BERLIN, March 27, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --
The current situation regarding Ukraine has led to many discussions around the European Union's current Eastern Partnership Policy (ENP) and the concerns about the impact on the remaining ENP countries. The unfolding turmoil in the east has led to a need for further analysis of the Policy and a closer look at the EU's relations and approach to its geographical neighbours.
Addressing these concerns at a conference in the European Commission Representation in Berlin by the EU-Belarussian Business Council, experts discussed what actions needed to be taken by the EU in order to avoid further issues such that Ukraine is currently undergoing, with a focus of potential economic consequences.
It is clear that countries like Ukraine have always shared relations with Russia both historically and in terms of economy. Ukraine is highly reliant on Russia which supplies 60% of its natural gas. Recent events following the Vilnius Summit in November last year, and the country's refusal to sign the Association Agreement, demonstrate the EU's naiveté in thinking otherwise.
Katrin Bottger, from the Institut fur Europaische Politik, highlighted that the EU had miscalculated the pressure initially exerted on Ukraine, especially when it came to the free trade agreements. Bottger argued about the importance of Russia for ENP countries especially from an economic point of view and criticised the EU by making the key point that, "it was foolish of them to think that doing business with the EU could replace doing business with Russia."
She further urged that "the EU has to base its decisions on the long term goals and interests it has for the region. However, considering its approach towards the ENP - this has not been a good basis of the decision (as a move against Russia, rather then what is needed)."
There has been an increasing emphasis from countries towards the EU to reflect on the ENP programme prior to the generation of new policies.
Speaking on behalf of the European Commission, Marzena Guz- Vetter responded about the differentiating philosophy between the EU's Association Agreement and the Eurasian Customs Union. She emphasized the need for a mutual dialogue between EU and Russia as not to escalate further tensions, as it was difficult to predict whether Association Agreements with countries like Moldova and Georgia would be signed in the near future. Moreover, it was important to ensure Russia remained as part of the debate to encourage cooperation.
Ben Aris, editor of Business New Europe, maintained that "the EU is sitting with its head in the sand" in regards to the ENP, claiming the policy has been poorly executed. "The current crisis has been the EU's fault as much as it has been a Russian issue".
Aris pointed out that Russia had been excluded from any cooperation and discussion with Europe when it came to the Association Agreement which led to Russian creating an alternative, namely the Customs union.
"Europe has played a bitter role in the current crisis. It has to wake up and understand Russia's need to participate in the debate. In regards to Ukraine, until there are both presidential and parliamentary elections, no decision made by the current Ukrainian government will be seen as legitimate."
The clear lack of a coherent direction for the ENP had seemingly led to current events. Andrei Giro, Belarussian Ambassador to Germany, a country which itself has faced heavy sanctions imposed by European Union, discussed what his country would expect to receive from the programme, a programme he said that, "still faces many challenges."
"The ENP is mainly about the EU supporting reforms, but this has not been the case. Each country is very different, committed to reforms, but these are for their own benefit not the EU's. Countries should be helped not punished and the current sanctions imposed (against Belarus) go against what the ENP actually stands for."
Another criticism that had been recently brought to light was the EU's approach to the participant countries. It has been made clear that there is a need to move away from a one size fits all approach, as highlighted by James Wilson, founder of the EU - Belarus Business Council and moderator of the conference, who reiterated the need for a rethink of the Policy.
Giro maintained that "the ENP should be about trust and engagement and not utilizing the same approach for all members. Moreover, developing relations with EU could take many different forms - there needs to be a tailored response from each participating country. There should be no place for geopolitical rivalry in the region."
It was made clear that the EU had failed to demonstrate any real success on the policy following the Vilnius Summit.
Gaik Vartanen, member of the Socialist Party in Moldova, commented that "what we saw in Vilnius was a fail. The only real success was Georgia from all ENP countries, unlike Moldova and Armenia."
He described the current situation in his own country, where over the last four years, the current pro- European government failed to implement the necessary European integration reforms and the only viable result was the liberalization of the visa regime. Furthermore, the popularity of closer EU ties had fallen from 75% to 40%.
Transnistria and Gagauzia, two autonomous regions in the country, have already voiced their concerns towards the EU policy, a hesitation that is present in the remaining participant countries.
"There is a feeling that the people in Moldova have not given the present government the authority to sign the agreement with the European Union, therefore there is a demand for the Association Agreement to be signed post elections - to reflect the nations view" Vartanen explained.
"The EU had to be cautious of the conditions that would work with both countries such as Moldova and Ukraine. Rushing the agreement could prove to be both politically and economically disastrous, considering that over 60% export from Moldova is actually with Russia. It is not clear whether there would be a relevant mechanism offered by the EU to compensate should this no longer be the case."
Summarizing the event, James Wilson outlined key shortcomings of the ENP, stressing the importance of parliamentary elections in member countries prior to pursing the agreements.
Aris commented, "the current deal provided to the ENP countries is not a particularly good one and very one sided. In terms of economic return, the EU would be the immediate benefactor of the Association Agreements, and this is what Europe should rethink this 'asymmetrical deal'."
EU - Belarus Business Council is an independent CEO level forum between Belarus and EU business leaders. It aims at promoting trade development and investment between both entities; as well as promoting dialogue between the Belarus and EU governments with a focus on trade and investment prospects.
SOURCE EU – Belarus Business Council