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How to refresh the EU

How to refresh the EU's eastern policy

Any major foreign policy or regional cooperation initiative usually passes through a life cycle: first, a solemn and promising launch; then, an active rise; and, finally, a period of … let’s call it maturity.

This is the phase when it becomes apparent whether the initiative is still relevant to the needs of its participants or is sliding toward obsolescence.

After seven years of existence the Eastern Partnership (EaP) - the European Union’s outreach to six post-Soviet states, including Moldova - is approaching maturity.

So far, it is successful.

Since the initiative was launched in 2009, in spite of much turbulence in the region, there have been many more ups than downs in the relations between the Eastern partners and the EU.

Over the past three years, relations between the EU and the Eastern partners have reached a new level. Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine are implementing their Association Agreements, promoting comprehensive reforms in key sectors.

For these three countries, the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas have opened considerable trade opportunities and consolidated the EU’s status as their leading trading partner and provider of foreign direct investments.

Thus, Armenia is negotiating a new treaty, while talks on a new agreement with Azerbaijan will start soon. Cooperation between Belarus and EU has also gained momentum and should result in a new framework. In addition, the EU is a major provider of bilateral development assistance and supporter of regional projects.

Since the Riga Summit, cooperation within the Eastern Partnership is increasingly focused on four sectors: institutions and good governance, mobility and people-to-people contacts, market opportunities, and interconnections.

These are undeniably important areas, bringing our citizens, authorities and businesses closer to the EU. But is this enough for the Partnership to progress?

At the latest Riga Conference, I spoke at a panel about “The EU Eastern Partnership – how to inject more dynamism”. This subject reflects the current state of play. Eastern Partnership needs more high-level attention, more dynamism, sharper focus and bolder output.

Five points

In that spirit, here are five points for how to keep the Eastern Partnership moving forward.

First, deliver real benefits for people.

The first factor for success is producing visible results which will make life better for many citizens. Extending the visa-free regime that Moldova is already enjoying to Georgia and Ukraine would be beneficial.

At the EaP ministerial meeting in May, the EU member states and the commission referred to ideas such as reducing roaming charges and connecting the Eastern Partners to the Single Euro Payment System. Also, the recent EU-EaP ministerial meeting on Digital Community produced a promising plan for e-cooperation, and a follow-up effort is clearly expected.

Second, let’s explore ways to strengthen our political ties.

Since the Partnership began, the leading EaP countries have sought to get closer to the EU. This objective has been partly achieved through the Association Agreements.

The next step is implementing these Agreements through internal reforms for each partner. Now, is there any new shared political goal on the horizon to strive for?

Nothing mobilises an aspiring country better than a political perspective of getting to the next level of cooperation and/or integration. Therefore, I plead for a broad reflection – without prejudging the final results – what could be the new political targets for Eastern Partnership.

Third, security must be a major goal.

While the revised European Neighbourhood Policy identifies security as a new area of enhanced cooperation, it still needs a more visible profile within EaP.

Conflict settlements require a tailor-made approach and EU is well-positioned to bring a positive change. Meanwhile, helping partners to develop national crisis-management and response capabilities is an important element of building resilience and needs more focused attention.

Moldova and Georgia are already contributing to EU Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) missions and operations and should do more in the future. Furthermore, the EU has pledged to involve the partner countries more in its Policy Cycle on combating transnational crime.

Fourth, ownership in promoting reforms demonstrated by each partner is a key for success.

For instance, Moldova has launched ambitious reforms in key sectors such as justice, combating corruption, banking sector, energy, public administration.

Comprehensive legislation has been enacted and is now being implemented. At the same time, several major issues, such as investigating the banking fraud, are yet to be resolved.

Meanwhile, some intermediary achievements, such as the recent agreement with the IMF on a new program of cooperation, confirm that Moldova is on the right track. Our strategic goal is to become eligible one day to join the EU.

Therefore, building on the successes of the past, we are looking ahead to finding new opportunities to become better integrated into the European market and participate in EU projects. “More for more” principle definitely works.

Fifth, the multilateral dimension should be streamlined. Much effort is invested to keep four thematic platforms, six flagship initiatives and fourteen panels operating. The ongoing review of these tools should lead to a more result-oriented dialogue.

Next summit

In 2017 the EU and Eastern Partners leaders will meet at their fifth Summit.

This summit should produce solid achievements, while setting forth ambitious and, where appropriate, measurable political and sectoral goals for the next period.

The new Global Strategy calls for the EU to think creatively about deepening tailor-made partnerships further with neighbours outlining a number of possibilities.

Ultimately, a vision for the future and renewed political leadership will be the key factors allowing the EaP to avoid “middle-age crisis” and to enter its maturity recharged.

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