Paweł Musiałek: The EU is currently facing three crises: Brexit, the influx of refugees and of course the situation in Ukraine. Considering this, do you think there is any space left on the EU agenda for the Eastern Partnership?
Diana Potjomkina: There is a major shift underway when it comes to how the Eastern Partnership is viewed in the EU. The latest European Neighborhood Policy Review was published on 18 December 2015. On the face of it, it seems nothing has changed. However, if you look at the document from the point of view of its previous versions, you will see that the European Union has finally realized that the six countries in the Partnership are not the same, and do not have the same ambitions. Some of the countries do not care what the EU can offer them, so we must look for other approaches with states like Armenia, Belarus and Azerbaijan. You will also see an increased focus on security. Moreover, the document also paid more attention to welfare, but I think it was not enough. We must be much more attentive to what happens in this partnership economically and socially. If you expect these countries to see some results in the long term, for instance 10 years, you cannot ignore their short-term socio-economic difficulties, otherwise we will be heading for a political disaster. Granted we don’t have any funds now to change anything, because we are in the middle of the 7-year budget cycle, but it is important that the EU started to realize the significance of their socio-economic stability. Then you have the European Global Strategy, which was presented in June of this year. This is global, so not just about the Eastern Partnership. This document shows that the EU is talking much more about providing security. Before that, the EU used only soft power like its economy and cultural attractiveness. Moreover, in the political dialogue we could not talk about real hard security measures. But now Mogherini is saying this distinction is actually artificial and we cannot talk only about soft vs. hard power, what we need is an integrated power. This means we need to act in all directions, so we must be able to ensure stability in our neighborhood. If you add all these things together, I think that the Eastern Partnership has not been forgotten. It remains to be seen how we implement all this in practice – whether we can provide security in the neighborhood, whether we can help them solve the debt crisis and whether we can help them to maintain socio-economic stability. All of this should help these countries maintain the course of their reforms. We also need to ensure that we keep some kind of a dialogue with countries with whom we have no partnership agreements. However, there is a big shortage of resources and we are not supporting their efforts enough. I am also concerned about what happened last summer when the EU froze the process of easing visa requirements for Georgia. This was a very bad signal because that decision was made on political grounds, not objective criteria. But if you look at the EU as a whole it is fine, it’s changing, but it is fine.
PM: The Eastern Partnership was launched a few years ago, which means enough time has passed for us to be able to assess its effectiveness. Can you give us any example of successful initiatives under the umbrella of the Partnership? Or is it still too early to assess?
DP: We can think about it in two ways. One way is about the changes you can see on the ground, like projects funded by the EU, e.g. in the area of infrastructure, improved energy security, exchange programs. Of course I would like to see much more, like abandonment of visa programs, like we have with Moldova; economic assistance, help with maintaining employment. The other way to look at this is to remind ourselves how the EU was treating these countries before 2004. The EU didn’t really care about these states, they did have partnership agreements, but it was standard contracts that the EU had will other countries like Congo or Argentina, just a document that you need to have with everybody. Those were enormous volumes without any specifics. But there was no policy towards the region. There was a strategy towards the 10 countries that were about to enter the Union, but the rest was in the background. So the success of the European Neighborhood Policy is that we started thinking strategically about this region. We started to develop a dialogue with those states, including a dialogue about the civil society, etc. Of course we made lots of mistakes along the way. But right now, when the new policies are actually implemented, when the EU will be able to differentiate between the interests of those countries, things will change for the better in areas such as security, economy, social stability. What we managed to do is we maintained this regional focus and devised a strategy, which is imperfect, but there are some good things in there. If we dealt with each country individually, the EU would not pay enough attention to those states, as there are always bigger players, like Russia, China, etc. Today the EU’s consciousness about the region is high.
Central – Eastern European Journalists Congress, 21.10.2016, Cracow
Interviewer: Paweł Musiałek, Jagiellonian Club, Poland
Interviewee: Diāna Potjomkina, Research Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs