bureaucracy the limited effect of the agreement is a disappointment for the citizens of Transcarpathia, Ukrainian ambassador in Slovak Republic Inna Ohnivec said in an interview with DespiteBorders.com.
During January gas crisis in Europe, Slovak Prime minister Robert Fico publicly blamed Ukraine for the suspension of gas supplies to Europe, including Slovakia. He said so on the meeting with Julia Tymoshenko.
Factsheets from other topics
- Transport infrastructure - TEN-T projects (03 06 2010)
- Ageing Visegrad (01 06 2010)
- Cohesion policy in Visegrad (25 05 2010)
- Euro versus national currencies in Visegrad countries (03 06 2010)
- Reforming EU budget (01 06 2010)
- Energy security of Visegrad region (25 05 2010)