By Elena Korosteleva and Tanya Radchuk
Focusing on Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Russia, the ESCR-funded project ‘Europeanising or Securitising the ‘Outsiders’? Assessing the EU’s partnership-building approach with Eastern Europe’, conducted by Dr Elena Korosteleva at Aberystwyth University, investigates the effectiveness of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), and the Eastern Partnership (EaP) in particular. The research combines both the EU’s and East European (EE) perspectives by conducting interviews with European officials in Brussels and Strasburg (Commission, Parliament and Member States’ permanent representations) as well as collecting nation-wide surveys, expert interviews, focus-groups, and school essays in the four above-mentioned countries in 2008-9.
I. ENP/EaP in the perceptions of EU officials
1.1. Type of relationship: Governance/partnership
European Commission (EC) representatives believe partnership to be the right form of engagement with the neighbours, however, they define the concept differently. Some officials narrow the meaning of partnership to the act of offering assistance, or compliance. They believe the EU’s model should be projected onto the neighbourhood and European values ‘injected’ into the countries. In their turn, European Parliament (MEPs) and especially EU Member State (MS) representatives criticize such top-down approach as one-sided and outdated. Instead, in their opinion, the countries should be treated as equal partners, who should be offered a prospect of membership on their compliance with EU acquis. The EaP initiative thus could become an opportunity to learn and negotiate mutual benefits. With right intentions but without understanding of the situation on the ground, the EaP is believed to be little effective though.
1.2. Evaluation of progress: limits versus successes of cooperation
EC representatives reduce their expectations and gauge them by gradual success. Cooperation is more effective on cross-border (e.g. immigration, trafficking), energy (e.g. nuclear, transition) and transportation. In Belarus progress on political issues (e.g. rule of law, freedoms, etc.) is still needed. In Moldova and Ukraine old Soviet practices of law enforcement and central command, poor institutional capacity (i.e. limited knowledge, staff rotation), weak justice system, corruption are the problems of the cooperation. At present the EU primarily acts as an arbitrator twinning and reconciling but in future aims to prevent and solve conflicts in the neighbourhood. The EaP is assessed discreetly as a policy evolving in the right direction. EU failures in the EaP should be partly attributed to objective forces difficult to regulate, such as traditional affinity of Eastern neighbours to Russia, i.e. common Soviet legacies and cultural similarities. Absence of membership perspective deprives the EU of its main motivational tool and accounts for pessimism of the population according to MEPs.
EU MS representatives acknowledge some success, i.e. democracy promotion in Ukraine and Moldova, extended contacts with government of Belarus, etc. They are anxious about the EU continuity of agreement on the countries and coherent actions towards them. Financial assistance and the EU membership perspective are urgently needed to sustain the new pro-European governments of Moldova and Ukraine. The other problem is Russia’s leverage over the countries that sends messages attractive to parts of population and makes them swing between the East and West.
1.3. Perceptions and benefits (values versus interests)
MEPs and MS acknowledge that common values, understood as economic and political stability and transferred onto the neighbours, reflect primarily the EU’s interpretation of them. Overall, mutual interests predominate. Thus, Belarus and Ukraine are of interest as energy transit countries, potential trade partners but also intermediaries in the EU-Russia relations. Moldova matters foremost as an area of instability (i.e. Transnistria conflict) on EU borders. In their turn, the partners generally aspire for financial assistance, visa and trade liberalization, membership perspective for Ukraine and Moldova, and diplomatic support for counter-balancing Russia’s influence. The officials believe that the countries belong to Europe historically and geographically and share mainly European values; if there are certain cultural differences conditioned by historical experience of the Soviet past, they are not insurmountable.
II. ENP/EaP in the perceptions of EE population
Foreign Policy Priorities
The respondents of four countries underscore the preference of a multi-vectored foreign policy and balanced relations with Russia and the CIS countries on the one hand, and the EU on the other. In their opinion, successful relations with Russia secure effective cooperation with the EU. Besides, the respondents value the cultural and historical links with eastern neighbours and hence cooperation with them. The EU is considered to be an important partner, foremost in trade and economy.
Specifically, Belarusian respondents approve the multi-vectored foreign policy. While the relations with the EU are considered to be beneficial for Belarus’ economy, Russia is important due to the country’s dependence on its energy resources and sales markets, common historical legacy and similar mentality. A union with Russia is preferred to the one with the EU.
Russians also approve the country’s foreign policy. They support equal partnership with different countries though acknowledge that imperial ambitions impede the process. In their opinion, Russia should re-establish its authority in the world, develop relations with the West, and return ex-Soviet states to the orbit of Russia’s influence. The respondents unilaterally support integration of Russia with the CIS countries.
Contrastingly, Ukrainians disapprove the country’s foreign policy which, they believe, does not reflect public preferences. They favour multi-vector direction and balanced relations with both the EU and Russia. There are regional differences though: whilst western Ukraine supports European integration, both south and east of the country are pro-Russia orientated.
Moldovan respondents are also discontented with their country’s foreign policy. Officially, European integration is declared the main objective, in reality Russia is still a priority. They prefer to facilitate relations both with the EU and Russia, however, in case of an alternative choice, twice as many support cooperation with the EU to that with Russia.
General Perceptions and Cultural Differences
Considerable divergences persist in the way the countries believe the EU perceives them. In the opinion of Belarusian respondents their country is either unfamiliar in the EU or treated as a non-democratic, sometimes dictatorial state, allying with Russia. According to Russian respondents, their country is regarded in Europe as an untrustworthy partner and a competitor, and the war with Georgia exacerbated Russia’s image abroad. However, they believe, it is a strong state worthy of trust. EU attempts to expand its influence over post-Soviet countries are perceived negatively by the respondents. Both Moldovans and Ukrainians believe that they are treated in the EU as friendly and peaceful though underdeveloped, politically unstable, and backward countries, dependent on Russia.
Regarding cultural differences, the majority of respondents insist that they exist, especially in mentality and religion. Legal and political culture of Europeans, their advanced social protection policy, self-sufficiency, law-abidingness, and environmental consciousness are contrasted with East European paternalism, irresponsibility, and disregard of law. Europeans look down depreciatingly on their Eastern neighbours like a civilized nation on a barbarian one. Yet East Europeans are more hospitable, generous, and emotional; as such they are quick to adapt and cope with difficulties. The values of altruism, collectivism, and spirituality are closer to them than individualism, pragmatism, and competitiveness of Europeans. The respondents indicate that East European’s mentality and culture is influenced by the Eurasian culture, Orthodox faith and Soviet legacy.
Nevertheless, cultural differences are evaluated by the respondents as inconsequential and not of ‘civilization’ nature; in future, they are believed to recede in the inevitable process of Europeanization.
EU current policy is perceived rather negatively by the respondents as an attempt to control and manipulate the countries important as guardians of EU external borders, a buffer zone for containing illegal immigrants and harmful waste, sizeable markets for European goods and transit routes of mineral resources from the East. Besides, the countries are of crucial importance for geopolitical reasons as the EU strives to weaken Russia by contesting its traditional allies and sphere of influence.
The respondents point out the asymmetry in the relation: though officially bounded in equal partnership, in practice the partners are unequal; this is not justifiable even if the countries lag behind the EU in economic and political development.
In all countries, the ENP/EaP policies are believed to reflect mainly the EU interest, and deprive the countries of the EU membership perspective. Beneficial in theory, they fail to differentiate among the countries they encompass and present unclear dividends in case the countries meet the requirements, according to the respondents. Not reflecting the strategic goal of European integration, the policies are conceptually unsatisfactory.
The pattern jig-sawed from the countries’ foreign policy priorities, perceptions, cultural values and cooperation perspectives, unveils discrepancies that the EU approach to Eastern Europe produces – it also exposes the grounds for improvement. To engage the post-Soviet region in efficient cooperation, the EU needs embracing a more nuanced geopolitical reflectibility that would fully account for historical and cultural affinities of post-Soviet states, foremost those to Russia, but also to other CIS. The tactics would allow the four countries to balance their external policy along the Russia – EU axis more successfully.
Impregnated relations would inevitably trigger the axiological re-engineering of the four countries’ image in the EU, approximating it to positive evaluation and hence acknowledging the countries’ true value that expands far beyond ‘mineral resources and cheap work force’. In their turn, these changes would find their reflection in the bettered understanding of the EU by the Eastern neighbours, inter alia of its neighbourhood politics in relation to Russia’s near abroad. Henceforth, the EU could accommodate cultural particularities of East Europeans in addition to their interests and perceptions, and link them to those of the EU. The imperative is to parallel the processes of appreciation of cultural differences with emphasis on their correlation to European values, not their solely Slavic origin.
These changes would ultimately challenge the present theoretical validity of asymmetrical/top-down governance exercised by the EU towards its Eastern neighbourhood. Instead, equal partnership clearly defined as an approach on its own, would complement and make governance more flexible and adaptable to partners’ needs. Additional remunerations such as EU membership perspective, increased financial assistance, opt-outs and alleviated conditions to comply with would turn the ENP/EaP into conceptually satisfactory policies, strengthen European commitment of Eastern neighbours and accelerate their rapprochement.
 For technical disclaimer and explanation of survey methodology please visit the project’s website <http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/minisites/widereurope/>