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LOOKING AHEAD
19.05.2009

May 18, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Grigory Tinsky

A CARROT FOR THE EASTERN DONKEY

Will the discreet charm of Europe seduce the post-Soviet democracies?

WHAT DOES THE "SPECIAL STATUS" IMPLY?

The May 7 summit in Prague, convened by the European Union, officially inaugurates the Eastern Partnership project, thus sorting out six former Soviet states – Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine Ц from the European Neighborhood Program and granting them a special status.

The event aroused negative response in various circles of the Russian expert community which agreed, beyond ideological differences, that the new EU program represents a version of a "soft offensive" on Russia destined to reduce Moscow's influence in former union states. It is noteworthy that unlike the Baltic States, all the invited countries are also members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, with the exception for Georgia that banged the door after the 2008 military conflict (actually giving up cooperation moths later).

Russia's official reaction was more restrained. On the eve of the summit, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked the initiators of the program to explain its tasks and objectives. The response came from Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, one of the authors of the Eastern Partnership idea. On May 6, a day before the summit, he arrived in Moscow. The official subject of the Russian-Polish talks was related to Vladimir Putin's expected visit to Warsaw, scheduled for September 1 (too early for a preparation trip).It is noteworthy that three weeks earlier, Bogdan Borusewicz, chair of the Polish Sejm, visited Saint Petersburg to take part in the International Polish Day. He acknowledged of Sikorski's arrival, interpreting it in the context of intensification of bilateral cooperation, and mentioning about a series of other Russian-Polish joint events scheduled for late May.

Though Sikorski was expected to meet with Vladimir Putin, he was received only on the level of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At the joint press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Sikorski's interpretation of the purposes of Eastern Partnership "fully satisfied" the Russian side. Was it a fair confession or a figure of speech? To answer the question, let us return to the history of the initiative.

AN ATTEMPT OF SUBORNATION

The initiative was originally publicized in June 2008 by two EU members Ц Poland and Sweden. In a joint bilingual document, the substantiation was expressed as follows:

"It is necessary to enhance the European offer in the Eastern direction, as well as in the development of the European Partnership. This partnership is going to be based on the European Neighborhood Policy, exceeding its framework. It will correspond with the principle of individual approach towards a neighbor, but at the same time, it will develop horizontal connections between the involved countries, as well as between them and the EU. In this context, we propose:

1. Extension of bilateral partnership, the offer of extension being available to all the Eastern partners. First of all, this option will be required by Ukraine, while other states will join in dependence from ambitions and achievements.

2. Creation of a permanent formula of multilateral cooperation, maintaining the existing schemes of regional partnership.

The first point was elaborated in the following aspects:

- extension of cooperation in the sphere of migration (in the broad meaning), pursuing suspending of visas in a long term, and introducing a more flexible visa regime in a short term; adoption of a "road map" leading towards non-visa exchange with clearly determined stages and conditions;

- implementation of an extended space of free trade, resting upon a series of individually specified comprehensive free trade agreements between the EU and partner states;

- enhancement of EU support of reforms in order to achieve compliance with European standards;

- intensification of human connections through expansion of student exchange, creation of the basis of civil society and interregional cooperation;

- propaganda of European integration, creation of Plans of Actions in each of the partner states, in order to achieve compliance with legislation, standards and norms of the European Union;

- new agreements on cooperation should be associated with progress of reforms; a new expanded agreement with Ukraine should serve as an example for all the partner states;

- distribution of financial aid from EU funds should reflect progress in achieving determined goals;

- the principle of differentiation of partner states in the key element of the program.

As the European bureaucracy obviously wished to diminish the negative reaction to the program from Russia, the text of the declaration, adopted on May 7, was significantly amended Ц not only in the style but also in the essence, becoming utterly vague and sterile. In particular, the term "offer" vanished from the text. This elimination of the term, borrowed from commercial law, could be hardly interpreted otherwise as an attempt to conceal the fact that the central idea of the program was based on subornation. In order to realize the essence of the message to the post-Soviet partners, and to understand what they are supposed to concede in exchange, it makes sense to use the original text that tells more about the objectives of the program.

A DOUBLE-BOTTOMED PROPOSAL

Analyzing the expansion of bilateral relations of partner states with the European Union creates an impression that the Eastern Partnership is a kind of a new "carrot" for ex-Soviet republics, designed to demonstrate what benefits they would receive in exchange for adoption of European standards in administrative and social spheres. Thus, an offer ("oferta" in Russian and Polish) is obviously an adequate definition. The question is to what extent the offer is fair.

The list of proposals to our CIS partners suggests that the program is rather a carrot installed before the mouth of the donkey which he is supposed to run after but never catch.

Firstly, visa relaxation for "Eastern partners" is absolutely unrealistic in the real future, while the promise of a "flexible visa regime" is so flexible that it could mean anything Ц for instance, abatement of the visa fee that would hardly play a decisive role for those who would like to travel to Europe.

A free trade zone, introduced for six partners of the Eastern partnership, would mean exceptionally freedom of distribution of European goods. It is not going to benefit the access of Azeri, Belarusian, Georgian, Moldovan or Ukrainian origin to European markets. None of the mentioned states is able to produce goods corresponding with the European Norm. This norm is so strict (though often senseless) that many of the new EU members were forced to close industries, being unable to gain European certificates. Numerous scandals around delivery of reportedly low-quality Ukrainian agroindustrial production to Poland and Germany serve as a good example, though on the year of entry, Polish producers encountered the same problem. Therefore, Azeri oil and gas are likely to become the only commodity to achieve benefits from the proposed free trade.

"Expansion of EU support of reforms" is an even more flexible formula that hardly requires comments.

AGAIN, NOTHING NEW

The rest five points, related to bilateral relations between the EU and a partner state, contain nothing but mere propaganda, representing a classical example of "demonstration of soft power".

Expansion of student exchange with Eastern Europe has started yet in 1987 on the initiative of then-French President Francois Mitterrand, one of the initiators of the ERASMUS (European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) which was later integrated into SOCRATES and SOCRATES II program, entering in 2007 a new phase dubbed LLP (Lifelong Learning Program Ц an appropriate title for the Eastern Partnership itself). Student exchange with Eastern neighbors is developing without assistance from Brussels, and the promise of including it into the frameworks of European programs is rather a propagandist device. The slogan of "propaganda of ideas of European integration" sounds especially ridiculous in Czechia whose president (and current EU chair) Vaclav Klaus is a self-confessed Eurosceptic.

The promised distribution of European funds in the scale of 350 million Euro, considered by the program's first stage, could be interesting exceptionally for the poorest Moldova Ц before it received a proposal of a long-term loan from China. Moreover, most of this money is likely to sink in the pockets of the Eurobureaucracy that has learnt to "saw the budget" as perfectly as Russian officials.

(To be continued)


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