Is The Eastern Partnership Still Relevant? Belarus’ Progress And Challenges In EaP

The Eastern Partnership (EaP), a joint policy initiative of the European Union and six former USSR countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine – marked its 10th anniversary on 7 May. And some EaP countries are moving closer to the EU faster than others, Dominik Istrate writes for Emerging Europe.

Where’s Belarus?

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Relations are maintained at different levels. While some states have developed Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas and association agreements with the EU, as well as visa-free regimes, Belarus is not nearly that close.

“With Belarus, we engage in the framework of a Coordination Group.

This has led to positive results in terms of trade, connectivity, education, and people-to-people contacts, and also helped to strengthen the resilience of our partners who continue to face major security challenges,” Thomas Mayr-Harting, managing director for Europe and Central Asia in the European External Action Service told Emerging Europe.

Challenges of Eastern Partnership

In 2015, EaP leaders agreed on moving forward with the cooperation in accordance with what are known as the Riga priorities: stronger economy, better connectivity, stronger governance, and stronger society.

However, not all EaP countries are in line with the EU’s democratic standards.

While the EU continues to support democracy, press freedom and human rights in countries such as Belarus and Azerbaijan, it has always respected the sovereignty of the partner states and focused on transnational challenges where progress can be made.

In the meantime, civil society faces many challenges across the whole region.

All EaP countries… have been backsliding in this area and are copying the negative practices towards the civil society, especially during pre-election periods,” says Natalia Yerasevich, steering committee director of the EaP Civil Society Forum’s Secretariat.

“We have witnessed such developments in frontrunner Georgia, in Moldova, and in Ukraine as well. The situation in Azerbaijan and Belarus is even more complicated.”

Among other challenges, named by EE’s speakers, are the post-Soviet mentality still strong among elites in the EaP countries, no prospect of EU membership for EaP states and, most importantly, the strong influence of Russia in the region.

EEU vs EaP

Simultaneously with the Partnership going forward, Russia felt more and more threatened by an EU format involving former Soviet states, EE writes. This lead to the foundation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU, or EAEU) in 2015 that now includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, under Russian leadership.

EE’s speakers argue that Russia’s motivations were not of economic, but geopolitical nature. In their view, Russia failed to destroy the Eastern Partnership as a few years after Armenia and Belarus joined the EAEU, they are becoming less interested in the Russia-led economic alliance.

Yerevan and Minsk are said to show a renewed interest in cooperation with the EU and the Eastern Partnership in recent years.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary, EaP leaders will meet in Brussels later this summer for a landmark summit to assess the framework and discuss future relations beyond 2020 in line with the Riga priorities.

Full article on Emerging Europe.