The Politics of Neighbors: The EU's Role in the Future of Eastern Europe

Article excerpt

Launched in Prague amid much fanfare in May 2009, the Eastern Partnership represents yet another attempt by the European Union to push for democracy and stability in the often tumultuous eastern borderland region. Targeting six countries in Eastern Europe and South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus) the Partnership--a brainchild of Sweden and Poland--seeks to give a new lease on life to the eastern dimension of the European Union's ailing European Neighborhood Policy. With the recent rounds of eastward enlargement, the European Union now exclusively borders former Soviet republics. The region's geostrategic importance is indisputable, and it seems prudent for the European Union to go the extra mile to help its new neighbors cope with their ongoing post-communist transitions. However, the Neighborhood Policy has become anything but a success story, and the Partnership's future remains all but bright.

The Partnership is intended to help spread stability on the European Union's eastern periphery by encouraging local governments to carry out far-reaching domestic reforms. Brussels tells the former communist countries: adopt our values and practices, and you can reap some of the benefits that EU member states enjoy. However, Brussels remains quite reluctant to back its words with actions.

Much has been written about the European Union's soft power, whereby the Union attracts a diverse group of non-member countries with the lure of the prestigious club's economic and political might. Aspirant countries are willing to push for strenuous reforms in order to get closer to Brussels. However, the Eastern Partnership fails to take advantage of the European Union's soft power. First, it has been made quite clear to the participant countries that the easing of travel restrictions remains unlikely. Old member states fear uncontrolled migration from poverty and crime-stricken Eastern European countries, so the best these countries can hope for is modest improvement in EU visa-issuing practices. Second, prospects for trade liberalization remain dim. If the European Union agrees to implement free trade agreements, it is likely that some member states will successfully demand the imposition of export restrictions, thereby giving little in terms of real economic benefits for struggling economies in Eastern Europe. Third, the Partnership has been only meagerly endowed: it has some 600 million Euros (US$838 million) allocated, which is to be dispersed on projects through all six countries. …