The European Union launched its Eastern Partnership programme in 2009, with a view to encompassing six countries of the former Soviet sphere. It was initiated by Poland to provide a venue for discussions of trade, economic strategy, travel agreements and other matters between the EU and its eastern regional neighbours.
This was taken to mean Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Today, however, Belarus is part of a Customs Union with Russia and Ukraine has suspended its involvement; Armenia has also said ‘no thank you’; it is going with Russia.
It was thought both sides could gain through a free-trade zone; the EU is a 500-million-consumer market, and the six countries total some 75 million people; Ukraine is the biggest of those by territorial size, population and resources.
The EU earmarked 2.5 billion euros for the partnership from 2010-2013. That was aimed at democratic institution-building, environmental protection, industrial reform, energy security and the fight against hunger and poverty.
In exchange for economic convergence aid, the EU requires respect for the rule of law and human rights, market economy principles, sustainable development and good governance. Implementation of the Eastern Partnership concentrates on stability, convergence with EU policies and contacts between people.
In the first half of this year, the EU’s trade surplus surpassed three billion euros with the six countries. About half of EU exports going to them flow to Ukraine. Germany, Italy and Poland are the biggest exporters to it.
This is significant because in return for easier access to the EU, (but not membership), countries also have to fight corruption and organised crime, as well as people, drugs and weapons trafficking.
Easier movement for eastern citizens across EU borders came in the form of easing visa rules with Ukraine in 2008, Moldova in 2010 and Georgia last year.
Efforts and cooperation in countries outside the EU’s borders help to reduce crime pressures within the now 28-member bloc. Closer ties with the region could also help the EU to improve the security of its energy supplies.
Russia is reluctant to relinquish its senior partner role where it dominated for decades, as equally proud, recently independent countries weigh their modern identities in the balance with their economic futures.