The 5th EaP summit – mismatch of expectations and poor leadership of the initiative
The fifth summit of Eastern Partnership, taking place in Brussels, was a classic case of unmemorable event that other than being a photo-op delivered nothing and satisfied no one. This is perhaps unsurprising for the two fundamental reasons: mismatch of expectations and poor leadership of the initiative.
When Eastern Partnership was initiated in 2009 it was against the backdrop of expectations from EaP countries that the initiative would foster their integration with the EU. The frontrunners – Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova – were hoping for the relationship, which would eventually pave the way to membership negotiations. The others, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus never had membership ambitions but wanted to benefit from better access to EU funds and programmes.
In 2009 EaP had strong advocates. It was initiated by Poland and Sweden and supported by Germany. Until 2015 Poland’s standing in the EU was such that no serious initiative concerning Eastern neighbourhood could materialize without Warsaw’s essential input.
By 2017 the frontrunners – Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia – got as far as they could falling short of the candidate status. All three have completed free trade and association agreements, all three can travel to the EU with no visas. This would not be possible without launching the EaP initiative in 2009 by Poland and Sweden. Today, however, a new impetus is needed as the frontrunners are expecting to have their membership aspirations at least recognised. In this respect, the Brussels summit proved a clear failure. On demand of the Dutch delegation EU specifically underlined that the relationship with EaP countries would not lead to membership negotiations.
The summit has also provided no reassurance to Ukraine that is at state of war with Russia who invaded and annexed parts of its territory. The summit final declaration failed to even mention the war that is clearly of paramount importance to the EaP biggest member.
There is no doubt that EaP suffered from the lack of leadership. The Eurosceptic Polish government that is also showing no support to Ukraine can convince no one. Germany is consumed by the pains of forming a coalition government. Since the change in Poland Sweden’s attention diverted to other parts of the world. In effect, the EaP is currently without an advocate in the EU. Should this situation continue there may be no other photo-ops in the future.
Marcin Zaborowski is Senior Associate at Visegrad Insight.