New decision of EU Council: Eastern Partnership policy after 2020 - ANALYSIS

New decision of EU Council: Eastern Partnership policy after 2020 - ANALYSIS
# 14 May 2020 16:14 (UTC +04:00)

The final decision of the Council of the European Union (EU) regarding the Eastern Partnership (EP) policy after 2020 has been published on May 11, 2020. Remind that the Eastern Partnership (EP) initiative of the European Union was put forward by Poland and Sweden at the Seminar held in Prague in May of 2009. The EP initiative includes strengthening in the bilateral format and the continuation in the multilateral format of the existing cooperation between Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova referred to as the “Eastern partners” in the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy and the EU countries. The new cooperation agreements in the area of deep and comprehensive free trade, the programs funded by the EU, the mobility and security pacts, the visa-free travel, the access to the EU’s labor market, the adaptation to EU’s legislation and standards, the cooperation in the area of contacts between people, etc. have been envisaged in the framework of the EP.

It is interesting that while the rumors are being spread about the aggravation of the crisis inside the European Union exposed to quite a deep influence of the coronavirus pandemic, the attention paid in such times by Brussels to the former Soviet republics that gained their independence represents special significance. Thus, the EU has approved the conclusions on the Eastern Partnership policy beyond 2020, reaffirming its strategic importance, and the joint commitment to building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity and stability. In its conclusions, the Council welcomes the significant achievements of the Eastern Partnership to date and reiterates its incentive- and conditionality-based approach as a means to encourage Eastern partner countries to continue engaging in reforms and increasing efforts in this regard. The Council confirms that the current policy framework, including the set of ’20 deliverables for 2020’ is valid and brings tangible results and benefits for citizens in the EP countries.

Another interesting feature mentioned in the document is that unlike the previous statements and programs, this time the EU didn’t use the “security” word while putting forward the goals of building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, and stability. As is written in the DW outlet, this is caused by the influence of the cautious policy of rapprochement with Russia conducted by France’s leader Macron beginning from 2019. Thus, in recent times, Germany and France avoid using security terms in the framework of cooperation with the Eastern Partnership countries in order not to incur the displeasure of Russia.

One more point arousing our interest is that the European perspective issue insistently requested by Kyiv and Tbilisi for a long time has found its reflection in this decision of the EU. Thus, it is noted that while discussing the new approach concept, the heated disputes broke out between the EU countries in regard to the European perspectives and the European choices issues related to the EP countries.

Finally, in the end, the EU made a compromise to Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, and accepted in the new decision their European perspective and European choices by reminding the Declaration issued in regard to these countries at the Summit held in 2017. Chisinau and Kyiv, and especially Tbilisi expressly chosen the Euro-integration course don’t even fear the risk of making a compromise in a certain part of peculiarities of the national statehood in this context. As for Brussels, the EU’s (in fact USA’s and Poland’s) intention to develop relations with Kyiv and Tbilisi to the maximum extent is completely understandable. But there is a divergence of views between Brussels and Kyiv and Tbilisi regarding the cooperation to the maximum extent. Although Kyiv and Tbilisi wish to see NATO as their military and political ally and the European Union – as their economic and political ally, the likeliness of admission of these countries to the mentioned organizations in the nearest future almost equals to zero. And the main reason for this is that Germany and France, and recently the Netherlands and Italy as well don’t approve of the issue of expansion of the European Union.

The ’20 deliverables for 2020’ program adopted at the end of Brussels Summit taken place in 2017 has already been left behind. It is expected that a new program will be adopted after the new summit of the EP planned to be held in the summer months. It is natural that the EU’s main wish is the continuation of reforms in these 6 countries.

The list of issues that will be paid special attention this time includes such areas as the supremacy of law, protection of human rights, independent courts, and effective fight against corruption.

The provisions regarding consideration of opportunity of starting negotiations about visa liberalization between the EP countries and the European Union for citizens of the EP countries traveling to EU on the basis of visa regime have taken its place in item 18 of the final decision. Those provisions say the issue of starting dialogue regarding agreements about the liberalization of visa procedures may be considered provided that the well managed and safe mobility conditions are ensured and the existing visa facilitation and readmission agreements are implemented at a satisfactory level.

The items in the Decision related to the issue of settlement of conflicts actually represent special significance for Azerbaijan. Thus, the EU council specifies the EU’s shared commitments “to a rules-based international order, international law, including territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty, as also stated in the principles of the Helsinki Final Act and the OSCE Charter of Paris, as well as fundamental values, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of all individuals, including rights of persons belonging to minorities, democracy, the rule of law, good governance, and gender equality, as well as in sustainable development and market economy” among the shared commitments that determine the grounds for activity in the EP area.

As is seen, the EU Council once again emphasizes in this item of its final decision the principles bearing special significance for Azerbaijan. It is interesting that unlike its previous documents, the EU Council evaluates in its document the principles of territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty, the rules based on international order and international law as the “shared obligations” for the first time and mentions them in a single list along with the “fundamental values” bearing strategic character for EU.

The issue of military conflicts is touched upon once again, and the significance of solution of military conflicts, creation of confidence, and good neighborly relations for economic and social development and cooperation is stressed in item 17 of the final decision. In that item, the Council expresses its deep concern about the continued violations of international law in certain countries of the region and declares its full support for conflict prevention, confidence building and the facilitation of negotiated peaceful conflict settlement under the agreed negotiating formats and processes.

The aforementioned appeal of the EU Council in the final document confirms the continuation of this institution’s previous support for the existing Minsk Group format of negotiations for the solution of Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno Garabagh conflict and reflects another failure of Armenia’s policy aimed at involving the separatists in the process of negotiations.

At the same time, as is mentioned above, the evaluation in the Decision of the principles of territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty, and the rules-based on international order and international law as the “shared obligations” means complete destruction of the right of people to self-determination (although, anyway, this principle of the UN Statutes has nothing in common with the stupid pretexts of Armenians) and other similar separatist mottos from the angle of view of the conflicts in the EP countries including the Garabagh conflict. This document has once again confirmed the inviolability of territorial integrity of states, the supremacy of sovereign and constitutional rights of the central government.

Another issue representing significance for Azerbaijan is reflected in the V item of the Document. This item reads that “the Council welcomes the progress in the ongoing negotiations between the EU and Azerbaijan for a new framework agreement”. This should be evaluated as the victory of the correct policy conducted by the official Baku during these years. In the course of the negotiations held between the parties since 2017, Baku, unlike all other EP countries, insisted on the reconciliation of equitable and mutual interests in the document that will be signed with the European Union. Just for this reason, the official Baku unlike some other countries of the Eastern Partnership Program didn’t take and doesn’t intend to take absurd steps proceeding from such principles as “black and white”, “we and they” or “those who are not with us are against us” because the main principle of Azerbaijan’s geo-policy is the comprehensively beneficial cooperation and abstention from using this cooperation against a third party. Besides, the Azerbaijani government has been decisively insisting for many years on inclusion in the document of the nuances that would satisfy the economic interests of the two parties not being guided by the “senior-junior” approach in the solution of the economic issues that will be regulated by the agreement that will be signed in the future.

One more important point that meets Azerbaijan’s interests is the stressing by the Council in item 12 of the decision that the supporting of the sustainable, rules-based, open and secure connectivity, in terms of transport, energy and digital, including through promoting quality infrastructure is key for the economic development, regional integration, trade and mobility, both for the EU and Eastern partner countries.

The mentioned expression should be taken into consideration in the context of supporting by the EU Council of the important role played by the European Union in terms of ensuring of implementation of the EU’s priority projects in the area of provision of energy security of the European Union, including the Southern Gas Corridor determined in the EU Rules # 2020/389 dated March 11, 2020, and related to the EU’s priority energy corridors, as well as other international transportation routes and the logistical and transport and transit network connecting the Azerbaijan Republic with a number of destinations worldwide.

Thus, the new Decision adopted by the EU once again proved how far-sighted diplomat is the President of Azerbaijan.

Zaur Mammadov

Assistant Professor of the StateGovernanceAcademy under the President of the AzerbaijanRepublic

Chairman of Baku Political Scientists’ Club