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End of “Eastern Partnership”: Failed birth of a better tomorrow

…A banana tree grew right on the fringe of a tropical forest. It appears to have been there always. Monkeys came out from the forest, picked some bananas to satisfy hunger, and ran back into the jungle to rejoin their tribes. A little hairy monkey with a long tail was going to do the same. It stood under the tree examining the bananas hanging above to find the ones that looked riper. Suddenly, the monkey noticed a small bush that had not been there before. It grew not far from the tree. The monkey stared at it curiously.

“Come nearer, monkey! Look at me! I am so cute and flourishing. I look so good on this meadow,” the bush said.

The monkey blushed, touched it carefully, took a deeper look into the leaves, and examined the roots. The bush was still saying something, while the monkey was looking for bananas.  But, there wasn’t any. Scratching its ears, the monkey spat upon the bush, climbed onto the banana tree, picked the one and ran back into the forest.

(An excerpt from the ode in prose “Tribute to EU Eastern Partnership and bushes,” by unknown author).

The Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit in Riga is a disaster for Europe’s diplomacy in the post-Soviet area. The project has had obscure goals and prospects from the very beginning, but today, it has failed in all aspects.  The active stand of U.S. that tried its best to mobilize the Eastern Partnership countries and encouraged their European aspirations did not help either.  Actually, the seemingly ambitious startup of the European Union failed due to its own worthlessness and uselessness for both the EU and the member-countries: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

How did it happen? One can bring the key facts and dates of the developments around the EaP starting 2008, describing all the key moments, the enthusiastic statements of European officials and the first-second-third persons of the member-countries, mutual visits, rumors behind -the-scenes etc. But all this are minor details that do not reflect the substance of the matter i.e. European Union has no resources sufficient for full integration with the above six countries.  Maybe, it was not so evident at the very beginning, but today, it is a fact: the EU has no sufficient resources and will hardly have any in the nearest future.

It is all about Brussel’s original goal. On May 20, The Guardian briefly described it in an article under the high-sounding title “EU Eastern Partnership summit will highlight failure of plan to check Russia.” It is easy to be wise after event: Britain that has never been actively involved in the Eastern Partnership project decided to speak plainly, clearly defining the major goal of the project i.e. to undermine Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet area. The article featured the failure of the EU’s idea “to entice six former Soviet states out of Moscow’s orbit and into the embrace of Brussels.” It was a crazy goal, considering the resources, the EU was ready to issue to achieve it.  

It must be understood that when they speak of “a significant geopolitical regional-scale undertaking aimed at rapprochement, integration and deepening of cooperation” (EaP concept), a banal bargaining is in question. This is especially noticeable when the authors of such conception seek to take the political niche that has already been privatized by their rival – big, powerful and extremely uncooperative when it comes to its national interests.  Europe realized that it is theoretically possible to achieve success in its undertaking through the classical “carrot and stick” approach. However, in practice, it came across unsurmountable problems.    

Let’s give Brussels its due - the stick works “perfectly.” There are always “a bunch of” European commissioners that will not lose the opportunity to blame the Azerbaijani authorities for human rights violations, Ukraine – for corruption, Armenia – for insufficiently transparent government institutions etc. There is always information leak to media by “reliable sources” that are constantly discontented with something.  There are always open threats to the member-countries (mainly Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia) so that they could not take “the wrong turning.”   There is always a chance to change the stand on the issues important to the member-countries, for instance, the Karabakh issue and much more. In other words, Europe has learned well how to use the stick.

Meanwhile, the carrot was not good at all. The only thing the EU offered the EaP countries is reforms. “Improve the state governance, introduce our standards at all levels of industry, be more democratic than you are, violate the law in favor of the opposition, and diversify economy,” the list is endless. “We will help you with consultations and will give some money to you non-profit organizations so that they could state the same.” All this was backed with endless promises that, in fact, proved empty. Visas and visa liberalization, investments, security, stimulation of the military sector, markets and free trade proved nothing but empty promises. Instead, these countries will see legalization of same-sex marriages.  Having an eloquent tongue is good, especially when you are well-dressed and speak at the high tribunes of the European diplomacy. One can make a movie from all this, but never take it seriously.

In the EU, they often speak of their high standards, quality and other advantages that make the European products competitive and attractive to consumers. However, on the post-Soviet market of political preferences, the EU proved uncompetitive.  In this light, The Guardian is not right saying that EaP is more promising for Georgia and Ukraine.  It is not, indeed. Otherwise, German Chancellor Angela Merkel would not say openly that the visa liberalization for the countries is not possible so far and would not recommend them to carry out more reforms (yes, again reforms). Brussels has made no suggestions only vague resembling the reality. Neither it is likely to do it in future.  

Believe it or not, but there are still people who seriously believe that the EU will stop throwing empty words and start true “integration” with the six countries, five of which are stuck in territorial conflicts, while the 6th headed by the “last dictator of Europe” participates in the project on a pro-forma basis. It is fundamentally wrong to think that it’s all about the conflicts. Simply, Europe actually tried to redraw all the areas of influence in its east at minimum cost.  And the existence or absence of territorial disputes has no effect on that circumstance.  What is the result? –Armenia and Belarus are members of the Eurasian Economic Union, Ukraine is torn by the internal conflict, Georgia is blamed for insufficient reforms. As to Azerbaijan, the president of that country Ilham Aliyev did not even find time for the Riga Summit. What is President of Moldova  Nicolae Timofti busy with is not clear either.

As the phrase goes, don't be penny wise and pound foolish. The Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga is a case in point.   Failure of the Eastern Partnership Policy was the price the EU paid for its meanness, sluggishness and lack of initiative. The project was meant to have a bright future, but proved to be a failed birth of a better tomorrow. The EU will have to pay a second time when it turns out that its ‘Eastern partners’ have learned lessons from the fooling called European integration and are now skeptical about any initiative  of Europe just because it is the initiative of Europe.

Emil Babayan

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