'The Boldest Outreach': The Eastern Partnership Initiative of the European Union
Nash, Michael L., Contemporary Review
AS a counterbalance to the Northern Dimension and the Union for the Mediterranean, the Foreign Minister of Poland, aided and abetted by his counterpart in Sweden, suggested a Partnership with the emerging states to the east of the European Union. This has been described as the 'boldest outreach' since the accessions of 2004 and 2007.
Holding out a hand to Ukraine, to Moldova, to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbiijan received an urgent jolt when the stability of these regions was seriously undermined in 2008. Germany in particular has looked with alarm on what is happening on its eastern flank. The question arose as to whether values or geopolitics was paramount, particularly in relation to the sixth state, Belarus. The EU has long looked disapprovingly on Alexander Lukashenko, the autocratic President of Belarus, as the 'last dictator in Europe'.
However, in the present context, geopolitics, or perhaps realpolitik, has won out, and the EU Commissioner for External Affairs and Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, has set the seal on it by visiting Belarus in an official capacity in June 2009. Thus the overall picture is now of the six states in an Eastern Partnership with the European Union, the specific Eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy, although Belarus will continue to have a diminished role until there is a regime change. For the present this state is counted onboard.
Importantly, the issue of NATO membership runs parallel with this initiative. Ukraine and Georgia are eager to prove themselves as members of NATO. Belarus of course remains aloof, locked in a potential political union with Russia, and participating only in co-operation with the Alliance through its 'Partnership for Peace' programme. Nevertheless, communication, though fragile, has been established.
Whether NATO membership was a concomitant backdrop to membership of the EU has long been dismissed with the accession of neutral member states, beginning with Ireland, and now including Austria, Finland and Sweden. It may be asked whether, in the present context, it would be better for the states of the Eastern Partnership to consider this option. It would be less likely to offend Russia, who long considered the Caucasus and the areas covered by these states as a 'sphere of influence', its own backyard, and the pointed translation of the Russian, 'the near abroad'. Of course this is, understandably, an area where Russia feels neuralgia. It finds the EU less threatening than what it perceives as the meddling of the United States of America, and it was not particularly helpful when Joe Biden, the American Vice-President, who on a visit to Georgia rejected the idea of 'spheres of influence', saying that these belonged to the Cold War. Jose Barroso, the EU Commission President, compounded this by saying that 'The Cold War is over, there should be no spheres of influence'. However, as all historians know, the concept of 'spheres of influence' is very much older than the present century or even the last century. Joe Biden must know all about the Monroe Doctrine which the US announced in 1823.
The attitude of Russia vascillates, but since the time of Gorbachev, it has seen the benefits of co-operating with the European Union. When Austria wished to join in the late 1980s, Gorbachev told both the Austrian President and the Austrian Chancellor to go ahead, but 'to remember us'. The six states of the Eastern Partnership are thus in an interesting position: engagement with Russia or engagement with the EU. The EU is a regional power centre, an alternative to Russia. But it becomes apparent that it may be possible, with careful handling, to have both, to the advantage of all three parties. This EU plan, could 'force' Russia to engage with the EU. 'What works with Russia is forced co-operation', says Nicu Popescu, research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. 'We are now in (a time of) crisis management'. …