EASTERN PARTNERSHIP INITIATIVE: AN OPPORTUNITY
3rd EUROPE – UKRAINE FORUM, Kviev (Ukraine), 26 February 2009
It is a great pleasure to participate in this forum in the beautiful city of Kyiv. Ukraine, as a prominent and promising country in our region is indeed a most appropriate venue to discuss the EU – Eastern European relations. I am also grateful to our Polish friends from the “Institute for Eastern Studies” for the impeccable organization and to our Ukrainian hosts for their warm hospitality.
EU enlargement and neighbourhood policy
This forum is a very timely initiative, as European integration is undergoing a critical period. The European Union is facing the challenge of defining the boundaries of its enlargement and the extent of its neighbourhood policy.
In fact, this is a major policy decision concerning the future of the EU. If the EU contemplates to assume global responsibilities rather than remaining a mere free trade zone, it has to look beyond the present boundaries.
Eastern Partnership Initiative
The importance and the timeliness of the Eastern Partnership initiative become more visible when it is considered within this context. However, the EU paid attention so far to underline on every occasion that it should not commit itself to give full membership perspective to the countries covered by the initiative. This attitude may be attributed to the worry of not causing disillusionment in the future in the countries concerned, in case the EU could not fulfil such a commitment.
On the other hand, the EU should not either foreclose the door for new members from the Eastern Partnership region. The decision to enlarge the EU was made in each case in the past in light of the circumstances that prevailed at the time of enlargement and not beforehand. Therefore the door should be kept open and unnecessary obstacles should not be put in front of a country on the grounds that the EU did not commit itself to admit that country.
Europe, the Balkans, the Black Sea Basin and the Caucasus
The neighbouring regions covered by the initiative, that is to say Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Black Sea Basin and the Caucasus could be examined from three different standpoints:
a) The first is geographical standpoint. From the geographical or geo-strategic standpoints, these regions have always constituted parts of the same integral security area. According to the principle of the indivisibility of defence, the instability in one of these regions is likely to affect negatively the stability of the adjacent regions. The keen interest of the EU in the Georgian crisis of August 2008 is due to this interaction. Therefore the EU cannot remain indifferent to the developments in these areas and the Eastern Partnership addresses this requirement.
b) The second is the standpoint of common values. The EU has to be perceived more as a Union of common universal values than as a geographical region. If such a perception has a merit, the EU should not confine itself to geographical boundaries. It should be as inclusive as it is realistically possible to incorporate the neighbouring regions where peoples share or commit themselves to share the same universal values such as democracy, fundamental rights and freedoms, transparency etc.
c) The third standpoint is economic. There is a huge potential of economic cooperation between the countries covered by the Eastern Partnership on the one hand and the EU on the other. The Soviet regime has cut off the smooth interaction between many countries of this region from the rest of Europe. This observation is more valid for the Black Sea basin countries. The Partnership initiative may eliminate this artificial dividedness.
Black Sea Economic Cooperation
I would like to say a few words on an initiative launched by the EU under the title of Black Sea Synergy, because this initiative overlaps with part of the geographical area covered by the Eastern Partnership. The Black Sea Synergy covers 9 countries of the region, namely Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova Ukraine, the Russian Federation, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. 7 out of these 9 countries are also part of the Eastern Partnership either in their capacity as the EU member countries such as Bulgaria and Romania or the beneficiaries of the Eastern Partnership initiative. In other words the overlapping area is very wide.
The Black Sea Synergy is first mentioned in a Communication drafted by the EU Commission in April 2007. The EU Council adopted this Communication in May 2007 by pointing out the importance of the Black Sea basin for the EU.
The European Parliament went one step further and reiterated the “importance of devising a more… comprehensive Strategy for the Black Sea region that envisages the establishment of a Black Sea Cooperation Agreement, which should include the EU, Turkey, all Black Sea littoral States as equal partners”.
Since both of these two initiatives, namely the Eastern Partnership and the Black Sea Synergy, are undertaken by the EU, complementarities between them have to be fully utilized and duplications have to be avoided.
The experience gained from the two initiatives in the Mediterranean basin, the Euromed and Union for the Mediterranean, should also be utilised despite the specificities of and major differences between these two regions.
One last point worth mentioning in this context is that Turkey is referred to in the EU Commission’s Communication on the Eastern Partnership only as a “third party” with whom cooperation can be developed, whereas Turkey is more than that. It is the initiator of the BSEC; it is one of the major stakeholders in the Black Sea basin, the Caucasus and the Balkans; it controls the Turkish Straits that are the only outlet of the Black Sea to the oceans; it is custodian of the Montreux Convention that regulates the size of the military vessels that the non-riparian countries are allowed to keep in the Black Sea. Furthermore Turkey is a major contributor to NATO, a negotiating country with the EU and the 6th biggest economy in Europe. In view of these characteristics, one may wonder whether it is appropriate to reduce Turkey’s possible contribution to the Eastern Partnership to the single area of energy.
“Eastern Partnership Initiative: Value Added or Just a Decor Change?”
The title of our panel is: “Eastern Partnership Initiative: Value Added or Just a Decor Change?” The question is very pertinent, but it is too early for an outright answer. It is not definitely a mere décor change. It is more than that. The initiative offers an opportunity not to be missed. However, time will show to what extent it will be able to mobilize huge potentials of cooperation that exist in the region.