The relationship between Europe and its Eastern neighbourhood at a turning point?

Speakers: Orlowski Tomasz, Pranckevičius Arnoldas, Vardakis Konstantinos
Moderator: Jozwiak Rikard

On Tuesday 8th of April, at the premises of Science14 Atrium in Brussels, PubAffairs Bruxelles hosted a debate concerning the relationship between Europe and its Eastern neighbourhood. The event was moderated by Mr Rikard Jozwiak, Brussels Correspondent for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, while the discussants were Mr Tomasz Orlowski, Head of Section of EU Foreign Policy and External Action, Permanent Representation of Poland to the EU, Mr Arnoldas Pranckevičius, Adviser on External relations, President Schulz’s Cabinet, Mr Konstantinos Vardakis, Deputy Head of Division,  Eastern  Partnership, regional cooperation & OSCE, European External Action Service.

In the first part of the debate, Mr Jozwiak introduced the speakers and summarised the series of events which triggered the current geopolitical turmoil within the Eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). He then first asked the public a yes/no question, which was also to be put at the end of the debate to the audience, namely: Should the EU give Ukraine a European membership perspective?”. Finally he gave the floor to the discussants who could proceed to give their preliminary statements.

Questioned for the first time the attendees appeared negatively oriented, although their opinion appeared balanced.

Mr Vardakis started his speech by explaining that the European Union’s first steps towards the Eastern dimension of the ENP were launched in 2004 and the Eastern Partnership officially inaugurated in 2009, with the objective of avoiding the emergence of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and its Eastern neighbours through strengthening the prosperity, stability and security of the whole area. Mr Vardakis also underlined that all the Eastern countries not involved were aware of this process since its beginning. He added that the EU External Action Service aimed at contributing to the coherence and consistency of EU foreign policy also through dialogue and cooperation in full respect of international law, sovereignty, territorial integrity of partner countries and OSCE principles. For this very reason, the recent events in Ukraine and their repercussions were particularly shocking for the European Union, as they ignited a series of acts which stood against both international commitments and international law principles.

Mr Orlowski started his contribution by pointing out that the current situation of the Eastern Neighbourhood can be perceived not only as a challenge for the European external policy, as it is usually described,  but also as a chance to make it more unified, cohesive and effective. He remarked that the EU has the unprecedented occasion to prove that it is a serious and credible actor in its Neighbourhood. He pointed out that the Ukrainian crisis creates an exceptional situation for European foreign policy as the EU is faced with a partner clearly perceiving the EU as its competitor. He finally stated that the European Neighbourhood policy, and in particular its Eastern dimension, will have to balance between the unified approach towards its participants and the principle of differentiation.

Mr Pranckevičius began his preliminary speech by giving a comprehensive picture of what has happened in Ukraine in recent years by explaining the root causes of the current crisis, before and after the Vilnius summit, and highlighting the repercussions of the Crimea’s annexation for the post-Cold-War security system in Europe, for the non-nuclear proliferation process and for the global system of international norms. He also analysed possible goals behind President Putin’s policy and stressed the unintended side effects of his actions for the Russian economy, for closer EU-US cooperation and for the acceleration of European integration process of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. He continued by emphasising the role of the Ukrainian civil society and the Maidan movement in determining the course of events and stressed that former President’s legacy and systemic and chronic corruption was at the core of the crisis in Ukraine.

A first set of points of discussion consisted of the past relations between Europe and Russia and their future evolution. On this point of discussion, Mr Vardakis firstly emphasised that Russia has consistently tried to provide alternatives to European and world integration for several neighbourhood countries, as in the case of the Eurasian Economic Union. Mr Vardakis stated that Russia, acting outside of the remit of international law, is now facing international isolation and that, in his opinion, Russia was unable to offer a viable form of political and economic integration to its neighbouring countries. For this set of reasons, it was the right of these countries to decide freely which policy orientation would have been more advantageous for them. On the same issues, Mr Pranckevičius pointed out that Russia’s assertive actions in Ukraine should be considered as a sign of weakness rather than an expression of power, especially given structural economic problems, deep corruption and lack of modernisation and investments at home. However, a weak and frustrated power might be even more dangerous and unpredictable than a strong one, thus the international community should remain vigilant.

He added that, notwithstanding the fact that the EU external action needs unanimity and its positioning inevitably takes some time, the EU is on its way to finally get serious about strategy, to boost its energy security and defence policies and to have a strategic review of its relations with Russia and its neighbourhood policy.

A second set of focal points of debate consisted of the protection of the Russian minorities in Ukraine, the repercussions of the turmoil on EU energy-related policies and the possible changes in other geographical areas of the EU external action. On the first of two items of discussion, Mr Vardakis stated that it is vital to protect the rights of Russian speaking minorities in Ukraine, while on the second, he emphasised that a discussion on the opportunity for some infrastructural projects is inevitable. Mr Pranckevičius replied to the last item of discussion expressing hope that the crisis in the Eastern neighbourhood could push the EU to move up to the next stage of its integration and finally succeed in building up a genuine common foreign and security policy, based on a combination of its prized soft power and value-based policy together with the defence of its core interests.

The final part of the debate and the Q&A session also covered the issues of: the role of oligarchs in Ukraine, the comparison between the annexation of Crimea and the Kosovo declaration of independence, the EU security and defence policy, the EU energy dependency on Russia, and the issue of free movement of people to the EU from Eastern partnership countries.

Questioned for the second time the audience did not substantially change its orientation.

Do you want to go further into the issues discussed in our debate? Check our list of selected sources which we have provided for you

 European Neighbourhood Policy, Strategy papers, European External Action Service

The implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy, Progress reports, European External Action Service

The European Parliament calls on Russia to withdraw military forces from Ukraine, Resolution, European Parliament

Crisis in Ukraine, Wider Europe section, European Council on Foreign Relations

Time to reset the European Neighbourhood Policy, Eastern Europe section, Carnegie Europe

Cold War II?, Focal Points, Project Syndicate

Russia & FSU, Dedicated regional section, Foreign Affairs

Russia In Ukraine: Putting Poland Back At The Front, Forbes

How to reduce dependence on Russian gas, Insights, Centre for European Reform

What’s gone wrong with democracy?, Essay, The Economist

Ukraine, Dedicated section, Le Monde Diplomatique (In French)

Ukraine’s economy: between expected aid from the West and real sanctions from Russia, Centre for Eastern Studies (In Polish)

Europe beyond the Wall, Infinito edizioni (In Italian)