It is well-known that the Eastern Partnership is highly important for the Polish Presidency. Poland was an initiator of the cooperation involving six countries, has still been showing great interest in it, which has been proved in the second half of 2011, during the Polish Presidency, including the summit and several related programmes. Already in the previous six months the Hungarian Presidency did the groundwork with its full support for the Eastern Partnership. Will the Danish Presidency manage the relations towards the Eastern neighbours as a priority or will the program disappear because of either the lack of money or losing the competition with the Union for the Mediterranean? Will there be enough capacity while having a euro crisis?
The Swedish and Hungarian Presidencies
By launching the Eastern Partnership program in May 2009, Poland and Sweden managed to promote their eastern interests not only at the national but also at the EU level. In the second half of 2009, the EU Presidency was held by Sweden, but because of the nature of the program it was impossible to reach spectacular goals within such a short time. The next presidency having the Eastern Partnership as a priority was the Hungarian one in the first half of 2011. As it is known, the second Eastern Partnership summit would have been the most important event of the Hungarian presidency, but in the end Hungary ended up just setting the stage for the Poles – for whom the issue is much more important than for Budapest.
The Eastern Partnership and the Polish Presidency
It can be stated that there was no major breakthrough during the two days of the summit. For example, the participants could not agree on a more concrete offer about future enlargement promises or visa liberalization– despite the hopes of the Presidency and the partner states.
(On the other hand, there was no step back either.) It could be assumed in advance that there would be no great changes during the summit. It was not all completely fruitless, however: by the end of the year, the Commission has to prepare a roadmap, containing improvement, aims, means and development steps of the Partnership, covering the time span until the next summit in the second half of 2013.
All in all, during the Polish Presidency there was no extraordinary political breakthrough regarding the Eastern Partnership. This would have been most possible during the summit, and because of the overranked expectations, the Presidency and the partner states see it as a bigger failure than it is in reality. In many other aspects there is, however, significant progress in the Eastern Partnership, widening its scope and involving more and more participants. The program is already functioning not only in the political sphere, but also in business and civil society. It is being improved constantly, through „being run in”, deepening, with more and more actors involved – in a definitely less spectacular but more effective way.
The Danish Presidency
What are the priorities of the next Danish EU Presidency, starting in January? Is the Eastern Partnership on the list? According to the homepage of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denmark has not yet set its priorities for the first half of 2012, as it is expected to be published in December 2011. The important topics, however, have already been summarized. Economic issues dominate the list, which is understandable, considering the current problems of the euro zone. The Presidency will focus on the following topics: the economic situation, economic growth, the EU’s long-term budget, climate, energy, the environment, and Justice and Home Affairs.
Apart from these, the Ministry mentions the importance of the EU as a global actor, but while the other issues were discussed at length, there are no details written about the latter.
Copenhagen emphasizes that the Presidency will deal with issues that are already on the table and that „as presidency, Denmark intends to attempt shape the European Agenda in a way that is compatible with the obligations and duties of a presidency”. Therefore, it can be assumed that it will not be the initiating type of presidency that sheds the light on new topics. This is also understandable, because in the current situation any new initiative would be left out in favour of urgent topics. The Eastern Partnership is, however, already on the table, and thanks to the Polish Presidency, it is functioning as intensively as never before. Will Denmark continue at the same speed or will it slow down – and in case the latter happens, how much?
As stated before, the Eastern Partnership is already placed into orbit and will continue its work even if Copenhagen does not have the capacity to make particular efforts on it. A little effort will be needed, however. It will be Copenhagen’s task to assure that the roadmap – prepared by the Commission in 2011 – will be implemented. It is also impossible to neglect the important events going on in the Partner States, for example in Belarus. In the case of Ukraine, if the Association Agreement is signed until the end of this year, then it will be up to Copenhagen to help the ratification procedure. Moreover, it would be useful to make more „marketing” for the Eastern Partnership both towards the Partner States and EU citizens, but in my opinion the Danish Presidency probably will not have enough capacity left to do this. The Eastern Partnership will also show up during the debates on the next long-term budget. Here it will be important to balance the financial resources within the European Neighbourhood Policy.
The Partnership and its states
Nevertheless, the Eastern Partnership is not a one-sided initiative. In order to proceed, the partner states are also needed. According to Danish researcher Peter Munk Jensen, the ball is in their half now.
They have to show their interest through economic and political reforms, and democracy-building, so that the EU can also get what it wants – meanwhile not turning all its attention and money towards its Southern neighbours. Making the cooperation attractive and effective for both Parties is of uttermost importance. But it is in the EU’s interest to have stable and secure democracies on its Eastern borders with proper border control, working economy and energy security. The partner states had better not hope for EU membership on the short run, but the widening trade relations, the investments and tightening relations in different fields can be very fruitful for them on the long run. To have this, they have to play according to EU rules.
The battle over status and funds
To sum it up, the Eastern Partnership has had problems before, for example the competition with the Union for the Mediterranean, financing troubles or member states with different interests. Despite all this, for the time of the Polish Presidency the program became well-known and popular, and increased chances to improve its effectiveness. Now the biggest challenge is the economic and financial crisis, a vis maior from the viewpoint of the Partnership. It does not only steal financial resources from the program, but also time, energy and attention. The latter one can be compensated by enthusiastic work of those committed to the Partnership – there are quite a lot of them in Poland, for example. Yet the attention and commitment of the political decision-makers cannot be compensated. The Danish Presidency, with its agenda focusing on solving the crisis, and economic and financial issues, will probably not be very helpful on this. At the same time, it will probably not block the Partnership either – most possibly, the topic will be treated neutrally by Copenhagen.
The future perspective
Because of the facts stated above, I assume that in the near future the Eastern Partnership will be able to improve the most in the field of the civil sphere. This slightly differs from the original approach, which was a more state-focused one, based on the relationship between the EU and the six countries, giving financial support and a promise for EU membership in the far future. It is not in contradiction, however, with the original aims, supporting democracy building, improving civil society and therefore lowering the distance from the EU – which can also be seen as some kind of preliminary integration process. On the long run, this could be very useful for the Partner States, especially for their societies – even if, at least at the level of international politics, the Eastern Partnership has to slow down.
1. The beginning of the Eastern Partnership and the challenges for the Hungarian Presidency are summarized by Anton Bendarzsevszkij and Márton Ugrósdy in their article Dare to lead: the Eastern Partnership and the Hungarian EU Presidency.
Honourable Mention, Eastbook.eu Contest for Article on Eastern Partnership
Anikó Mészáros - Student
of International Relations
at Corvinus University of Budapest,
blogger and self-made journalist.
As an IR expert,
fan of Central Europe,
and the Baltic states.