29. May 2020
European Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and
Security Policy published on 18 March 2020 a Joint Communication „Eastern Partnership
policy beyond 2020. Reinforcing Resilience – an Eastern Partnership that delivers for all“. 11
May 2020 Council adopted conclusions on Eastern Partnership policy beyond 2020 which
support the Communication.
In general, the text of the Communication follows existing ambition line of the EaP, but
in the area of external security, there is certain fall-back. The new Conclusions are more
direct and operational than Communication. The Council reaffirms the strategic importance
it attaches to the Eastern Partnership, as a specific regional dimension of the European
Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), supporting sustainable reform processes and offering close
political association as well as economic integration with the EU and tangible impact on
Some Partner countries, in particular, the three Associated countries want more. In
December 2019 the Foreign Ministers of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine declared that their
countries would consider applying for the EU membership.
New Communication text misses the issue of European aspirations. But the Conclusions
point out about the European ambitions of the three countries: “the Council recalls the 2017
Eastern Partnership Summit declaration which acknowledges the European aspirations
and European choice of the Eastern partners concerned, as stated in the Association
Agreements. The agreements provide for accelerating political association and economic
integration with the European Union.“ Both in Council and European Parliament, the issue
of EU enlargement to the Eastern Partnership countries is today a dividing issue. We can say
that the text of the Conclusions to keep existing commitments is a good result in present
Communication and the Conclusions do not envisage any changes in Partnership
governance, as it works.
Maybe the most visible change in the new Communication is strengthening Resilience as
an overriding policy framework as the Partnership countries face today serious challenges,
both outside and inside. Council Conclusions welcome the approach. At the same time, the
texts of both Communication and Conclusions remain vague about the practical content of
this approach. It will be very much about the actual implementation, as the strengthening of
the Resilience would be crucial for the security of the EaP countries if rightly applied.
During the structured consultation last autumn, maybe the most remarkable debate
has been around the issue of differentiation. Communication and Conclusions are more
focused on differentiation, incentive- and conditionality-based approach than previous
documents. Foreign Ministers of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine in their December 2019
Joint Statement invited the EU “to consider establishing the Three Associated partners+
EU dialogue in the areas including, but not limited to, transport, energy, justice and digital
economy”. Communication and Conclusions stop short before explicitly accepting the three
Ministers proposal. Informally it is explained that such a decision would draw unnecessary
dividing lines between the six countries. But 3 Associated Countries+ EU format is used in
the Trade area already.
One of the key messages during the structured consultations was the development of sectoral
cooperation. The Joint Statement of the three Foreign Ministers mentioned the areas of
energy, transport, digital economy, customs cooperation, trade facilitation and justice and
home affairs. Communication promises EU targeted sectoral assistance. The Conclusions
mention the issue only once: “deeper sectoral cooperation and gradual economic integration
in accordance with the level of commitment as enshrined in the bilateral agreements.“ For
the issue so prominent during the consultations, it is too minimalist.
Communication remains very general in the issues of financial support to the Partnership
countries, that reflects the current situation with the preparations of the new MFF. European
Commission 2018 MFF package includes establishing the Neighbourhood, Development
and International Cooperation Instrument. Eastern Partnership Associated countries and
Member States supporting dynamic EaP are not happy with the inclusion of the EaP funding
into such a very complex instrument.
Last Eastern Partnership Summit in 2017 during the Estonian EU Presidency approved the
document “20 deliverables for 2020 “. It has added more focus to the Partnership. During
the structured consultation, participants considered that this approach has to be continued
during the next years. The Partnership has made a difference in 3 out of 4 priority areas,
namely economy, connectivity and society. The results in the governance area are not so
Communication proposes as long-term Eastern Partnership policy objectives beyond 2020:
– together for resilient, sustainable and integrated economies;
– together for accountable institutions, the rule of law and security;
– together towards environmental and climate Resilience;
– together for a resilient digital transformation; and
– together for resilient, fair and inclusive societies.
In the area of trade, the Communication proposes to deepen further the economic integration
with and among the partner countries. Especially it concerns the three associated countries
with whom the Communication aims the full implementation of the current DCFTAs, also
for them phased market access liberalisation continues. The document points out that
“selective and gradual economic integration of these countries into the EU’s internal market
is envisaged in the DCFTAs.” In general, the trade part of the Communication is without
significant steps forward, but sectoral trade facilitation agreements may give the trade
cooperation new impulses.
Investments part of the Communication stresses the need for structural reforms and
other measures to improve the business climate. We can see stagnation in EU companies
investments to Partnership countries during the last years due to disappointments among
companies with their projects in the Region.
New economic issues are work towards broader use of the euro in Partnership countries,
support to partner countries’ efforts to meet the criteria to join the Single Euro Payment
Area (SEPA), the extension of the coverage of the European Geostationary Navigation
Overlay Service (Galileo).
Transport and energy infrastructure network of the Partnership countries still reflects past
Soviet-era geopolitical reality. It needs an extensive overhaul. On transport, the EU focus will
be on the long-term priority investments outlined in the Trans-European Transport Network
(TEN-T) Indicative Investment Action Plan until 2030.
Education reforms continue to be a strategic priority, and the popular among the Youth in
EaP countries Erasmus+ programme also continues.
According to the Communication, the EU’s continues to support for resilient institutions,
the rule of law and security will include: proposing ways to measure better the impact of
judicial reforms; consider progress in the rule of law reforms, when deciding on assistance;
reinvigorating EU support for fighting corruption and economic crime; stepping up support
for security dialogues and cooperation. Conclusions also call EU institutions to reinforce
capacity and Resilience of partner countries in enhancing civil protection, fighting against
organised crime, strengthening cybersecurity frameworks and countering hybrid threats. In
general, the treatment of the governance and internal security issues in the Communication
and Conclusions is quite thorough and reflects existing problems and the lack of progress.
Communication expresses the EU commitment to promoting the peaceful settlement
of unresolved conflicts in the Eastern neighbourhood. It stresses the need to continue
to uphold security dialogues and capacity building in the security field. Conclusions also
emphasize that the resolution of conflicts is essential and call for renewed efforts and fully
support conflict prevention, confidence building, and the facilitation of negotiated peaceful
conflict settlement under the agreed negotiating formats.
For Eastern Partners, the unresolved conflicts are the main issue hindering their development
as successful democracies. Therefore, this issue should have merited separate treatment in
a separate section in Communication, as it is in Conclusions. Detailed presentation of ideas,
what the EU could do to help to solve those crises beyond “agreed negotiating formats and
processes”, should have been necessary. The countering of hybrid and cyber threats would
also have merited more comprehensive treatment.
The climate and environment issues part of the Communication is long and detailed. A
compelling text about urgent action and EU support is in the Conclusions: „The EU supports
an intensification of the efforts by Eastern partner countries in this respect and notes
their support for the European Commission’s initiative “European Green Deal”. Structured
dialogue with EaP countries is needed to find out relevant to each partner country realities
climate and environment cooperation priorities and forms.
Peoples health and wellbeing includes many issues which concern the citizens of the partner
countries. In the area of public health, the before the COVID-crisis written Communication
is rather general, but in the crisis-era Conclusions, the focused text confirms EU support to
the Partners during the COVID-19 outbreak on human lives, employment and economies.
Hopefully, health is added to the deliverables list for the period beyond 2020.
The digital issues part of the Conclusions does not offer new elements, maybe because the
existing ambitious and solid base in the Communication and ministerial documents. This
area already benefits from advanced sectoral cooperation. There have been already three
ministers meetings between the EU and Eastern partnership countries. EU will support
the implementation of roaming and spectrum agreements among the partner countries
and, where appropriate, with the EU. The primary interest of the Partnership countries is a
roaming area with the EU.
Both Communication and Conclusions emphasise in a very similar way the importance
of resilient, fair and inclusive societies- professional, depoliticised, people-centred and
accountable public administrations, human rights, civil society and youth participation. The
documents repetition of the calls reflects the well-publicised problems with democratic
development, media and human rights in Partnership countries.
The Communication notes that citizens of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine enjoy visa-free
movement with EU. With three other countries, there are agreements about visa facilitation,
the one with Belarus not yet in force. The possibility to launch new visa liberalisation
dialogues with the remaining states, whose citizens require visas to travel to the EU, will be
considered. Conclusions mostly just repeat these statements. Legal workers and seasonal
employees from Ukraine and other EaP countries have contributed to the functioning of
the economies of the EU Member States. But some EU Member States have problems with
numerous asylum seekers from Associated countries, and in the Conclusions, there is a
clear indication of these worries.
Communication and Conclusions stress that the strategic communication should remain
a key task, in order to promote the visibility and benefits of the cooperation between the
EU and the Eastern Partnership countries, not least in the wake of growing disinformation.
The Council states the importance to strengthen capacity and Resilience of Eastern partner
countries against disinformation. It also recalls the role of the East StratCom Task Force to
this end and reiterates Council support for it.
Communication and Conclusions are essential for the incoming political level contacts with
Partnership countries and finally, the next Eastern Partnership Summit. Eastern Partnership
needs renewed vision and new political impulse for its second decade.
The full report by Raul Mälk and Aap Neljas can be read here: ANALYSIS THE 2020 EU EUROPEAN COMMISSION AND HIGH REPRESENTATIVE JOINT COMMUNICATION AND THE 2020 EU COUNCIL CONCLUSIONS LAY FOUNDATION FOR THE EU EASTERN PARTNERSHIP FUTURE