Reforms Strengthening Eastern Partnership Countries’ Ties with Europe were Debated in Tallinn

03.March.2018

The 5th Annual Tallinn Conference on the EaP, held on March 2, 2018 and entitled Internal, External and Public Perspectives on the Eastern Partnership After the 2017 Summit, opened with welcoming remarks by President Kersti Kaljulaid. “We know where you are because we have been there,” President Kaljulaid stated, emphasizing the strong connection between Estonia and the Eastern Partnership countries;  “now, it is time to move forward.” She added that the EaP must not only be ambitious, but also realistic and credible. Estonia has not only supported the EaP initiative and the partner countries rhetorically, but also with concrete assistance in areas such as e-governance, enterprise development, and media literacy.

Our first panel brought together perspectives from the European Commission, Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, and Ukraine to discuss “A View from the Inside: Building on the 2017 EaP Summit.” In their remarks, each panelist highlighted that the Partnership must bring practical benefits to people in EaP countries, with visible changes like reducing roaming tariffs and creating more opportunities for young people to seek education in EU countries.

The Summit is generally seen by the European Commission as a success, as it has brought greater EU attention to the EaP countries and renewed mutual interest in cooperation. On the Member State side, Sven Mikser from the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Estonia will continue to ensure that the 2020 deliverables are maintained and built upon in the EaP countries. Special Envoy Panayotov confirmed that the Bulgarian Presidency Council of the EU will build upon Estonia’s achievements and link the EaP and the Black Sea, while the subsequent Austrian Presidency will focus on “implementation, implementation, and implementation” to demonstrate the benefits of the EaP to citizens of the partner countries. Belarus does not seek an association agreement, argued Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Kravchenko, but wants resilient cooperation with the EU. For Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze , Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine, the Summit is not about short-term perspectives–but about the European promise to deliver a common future. The Vice Prime Minister underscored Ukraine’s desire that the EU hold firm in maintaining sanctions on Russia for the latter’s violations of–by her count– 407 separate international agreements.

Our second panel explored the “View from the Outside: The Present and Future of the Eastern Partnership” with speakers representing Canada, Norway, Russia and the United States. Canada’s Foreign Policy—Global Affairs Canada, from Kevin Rex’s perspective, is making the most of its single embassy in the EaP countries to focus on people-to-people contact and strengthen economic ties. Jorgan Andrews from the U.S. Department of State advocates that the EaP should not be a “zero-sum game” but rather whatever the partners make of it. For the U.S., Ukraine is the gateway to an improved relationship with Russia. According to Andrey Kortunov from the Russian International Affairs Council if the EU had sufficiently reassured the Kremlin in the past, “we would probably not have the crisis in the form we do now.” The Eurasian Economic Union is “no longer the flavor of the month” and Russia and the EU should both take advantage of incremental windows of opportunity “to move from a black and white world to something more colorful.” While Norway has no official policy on the Eastern Partnership, it is a semi-insider, according to Jakub Godzimirski from NUPI. There are practical, not only ideological, reasons for Norway to work with the EaP.

At the day’s final panel, entitled “An Uncomfortable Truth: Media and the Shaping of Public Opinion in EU and EaP Countries,” participants brought perspectives on how to combat disinformation from a range of EU and EaP countries. Throughout all of their presentations, one message was clear: in this fight, one cannot use the same tools as the aggressor: in sum, one cannot fight lies with other lies.

The study presented by members of the Hybrid Warfare Analytical Group of the Ukraine Сrisis Media Center sheds light on the nature of Russian key narratives and targets of negative news. TV is the most trusted source in Russia, with the Kremlin controlling narratives such as the “horrors of life” in the EU, a decaying Europe and revival of fascism.

Jarmo Mäkelä of Finland compared Russian journalism to doping in sports; they insist that no one else uses it, all while themselves employing the tactic for maximum advantage. Drawing insights from his work at  EU vs Disinformation, Jakub Kalenský  explored different ways of combating disinformation and exposing falsehoods at the EU level, while Lithuanian deputy foreign minister Darius Skusevičius provided a country-specific perspective, arguing that for his country, strategic commmunication is not simply an issue of responding to disinformation, but instead a broader challenge requiring building societal resilience, promoting broader media education, and suspending TV channels as appropriate.

Presentation by the Ukraine Crisis Media Center

Click here to view the gallery of the Conference