Participants of the experts' conference D.Bartels (Foreign Ministry, Germany), M.Kremer (SWP, Berlin), P.Kolb (German Embassy, Warsaw)
“Eastern” priorities of the Polish Presidency of the EU Council
Relations between the European Union and its Eastern neighbors have been a sphere of Poland’s intensive involvement from the beginning of the country’s membership in the EU. Along with gaining experience in moving on the dance floor of EU diplomacy, Poland has also – as has been the case with the Polish-Swedish Eastern Partnership initiative – become increasingly more effective.
As government plenipotentiary for the Polish Presidency of the EU Council, Mikołaj Dowgielewicz assured, Poland will continue to be involved in deepening the cooperation between the EU and its Eastern neighbors throughout its presidency in 2011. Dowgielewicz listed the following specific goals for the Polish Presidency: adopting Treaties of Accession and agreements on free trade zones between EU countries and Partnership parties as well as deepening the EU’s cooperation with Russia and, in this context, taking up activities leading to the relatively quick finalization of negotiations of the new treaty, regulating EU-Russian relations.
Pirrka Tapiola, a representative of the General Secretariat of the Council of the EU, Department for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, emphasized that the European Union appreciates Poland’s experience in cooperating with the EU’s Eastern neighbors and the role that Poland is currently playing in this area.
Lisbon Treaty and the EU’s common Eastern policy
The institutional changes within the European Union connected to the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty form a new framework for the Union’s activities, also in the sphere of Eastern policy. According to Dowgielewicz, the appointment of a permanent chair of the European Council, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy does not lessen the role of the rotating presidency and even – assuming the existence of common interests and intensive cooperation which Poland is hoping for – should increase its effectiveness.
The opinion of the experts expressed during the discussion on the following day was more cautious. The Treaty introduces new actors onto the arena of EU foreign affairs and security policy and broadens the competencies of the existing bodies, for example, the sphere of influence of the EU Parliament. However, this is still a framework, which does not automatically define the quality of the EU’s foreign policy. Chaos, squabbles over competencies and personal conflicts do not necessarily have to erupt in the initial stage, yet they cannot be ruled out.
Both politicians and experts agree that Poland’s greatest challenge, even before the Presidency commences, is “acquiring support” of new “hosts” in the sphere of EU’s foreign policy, specifically the High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, for the issue of Eastern policy and sustaining the interest of political elites in EU Eastern Partnership and their favorable disposition for this initiative.
A key issue in activities supporting a common Eastern policy is taking advantage of internal EU structures of cooperation in all the possible constellations. Poland should be well prepared for the new type of presidency and for cooperating with new institutions. It should also aim for intensive cooperation within the trio presidency (Poland, Denmark, Cyprus) and, before taking charge of the presidency, for cooperation with countries such as Hungary. Poland should also look for new coalitions and, in this context, cooperate with Germany. In spite of their differences, these two countries are, in light of historical ties and geographical proximity, the engine of the EU’s Eastern policy. If they join forces, it will be easier for them to put ern Europe on the agenda of European debates.
Eastern Partnership in the face of current challenges
Both guests taking part in the open debate and the participants of the experts’ meeting agreed that the success of the EU’s activities aimed at increasing cooperation and strengthening ties with countries of the Eastern Partnership initiative depends mostly on the determination of those countries in implementing the necessary reforms and on the progress of the process of democratization.
Currently, the development of the situation in this area does not encourage optimism. The relations between the EU and its Eastern neighbors, especially those who are trying to achieve full integration, are characterized by mutual frustration. Neighboring countries are frustrated with the lack of perspectives for joining the European Union, the Union is discouraged with lack of progress in the process of democratic transformation in those countries. In the face of economic problems, deepened with the effects of the global crisis and political chaos, one can hardly hope for immediate and spectacular changes. Yet at the same time, it is the economic crisis which emphasizes the pragmatic need for modernization and makes it possible even for authoritarian regimes to accept democratic reforms in exchange for economic cooperation.
The initiative of Eastern Partnership, suggested by Poland, modifies the European Neighborhood Policy – the original model of the EU’s cooperation with its neighbors, covering all possible spheres – in the direction of concentrating on the most important problems of the region and is proving successful and adequate for addressing the current challenges, assuming it is implemented consistently. Instead of promoting “large projects,” during its presidency Poland should focus on realizing specific tasks within thematic programs and on regional cooperation across borders. These tasks include mostly signing a free trade agreement, helping neighboring countries in modernizing their energy systems and the liberalization of the visa system.
The skepticism, justified with experiences with the conflicted (as in Ukraine) and authoritarian (as in Belarus) political elites, reveals the significance of the existence of the civil society for the success of democratic transformation in neighboring Eastern countries. The Polish presidency should strengthen the role of the civil society in shaping the relations between countries of the Partnership and the EU and, in this context, the development of the Civil Society Forum.
Eastern Neighbors and Russia
At the same time the Eastern Partnership is a sensitive issue and a cause for conflicts between Russia and countries of the Partnership. Russia treats the former soviet republics as “its own sphere of influence” and perceives the EU and its involvement in the East in a competitive manner. In light of the significant dependence of some EaP countries, especially Ukraine and Belarus and the EU’s increasing dependence on Russia’s energy supplies, Russia treats its energy resources as a tool for realizing its own goals on the arena of European politics. Supplying energy for preferential prices is a way of assuring the “loyalty” of these states and increases in the prices of oil and natural gas, or the threat of cutting off the supplies, are a form of punishment for “disobedience.”
The character of these problems defines the challenges which the Polish Presidency should tackle. Poland’s activities in the sphere of Eastern politics should be directed both to EaP countries and to Russia. Russia should be included in some specific projects. At the same time violating democratic standards by Russia should encounter resistance from the European Union, while Russia should not – as has been the case up to now – play the dominant role in shaping relations with other countries in the East.
Poland should also become involved in activities leading to breaking the dependence’s on Russia’s energy, both within the European Union and in the countries of the Eastern Partnership. Albeit indirectly, this will lessen conflicts and tensions.
The adoption of the Lisbon Treaty and of the Eastern Partnership as the new framework for activities in the difficult field of shaping relations between the EU and its Eastern members are an opportunity, but not a guarantee, for the consolidation of the EU’s Eastern policy and for speeding up processes of democratization, especially in Partnership countries. However, relations between Russia and the EU still remain to be clearly regulated.
According to experts, the success of Eastern policy will depend to a large extent on changing the EU’s paradigm of thinking about its Eastern neighbors. The EU should abandon the practice of making cooperation with all Eastern neighbors contingent on the approval of Russia and should speak with a unanimous voice in its contacts with Russia itself. In spite of the current stagnation, some progress is visible in EaP countries, as evidenced by, for example, the smooth organization of elections in Ukraine. The European Union should stop treating Eastern countries as trouble makers and, as follows, it should change its unilateral policy of exporting political and economic stabilization to these countries. The EU should begin to see further cooperation with these countries as a chance for modernization and development for both sides. In a long-term perspective, the EU should not rule out the possibility of enlargement, proven successful in supporting democratic transformation, in relation to Eastern neighbors, such as Ukraine and Georgia.
The expert discussions were based on the policy papers prepared by Polish and foreign experts: Paweł Świeboda, Janis Emmanouilidis, Iris Kempe and Grzegorz Gromadzki.
Statements and comments from the participants:
Alexander Strelkov, Institute of Europe Russian Academy of Science, Moscow, Moscow’s attitude towards the Eastern Partnership (EaP)