EU needs a success story for EaP Summit in Vilnius

In May the new 2013 European Partnership Index will be issued with a ranking of its target Eastern Partnership countries. We wanted to have a foretaste of the next EaP Index with the Ukrainian expert Iryna Solonenko, who led the project of the pool of 50 experts working for the European Integration Index designed for Eastern Partnership Countries. Will Moldova keep its “best pupil” status? What about Ukraine’s evolution and its likely “success story” In Vilnius? There is optimism in the air.  

EaP Index expert, Iryna Solonenko (Ukraine)

EaP Index expert, Iryna Solonenko (Ukraine)

CARTIER EUROPEAN: The 2012 European Integration Index (EaP Index) presented Moldova as a “front-runner” or ‘the best performing country in all aspects”. Recently, journalists qualified Moldova as the “best pupil” among the Eastern Partnership countries. Given that the new report will soon be published, could you give some indications of the ranking of Moldova in the new EaP Index report?

I think Moldova will remain the front-runner in the Index 2013, which is coming up in May. Moldova is about to finalize implementation of the Action Plan on Visa Liberalization. There is also progress in some other reform areas. Despite political instability in Moldova it is still doing well in the comparative perspective.

CARTIER EUROPEAN: In 2012, “awareness raising on European Integration (EI)” was very low for all six countries, because apparently only NGOs or donors were involved in that activity, while state agencies were absent for this chapter. Is there any progress on “awareness raising on EI” for Moldova, particularly?

“Awareness raising activities” on European integration are rather poor in all EaP countries and this is reflected in the Index. We are interested in whether the governments of EaP countries carry out systematic, not ad-hoc, awareness raising activities and also whether budget allocations are envisaged. Therefore if there is a Europe Day once a year in Ukraine or something similar in other EaP countries, those do not count. It seems that for the time being awareness raising on European integration is not a priority for any of EaP country’s governments. It can be explained by the fact that European Union Delegations do this job in some countries, as well as civil society funded by international donors.

CARTIER EUROPEAN: The 2012 EaP Index also evokes a certain “European Integration  fatigue” in Moldova due to the economic crisis in Europe, etc., but also because of the Party of Communists’ “negative rhetoric” on EU. There are still great steps to taken: a genuine judiciary reform, an improvement of the political parties founding transparency, etc. Don’t you think there is a link between lack of “awareness raising” endeavor and that early “integration fatigue”? Is that fatigue justified?

“EU-related fatigue”, which is evident from results of public opinion polls reflected in the Index, depends on many factors. Moreover, one has to say that support for European integration in Moldova is still high compared to other EaP countries. Awareness raising, especially if it is systemic and has implications for the substance of media coverage in the country, can change public opinion. This was the case in former EU accession countries. Their governments initiated large-scale awareness raising campaigns before accession referendum. This helped. But awareness raising alone, if it is not supported by reforms on the ground, is not enough. People have to see and feel that the process of getting closer to the EU has positive implications for them – either it makes travelling easier or corruption reduces and so on.

CARTIER EUROPEAN: The Index is meant as an incentive: “more for more” approach adopted by the EU after the Arab Spring and that suits the Eastern Partnership countries well. In the same vein, if Moldova keeps performing  correctly, what are its chances of leaving the EaP countries and becoming a genuine candidate?

The Index is a monitoring and advocacy tool. We show how each country performs as compared to other EaP countries. Therefore civil societies in each EaP country can use the Index to advocate reforms in those areas where their country performs worse than other countries. Moreover, reference to the experience of other countries can be used to suggest specific reform steps in your country. Therefore, EaP countries’ policy-makers are our key target. We hope the Index provides valuable information to the EU as well. But I doubt it can be used by the EU in order to decide how to ‘reward’ a country. Our Index is one of many sources the EU relies on to assess how each country performs.

The question of whether Moldova can become a candidate country is a premature one, especially in the light of recent developments. But even theoretically I do not think it is possible in the near future. The past 20 years of the EU’s policies towards the Eastern Europe show that the EU prefers dealing with groups of countries, when it comes to designing policies and policy instruments. This is why Moldova wanted to be perceived as one of the Western Balkan countries (Stabilization and Association country), rather than an ENP country. At least I remember this discussion some years ago. If this had happened Moldova would have had a good chances to become a candidate as one of the Western Balkans countries. Now this is hardly possible.

CARTIER EUROPEAN: European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule declared last January at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg that article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty allows those countries that respect the European values to apply for EU membership. Hence Moldova’s chances to do this one day. How close is Moldova today to that “big” day?

I think we should not mix such things as EU membership prospect, candidate status and membership in the EU. Those are separate stages and it can take a long time for a country to move from one stage to another. I understand that Moldova had good chance of receiving EU membership prospective this year. This could be indicated in the Preambule of the Association Agreement, which, it was hoped, would be signed during the EaP Summit in Vilnius. Now, given the recent developments in Moldova, this might be unlikely. Yet, irrespective of what is going on in Moldova now, this prospect would not mean candidate status. The country has to apply for EU membership and then it might take a long time until the application is accepted and the Council of the EU decides to grant candidate status. Membership in the EU would be a next stage, which comes much later after negotiations are concluded. The new member states such as Poland or Baltic states received the membership prospect in 1993, but became EU member states only a decade later. This is even an optimistic scenario. Look at Western Balkans and Turkey – their experience indicated that it might take much longer.

CARTIER EUROPEAN: How can you explain the fact that Moldova, which seems so close to the EU as far as its progress is concerned, is part of a group where a dictatorship like Belarus stands? Is there an expectation of a positive socialization impact on Belarus or is this just a proof of fragile democracy in Moldova?

Belarus cannot be regarded as a fully-fledged participant of the Eastern Partnership and the level of her rapprochement to the EU cannot be compared to that of Moldova or even other EaP countries. Belarus does not even have a contractual framework  – the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement – with the EU. However, I think it was a good idea to include Belarus in the Eastern Partnership, exactly as a means of socialisation. As civil society and civil servants in Belarus become more exposed to the EU and multilateral EaP initiatives, there are more chances that the situation in Belarus may change in the long run.

CARTIER EUROPEAN: Ukraine, the only European Partnership country that completed its negotiations with the EU for Association Agreement (AA) and DCFTA, seems to be in a stalemate because of its “selective justice”, political and economic reforms lag, etc. The EU had addressed these questions to President Viktor Yanukovych during the EU-Ukraine Summit in Brussels on 26 February. Indeed, he could be held responsible for jeopardizing Ukraine’s European chances, unless he quickly makes the changes required by the EU as preconditions to the signature of the AA in Vilnius. In this context, how do you see the forthcoming evolution of the political situation in the Ukraine prior to the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November?

There are two possible scenarios here. The first one is that Yanukovych does demonstrate some progress, which will allow the EU to tick the box and go forward with signing the Association Agreement in Vilnius. This could mean releasing Yuri Lutsenko and  improving conditions of imprisonment for Yulia Tymoshenko. This could also mean organizing a more or less fair re-elections in the five contested districts and a number of legal initiatives in the areas required by the EU. None of the steps would result into quality reforms. Yet, through them Yanukovch demonstrates some political will and the EU will be able to go forward with the AA. You may ask, what about Yulia Tymoshenko? I do not see any chance of her being released. This would be a direct threat to Yanukovych in the 2015 presidential elections. Preserving power for him is a matter of survival and this is a red line for him. I think the EU understands this and might compromise on this issue.

The second scenario is that Yanukovych does not demonstrate the degree of progress, which would satisfy the EU. In that case the AA will not be signed in 2013. If this happens, it is important that the EU clearly keeps the option of signing the AA open – if not in 2013, then in 2014 or 2015 – whenever the conditions are fulfilled. In the meantime the EU should work with Ukrainian reform-minded stakeholders on promoting debates about the AA and the opportunities it offers to the Ukraine. These debates have a potential to undermine the regime from the inside in the long term.

CARTIER EUROPEAN: Judging by the declarations made by the EU after the EU-Ukraine summit, I have the impression that the term “selective justice” was preferred to designating the name of the real foe:  the imprisoned former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who seems to be a hurdle for the President. Why this euphemism?

There are two reason for this. The first reason is that selective justice is a systemic problem in the Ukraine. It is not just about Tymoshenko or Lutsenko, but a number of other, less visible cases. The entire judiciary in the Ukraine needs to be reformed. The EU was already criticized for highlighting only those two cases, while ignoring the broader problem. So, this euphemism is more appropriate for the context and still it is clear that the two specific cases are the main concern.

The second reason is that the EU understands that Yanukovych will not release Tymoshenko. Winning the presidential election in 2015 for him is a matter of survival. We can be sure that if Tymoshenko is released, Yanukovych will not succeed. Hence, by outlining the condition in these broad terms, the EU wants to preserve the space for manoeuvre for itself. In this situation some the improvements I outlined above might be enough.

It is important to understand that the EU needs to present a success story in Vilnius in November. There is a slight chance that the case with the Ukraine might still work out.

Interview by Ludmila Bulgar, “Cartier European” blog

The European Partnership Index (EaP Index) was set up soon after the Eastern Partnership (EaP) had been launched in November 2009. The purpose was to add collective support to the civil society struggle in “stimulating reforms on the ground”. The index is the result of the work of a pool of 50 civil society experts from six EaP countries (Moldova, Georgia, the Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus) and aims at emphasizing progress and pointing out weaknesses of the countries concerned, in addition to providing an independent, balanced and objective analysis of the situation regarding the path to European Integration.


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