The Future of the Eastern Partnership of the EU

International Conference in Minsk

Also available in Deutsch

On the 7th of September 2017, members of national parliaments, government representatives, scholars, diplomats, independent and governmental experts from over a dozen countries discussed the results and prospects of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) programme in Minsk. The main focus was on the Belarus’ perspective.

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Das Eröffnungspanel der Veranstaltung: v.l.n.r. Merike Kokaev, Botschafterin Estlands in Belarus, Oleg Krawtschenko, stellv. Außenminister der Republik Belarus, Dr. Wolfgang Sender, Leiter des Auslandsbüros Belarus der KAS, Yauhen Preiherman, Leiter der Minsk Dialogue Initative.

Opening panel: (from left to right) Merike Kokaev, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Estonia to Belarus, Oleg Kravchenko, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, Dr Wolfgang Sender, Director of Country Office Belarus of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Yauhen Preiherman, Head of Minsk Dialogue Initiative

The international conference „The Future of the Eastern Partnership amid Growing Regional Turbulence” was organized by Minsk Dialogue Initiative, Belarus Office of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) and the Estonian Embassy in Minsk. Estonia holds the presidency of the Council of the EU over the second half of 2017. At the opening of the event, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, Oleg Kravchenko, provided pragmatic insights towards the EaP by presenting Belarusian expectations and evaluation of the EaP from the Belarusian perspective.

Dialogue between Belarus and the EU
According to the Deputy Minister, the EaP programme launched in 2009, played a significant role in establishing a dialogue between Belarus and the EU, also in stabilizing the situation in the region. Oleg Kravchenko stressed, that after the Brussels Summit in November 2017, “the more pragmatic EaP” is expected in Belarus and outlined the concrete fields for this approach, such as improvement of customs issues, access to European markets and development of infrastructure. He outlined, that for Belarus it is crucial, that “the EaP remains a non-confrontational initiative, which respects the choices of its members”.

As stated by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Belarus perceives its role in the EaP programme in a broader framework – as a mediator between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Belarus would not like to see “its western border as a dividing line between the two integrational processes in Europe (…) and thus seeks a direct dialogue between the EU and the EEU”. As a first step, Belarus proposes to “establish the technical dialogue between the EU and the EEU on harmonization of standards and addressing the existing problems”.
It is evident, that Belarus’ participation in the EaP indicates an improvement at preparation for a basic cooperation agreement with the EU. As Oleg Kravchenko pointed out, a conclusion of such an agreement with the EU was a strategic goal of Belarus’ participation in the EaP programme and in the development of relations with the EU.

Country specific approach
Dr. Wolfgang Sender, Director of Country Office Belarus of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, agreed with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs on the non- confrontational character of the EaP by stressing the goals of initiative: to guarantee the security and stability in the region, to prevent emerging of new dividing lines, to intensify political interaction and economic integration. According to Dr. Sender, the EaP is and will remain a value-based initiative; however, it does not contradict respect of free choice of its members, that Belarus desires. An increasing number of political actors see the necessity of country-specific approaches within the EaP.
According to the Director of the KAS Office Belarus, all involved parties are forced by the reality to draft such an approach in regard to the six participants of the EaP, which implement rapprochement policy in different speed and based on different legal basis: Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are guided by the Association Agreements, Armenia and Azerbaijan have signed new basic agreements with the EU, Belarus tries to intensify a dialogue with the EU within the framework of the EU-Belarus Coordination Group. In his assessment of the current situation, Dr. Sender drew following conclusions: first, country-specific approaches of the EU towards the EaP countries will be shaped more intensively and second, the multilateral dimension of the EaP is of great importance “especially for the countries, which need more time for their rapprochement with the EU or are looking for the specific cooperation possibilities”.

The recognition of country specifics by the EU should under no circumstances lead to the institutionalization of the two-speed or two-quality Eastern Partnership, because it would precisely miss the goal of the EaP, i.e. ensuring the sovereignty and stability in the EaP region – the values that currently are as threatened as it has never been before.

Achievements and Challenges
Introductory statements were followed by three conference sessions which provided the in-depth analysis of successes and challenges of the EaP and its developments during the eight years since its launch in 2009. Also the influence of recent geopolitical developments to the EaP was discussed. Experts and politicians from Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, France, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Russia and the USA were invited to the conference to participate as speakers.

One of the conference’s benefits was that it included experts not only from the region and the EU, but also provided a platform for discussions with participants from Russia and the USA. A strong willingness towards a dialogue became clear from the speeches of the government and Parliament representatives. Anna Kanopatskaya, Representative of the democratic parliamentary opposition, and Tatyana Korotkevich, former presidential candidate, were among participating members of the Parliament.

Findings on Belarus
The outcome of the discussions about the Belarus’ role in the EaP was controversial. While the government placed emphasis on the economic component of the EaP and multilateral infrastructure projects, the opposition forces of Belarus stressed the need to combine economic cooperation with the EU with political liberalisation in the country. According to independent experts, these contradictory approaches of the government and civil society impeded the full use of the advantages offered by the EaP. Also, the poor Belarusian legislation compliance with the market economy rules was assessed as an obstacle to a Belarus’ full-fledged participation in the EaP.

As it was pointed out during the conference, Belarus would also like to promote an „Connectivity in Wider Europe“ approach within the EaP framework – a slogan of the Belarusian presidency of the Central European Initiative 2017. These Belarusian efforts are being welcomed; however, in order to achieve this objective, a certain degree of flexibility is essential. The conference provided new ideas and inputs for the development of this compatibility.

Within the framework of subsequent events, the KAS Office Belarus and Minsk Dialogue Initiative plan to use these outcomes as a basis for providing analysis and policy advice for the forthcoming EaP-Summit in Brussels in November 2017.

Minsk Dialogue Background
The Minsk Dialogue (MD) was launched in March 2015 as a Track-II (non-governmental) diplomacy platform with focus on international relations and security. The initiative’s rationale was to create an expert-level platform for open and high-quality international discussions beyond geopolitical divides about the most challenging pan-European issues. Up to date, ten successful and well attended international conferences have taken place within the MD framework, which gathered leading experts from the EU, Russia, Eastern European countries and the USA, as well as representatives of international organizations and the diplomatic community in Minsk.

Author

Dr. Wolfgang Sender

Publication series

Event Reports

published

Lithuania, September 7, 2017

Contact

Dr. Wolfgang Sender

Leiter des Auslandsbüros Belarus

Dr. Wolfgang Sender
Phone + 370 52 629475
Fax + 370 52 122294
Languages: Deutsch,‎ English,‎ русский