IN THE SPOTLIGHT
CSF expert panel in Berlin discusses future of Eastern Partnership
Negotiations, support to civil society and sanctions against Russia should be cornerstones of EU policy towards Eastern Partnership, say participants of CSF expert panel in Berlin
The expert panel “Eastern Partnership: in need of a rethink” organised by the Civil Society Forum on 1 July in Berlin brought together civil society actors, including the members of the CSF Steering Committee, representatives of Berlin-based civil society organisations and think tanks as well as students and independent researchers. The panel assessed the current state of play in the six Eastern Partnership countries as well as the EU engagement there and focused on ways to reshape the EU policy towards the region in light of recent developments with respect to Ukraine. Germany’s policy towards Russia and its impact on the Eastern Partnership countries were also discussed. Jeff Lovitt, Executive Director of the Policy Association for an Open Society (Czech Republic) and Co-Chair of the Steering Committee of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, moderated the panel.
Susan Stewart, Deputy Head of the Eastern Europe and Eurasia Research Division, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, noted a continuing strong tendency in Germany to look at developments in the Eastern Partnership region through the Russian lens. Although Germany supports and implements the EU sanctions against Russia to a certain extent, it is unlikely that it will turn away from its Russian-centered approach, she opined. Dr. Stewart also drew attention to another key problem in the German context, notably the diminishing research and expertise on Russia and the whole Eastern Partnership.
Iryna Solonenko, independent researcher at Viadrina European University, said recent democratic developments in Ukraine would have not been possible without active participation of the civil society. Therefore, the EU should work further to unleash the social change potential of the civil society in the Eastern Partnership countries. She also suggested that the EU should employ the principle of conditionality towards the Eastern Partnership countries that would oblige the governments to work with civil society: the more the government engages with civil society, the more EU financial assistance it receives.
Jan Pieklo, Director of the Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation Foundation (Poland), discussed and advocated by the civil society. He suggested that the EU should focus on helping Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine with implementing necessary reforms under the Association Agreement while not forgetting about Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Leila Alieva, Director of the Center for National and International Studies (Azerbaijan), said inconsistency in promoting EU reforms increases Russia’s achievements in the Eastern Partnership region. The use of ‘double standards’ in foreign policy towards Belarus and Russia damages significantly the EU’s reform agenda.
Ivane Chkhikvadze, EU Integration Manager at the Open Society Georgia Foundation (Georgia), discussed concrete steps the EU should take to facilitate further European integration of Georgia. These include speeding up the visa liberalisation process, technical assistance and financial support to reforms necessary for effective implementation of the Association Agreement, and an explicit offer of the EU membership perspective.
Whilst the participants agreed that there was a need to reformulate the multilateral track of the Eastern Partnership, concerns were voiced that such a revision may result in marginalisation of the three Eastern Partnership countries – Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus - that have opted out of the Association Agreement track. Three responses to the current developments in the region were suggested, notably negotiations, support to civil society initiatives, and sanctions against Russia. An important role of the Civil Society Forum in contributing to the ongoing discussions on the Eastern Partnership was highlighted. The participants agreed on the need to aggregate civil society proposals on reformulation of the Eastern Partnership and propose them actively at the intergovernmental platform meetings.