The Institutional Relationship between the EU and the East: Is Europe in Critical Condition?

On Tuesday, February 10th, a launch event was held at the UK Parliament in order to commemorate the first issue of the publication Trouble in the Neighbourhood. The journal focuses on the complex range of policy issues that Europe is facing, and it poses creative solutions to the region’s complex problems. The publication is just one aspect of the Foreign Policy Centre’s new project, which encourages think tanks and universities to craft policy recommendations and to engage in the broader European community.

The speakers were all experts on the EU’s role in Eastern Europe and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). The specialists included Mr. David Bakradze, the leader of the Parliamentary Opposition in Georgia and a past presidential candidate, and Mr. John Whittingdale, the Chair of the Parliamentary Party Groups on Ukraine, Armenia, and Moldova. Bakradze and Whittingdale were followed by Dr. Kataryna Wolczuk, a Reader in Politics and International Studies from the University of Birmingham, and Mr. Edward Lucas, the Energy, Commodities, and Natural Resources editor from The Economist. The director of the Foreign Policy Centre, Adam Hug, also offered valuable observations about the relationship between the EU and Eastern Europe.

Mr. Bakradze began the discussion, providing an enlightening overview of Georgia’s attitude towards the EU. As a passionate advocate of Georgia’s democratic future, Mr. Bakradze argued for a system of generosity and diligence that would enable post-Soviet states to acquire EU membership; however, this recognition would only be granted if the countries were to successfully develop traditional European values and democratic institutions. He stated that because of the EU’s focus on the Baltic states, the small Eastern European countries, which are still transitioning, have not received the attention that they need from the West. Mr. Bakradze contended that perpetuating the existence of ENP is crucial for strengthening and modernizing Europe, though he added that the policy must be revamped and exercised with commitment. Controversially, Bakradze suggested that the West’s policy towards Ukraine will set a precedent for the entirety of Eastern Europe; in other words, if the West responds to Putin’s actions with complacency, Putin may consider infringing upon the borders of other vulnerable post-Soviet states.

Though a self-proclaimed Euro-skeptic, Mr. John Whittingdale also argued on behalf of the European Neighbourhood Policy.  He articulated that the agreement promotes both free trade and democratic accountability. While he is a supporter of the policy, he expressed his concern that the EU had made too many unachievable promises to the Eastern European countries. The EU does not have the resources to initiate the extensive institutional, economic, and judicial reforms that are necessary in order to alleviate corruption and anti-democratic influences in the East. Because of the EU’s inability to show a powerful commitment to Eastern Europe, some of the countries have strengthened their connections with Russia in order to ensure their safety; for example, while Armenia is clearly interested in maintaining ties with the West, it joined the Eurasian Customs Union because of its reliance on Russian resources. He concluded by addressing Ukraine, stating that while weapons could aggravate the situation further, the EU should consider supplying Ukraine with defensive armaments.

Doctor Kataryna Wolczuk also focused on the necessity of widespread reform. She astutely observed that due to the centralized nature of the Eastern European countries, they are highly susceptible to the infiltration of Russian influence; therefore, she emphasized the importance of the states’ political development. She argued that the post-Soviet states should focus on instigating a unilateral commitment to the EU in order to protect themselves from Putin’s coercive tactics.

Lastly, Mr. Edward Lucas concluded the discussion by arguing for the dissolution of the European Neighbourhood Policy. He asserted that designing individual policies for each Eastern European country is essential since each nation is in a different place in the democratization process. He contrasts Azerbaijan, which is a total dictatorship, with the pro-Western regions of Moldova and Georgia. In terms of the Ukrainian conflict, he is pessimistic, arguing that western leaders realized the conflict’s cataclysmic potential way too late and we have already lost; though he does say that the EU should continue to help Ukraine, he encourages the organization to maintain low expectations.

The answer to Europe’s critical geopolitical situation is not obvious, and it may take significant experimentation in order to see progress in the East; however, it is clear that the EU needs to reassert its commitment to the East and completely restructure the futile European Neighbourhood Policy in order to accommodate each country’s different circumstances.  However, because the situation in Ukraine presents a global security threat, the West must continue to utilize diplomatic tactics and supply Ukraine with defensive weaponry if necessary. Ultimately, Russia does not have the financial resources to start annexing the smaller Eastern European countries, and it seems that Putin’s true goal is simply to improve his negotiating power within the international political sphere. As a result, even if the West provides Ukraine with weapons, it seems unlikely that Putin will attempt to reclaim other ethnically Russian regions in the post-Soviet states. Mr. Edward Lucas asserted that Europe as a whole is facing grace dangers as a continent; as a consequence, it is crucial that the EU balances the volatile climate in Eastern Europe with commitment and stability.

Please email editor@kingsthinktank.org if you are interested in writing policy on this topic. Also, you are welcome to come to our policy-writing workshop this Thursday at 7 pm in G1 Norfolk Building if you want to learn more about the process involved in our journal, The Spectrum.

Sabrina Manfield

European Affairs Editor

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