By Nicolas Vande Kerckhove
Created in 2009 at the instigation of the European Union (EU), the Eastern Partnership (EaP) has continued to evolve and change since then. This is a joint initiative that is part of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) currently involving 16 neighbors of the European Union: those of the Mediterranean basin, and those located to the East (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine). This constant dialogue between the EU and these countries is mostly of an economic and political nature.
The motto of the EaP is #StrongerTogether. In this article, we will analyze the diplomatic dimension of this hashtag.
First, it is very important to note that many of the EaP countries aspire to join the European Union. The creation of this partnership allows them to comply step by step with the expected set of values to perhaps one day join it. Moreover, setting up this initiative aims at achieving prosperity, security and stability in the region in question. To accomplish this, global policy objectives such as the SDGs of the United Nations and the Paris Agreement serve as a channel for dialogue between these diﬀerent actors. Furthermore, the overall trade between all these EaP actors has grown by 22% in 10 years and four of the EaP countries have the EU as first trade partner! The European Union has also granted numerous financial packages to its Eastern partners in order to increase the quality of life and to support a fair and democratic society.
You understood it correctly: we can therefore compare this partnership to a large-scale diplomatic weapon allowing all the actors to dialogue peacefully and to take a stand on sensitive issues on our continent. One concrete example is the mutual recognition of COVID-19 digital certificates. Besides, it is on June 28, 2021 that Belarus decided to withdraw from this initiative after the recent political clashes. This shows the importance of the diplomatic stakes around this partnership that pushed Lukashenko to step back from his European neighbors. Even if the EU states it is ready to continue the dialogue with this country, this act removes any hope of Belarus becoming a member of the European Union any time soon.
During the Eastern Partnership Summit which took place in December 2021, the EU has made a public announcement on this subject: « The EU regrets the decision of the Belarusian authorities to suspend their participation in the EaP and looks forward to resuming cooperation as soon as the necessary conditions for a peaceful democratic transition are in place to build on a joint agenda based on common values and shared interests.
In the meantime, the EU continues to engage with and support Belarusian citizens, civil society and independent media, including through a comprehensive plan of economic support for a democratic Belarus of up to €3 billion.» 1
Aside from that, a new agenda for the next five years was set up in 2020. The top ten targets are supporting 500,000 SMEs which are considered as competitive and innovative, promoting the rule of law and inviting officials to declare their financial possessions, encouraging smart and sustainable connectivity, setting up mobility programs for 70,000 young intellectuals (such as researchers, students, etc.), improving cyber security and tackling cyber-crime, finding alternatives to reduce climate impact by saving energy for 250,000 households, providing people with safe water services and monitoring air quality in several cities, vaccinating 850,000 health workers and improving medical equipment, achieving a more inclusive society where gender equality prevails by supporting more than thousand members of the civil society and independent media, and finally enabling 80% of households of the Eastern Partnership Region to have access to a good internet connection. 2
However, the EU identifies significant challenges in the EaP that must be resolved before it can have full confidence in these countries, and before becoming even more closely associated with them.
The first concerns the independence of the judiciary. The other ones are the lack of gender equality as well as the independence of journalists and civil society.
In conclusion, creating a mechanism for governments to collaborate with civil society, journalists, and youth to achieve common goals while trading with this strategic region at the gateway to Asia allows the European Union to secure its back.
It is thus a question of a formidable diplomatic weapon both for the EU and for these six countries based on the idea of being #StrongerTogether.
While many of whose citizens aspire to join the EU one day, this partnership allows these countries to have a foot in the EU while remaining fully sovereign in all their competences.
About the author
Nicolas Vande Kerckhove completed his Bachelor’s degree in Literature, Culture, Linguistics and History of Germanic languages at the Université Saint-Louis, Brussels, and a Master’s degree in Comparative Indo-European Linguistics at the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. In June 2021, he obtained his Master’s degree from the College of Europe in Natolin (Poland), where he studied European Interdisciplinary Studies. During his studies, he taught ancient and modern languages. As a Young European Ambassador (YEA), he is currently collaborating with other YEAs on projects in order to develop long-lasting cooperation and to build strong ties between young people from the European Union and from the Eastern Partnership countries.
1 Eastern Partnership Summit, 15 December 2021, European Council/Council of the European Union website, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/international-summit/2021/12/15/ (accessed on January 24, 2022).
2 Source: European Commission
• European Commission, EaP, 20 Deliverables for 2020: Bringing tangible results for citizens, November 2 0 2 1 , h t t p s : / / e c . e u r o p a . e u / n e i g h b o u r h o o d – e n l a r g e m e n t / s y s t e m / f i l e s / 2021-11/112021_eap_deliverables_factsheet_2021_eng.pdf (accessed on January 20, 2022).
• European Commission, Eastern Partnership Summit launches new and ambitious agenda, December 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/news/eastern-partnership-summit-launches-new-and- ambitious-agenda-2021-12-16_en (accessed on January 20, 2022).
• European Commission, Empowering young people in the Eastern Partner Countries, December 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/system/files/2021-12/Youth-factsheet.pdf (accessed on January 20, 2022).
• European Commission, European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Eastern Partnership, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/european-neighbourhood-policy/eastern- partnership_en (accessed on January 20, 2022).
• European Commission, New EU-funded Eastern Partnership Trade Helpdesk launched, December 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/news/new-eu-funded-eastern-partnership-trade-helpdesk- launched-2021-12-16_en (accessed on January 20, 2022).
• European Commission, Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel following the Eastern Partnership Summit, December 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/ presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_21_6917 (accessed on January 20, 2022).
• European Council, Eastern Partnership, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/eastern-partnership/ (accessed on January 25, 2022).
• European Council, Eastern Partnership Summit, 15 December 2021, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/ meetings/international-summit/2021/12/15/ (accessed on January 24, 2022).
• European Council, Remarks by President Charles Michel at the press conference after the 6th Eastern Partnership Summit, 15 December 2021, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/ 2021/12/15/intervention-du-president-charles-michel-lors-de-la-conference-de-presse-a-l-issue-du-sommet- du-partenariat-oriental/ (accessed on January 24, 2022).
• European Parliament, The Eastern Partnership, 2013, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/euronest/en/eastern- partnership/policy (accessed on January 24, 2022).