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Eastern Partnership: 20 deliverables for 2020

“The upcoming Summit is an opportunity to build on our achievements to-date and to inject new dynamism into our partnership. We need to be ambitious, but also realistic and credible”, says Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations.

October 17, 2017 - Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska Johannes Hahn - AnalysisInterviews

Image by gleamlight/Philippe Molitor

AGNIESZKA PIKULICKA-WILCZEWSKA: In 2015 the EU adopted a revised European Neighbourhood Policy. What are the main differences between the former and the new strategy and what have been some of the most important practical implications of the change? What shall we make of the new focus on security in the revised ENP 2015 in the context of Eastern Partnership?

JOHANNES HAHN: The revised European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) puts the stability of our neighbourhood in the focus. Part of ENP, the Eastern Partnership is a joint policy initiative which aims to deepen and strengthen relations between the EU, its member states and its six Eastern partner countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

The EU Global Security Strategy and the reviewed European Neighbourhood Policy have clearly highlighted the need to strengthen the resilience of our Eastern Neighbours. This focus recognises the evolving needs in the European Neighbourhood as well as the interests and emphasis of both EU member states as well as our Partner countries put on resilience and security. We have taken the discussion on the security focus forward in the context of the “Eastern Partnership 20 key deliverables for 2020“. The objective is to improve the Eastern partners’ countries resilience in particular through support to fight organised crime, improve cybersecurity, as well as support security sector reforms. In addition, unresolved conflicts are a key concern in the Eastern Neighbourhood, affecting five out of the six countries, undermining their political, economic and social stability and directly impacting on the human rights situation on the ground. We are now looking to make full use of the political and financial instruments at our disposal to help address these key challenges facing the Eastern partner countries.

Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are the only three countries from the EaP which have signed Association Agreements. However, they all seem to have very slim prospects of membership. What are the other meaningful forms of cooperation between the EU and the three states?

Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have chosen the path of political association and economic integration with the EU through a new generation Association Agreements/Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (AA/DCFTA). We will work with these countries to further develop their relations and to maximise the benefits of these agreements for all sides. The EU is ready equally to foster more cooperation on economic development, modernisation and diversification, support to young people’s employment and employability, on security, energy, and migration. Indeed, we are already working on a partnership for growth with these countries in alliance with international financial institutions and EU Member States. We are also, and increasingly, trying to bring the private sector into the equation.

Regarding other forms of cooperation, in the case of Ukraine, these include not only visa liberalisation in June 2017 but also an unprecedented package of macro-financial assistance, loans and grants, and the establishment of a dedicated mission for civilian security sector reform. This support has already helped stabilise Ukraine since the crisis period of 2013/14 and is now helping set the country on the path of democratic reform. Furthermore, Ukraine is eligible for a number of EU programmes under the European Neighbourhood Policy, and these too promote reform and modernisation, administrative and regulatory convergence, and the transfer of EU standards and best practices. For example, Ukraine now participates in the Horizon 2020 research and development programme.

EU and Georgia have further intensified their relations in 2017. The entry into application of the visa-free travel to the Schengen Area in March 2017 was an important milestone in this regard. The accession of Georgia to the Energy Community Treaty as a full contracting party in July 2017 was another key achievement bringing the EU and Georgia closer. At the same time, and in line with Georgia’s successful reform efforts, the amount of EU financial assistance has increased for Georgia. We are working together with Georgia on concrete deliverables for citizens, such as the establishment of the European Eastern Partnership School in Tbilisi. Georgia also participates in a number of EU programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Creative Europe. We are also envisaging to increase further Georgia’s opportunities for participation in activities under Erasmus+. 

Regarding our cooperation with Moldova, this includes the application since April 2014 of the visa-free travel to the Schengen Area – Moldova has been the first Eastern Partner country to benefit from it. Moldova is also a member of the Energy Community. In addition, it participates in a number of EU programmes such as Horizon 2020 on research, Erasmus+ and COSME (Europe’s programme for small and medium-sized enterprises) and these too promote reform and administrative and regulatory convergence with the EU. Lastly, following the decision of the European Parliament and the Council in September 2017, Moldova can benefit from a 100 million euros of EU macro-financial assistance to Moldova (40 million euros of grants and 60 million euros of loans), provided it will meet the conditions attached to it. 

How advanced is Ukraine in fulfilling the provisions of the Association Agreement? It has been ranked 131st in the 2016 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index despite the continuous pressure from the EU to tackle corruption. Does it mean that Ukraine has failed on this front? 

We have been enthusiastic supporters of the whole range of Ukraine’s reforms and of its fight against corruption, in particular of the decisions to establish a number of anti-corruption institutions, to expose the incomes of state officials to public scrutiny, and the attempts being made now to ensure the successful prosecution of corruption in the court system. Of course, it will take time to bring about the change that is sought, that is the transformation from a situation in which corruption is almost part of the system to one in which corruption is not merely outlawed but has become culturally unacceptable. 

It would be premature, therefore, to suggest that Ukraine has entirely stalled on this front. Yet the fact is that there have yet to be any convictions in high-level cases, the independence of the National Anti-Corruption Agency is under challenge, and the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption is not yet in a position to effectively verify asset declarations made by public officials. On top of this, the authorities seem bent on making life awkward for anti-corruption activists and civil society organisations which attempt to challenge corruption at the highest levels, and this too is of concern. Along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and various other donors and international organisations, we are therefore concerned that there appears to be some backsliding in the fight against corruption. But I can assure you that we will maintain a steady and consistent pressure for further progress towards eliminating corruption in Ukraine. 

The Lithuanian Seimas has recently proposed a “Marshall Plan” for Ukraine which would aim to provide it with the economic, political and financial assistance of five billion euros annually to foster economic growth and development. The plan is now meant to be reviewed by the European Commission. How viable is the proposal?

The EU has made unprecedented levels of funding to Ukraine: a pledge of 12.8 billion euros to support political and economic reform, in the form of macro-financial support, loans and grants, not to mention the large amounts of funding offered to Ukraine by other donors and international organisations. In a sense, therefore, there is already a “Marshall Plan” in place.

Due in no small part to the efforts of international partners, including the EU, the Ukrainian economy has now largely been stabilised. Furthermore, Ukraine already has a reform plan: the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. The challenge is rather less one of raising more funding, but rather of how to ensure the optimal use of the grants and loans that have and are being made by the international community, to meet Ukraine’s reform priorities, including notably those for improving the business climate, the judicial system, and fighting corruption.

It is important that the Ukrainian authorities capitalise on those major reforms that have already been instigated, and take ownership of the future development of the country. There is every reason that Ukraine, which is a potentially huge market, will attract investment once investors can be confident of the security of property and of contract; the authorities need to be able to secure the market against corporate raiding and of theft in general. There is a need to look at innovative ways of using the funding already available to Ukraine, public and private, to make sure that lending reaches Ukrainian banks, Ukrainian businesses and Ukrainian start-ups and SMEs – the real economy. Rather than seeking new public money – money that may, incidentally, be difficult to absorb – the priority now should be on attracting that domestic and foreign private investment which would help to lift economic growth, to create jobs and to bring tangible benefits to Ukrainian citizens.

When will Ukraine join the EU?

The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement is intended to promote the political association and economic integration of Ukraine with the EU. The first priority is to ensure the full implementation of the Association Agreement, not least of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area which makes up its major part, in order to exploit to the fullest the opportunities afforded for the maximum benefit of both sides. We will continue to support Ukraine in the path it has chosen towards political association and economic integration. The Joint Declaration of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga in May 2015 reaffirmed the sovereign right of each partner freely to choose the level of ambition and the goals to which it aspires in its relations with the European Union: “It is for the EU and its sovereign partners to decide on how they want to proceed in their relations. (…) Summit participants acknowledge the European aspirations and European choice of the partners concerned, as stated in the Association Agreements.”

The terms of the new Armenia-EU Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement, which is expected to be signed shortly, is clearly less ambitious than the agreement abandoned in 2013. Most importantly, it lacks a free trade component. What are the main provisions of the new deal?

What we are looking at is a modern, comprehensive and ambitious Agreement, which will cover political, economic and sectoral cooperation. It will no doubt, once in force and implemented, broaden the scope of relations between the European Union and Armenia, taking into account the new global, political and economic interests shared by both sides and the challenges we want to face together. Our current agreement – the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement – is outdated. What we will put in place is something much more fit for the relationship we have now and the relationship we want to build. Of course, the new Agreement will be underpinned by shared common values and a strong commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. These will create favourable premises for stronger cooperation in sectors such as energy, transport, and the environment; for new opportunities for both sides’ trade and investment, but also for increased mobility to the benefit of our citizens. 

Azerbaijan also rejected the Association Agreement with the EU in 2013, one of the reasons being the lack of precise wording concerning the Karabakh conflict and clear support for the country’s territorial integrity. Is the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan, which is currently being negotiated, likely to address this issue? And what it is going to entail? 

Azerbaijan is an important partner for the European Union.  We want to upgrade our relationship and develop its full potential through a new bilateral agreement that replaces the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement of 1996, reflecting the significant development of relations between the EU and Azerbaijan since then. This new agreement, for which there is still no name, will broaden and deepen the scope of our relations, based on shared fundamental values and principles and taking into account the new global, political and economic interests we share and challenges faced together. The agreement will cover political, sectoral, trade and economic relations. On the conflict our position is clear: the European Union fully supports the efforts of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs aimed at immediate consideration of measures to reduce tensions on the ground, as well as at the re-engagement of the parties in negotiations on substance, in good faith and with the necessary political will.

What can we expect from the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit?

The upcoming Summit is an opportunity to build on our achievements to-date and also to inject new dynamism into our partnership. We need to be ambitious, but also realistic and credible. The Eastern Partnership comprises a set of very different countries, in different situations, with different expectations of their relationship with the European Union. Differentiation and ownership remain pivotal in our engagement. Our bilateral relations are tailored to the ambitions and needs of individual partner countries, but there is also a clear strategic value of maintaining the inclusive framework of the Eastern Partnership, which helps to focus the attention and resources and encourages cooperation within this region to tackle common challenges. 

At the Summit in November, we should focus on the issues that we can advance in together, not those that are divisive. To really focus on what we can collectively deliver, we have developed a vision of “20 deliverables for 2020”, which will bring results across each of the four priority areas identified at the last Summit in Riga: strengthening institutions and good governance; mobility and contacts between people; market opportunities; and inter-connectivity. I will not spoil the surprises, but I think it is fair to say that we are really making progress in all of these areas. Again, the Summit is an opportunity for all of us – as the European Union and as its Eastern Partners – to demonstrate the relevance and the benefits of our common work, and that we are stronger together.

Johannes Hahn is the European Union Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations.

Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska is an editor with New Eastern Europe.

The publication of this text was co-financed with a grant from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland within the framework of Public Diplomacy 2017 – II component Eastern dimension of Polish foreign policy 2017 and in partnership with Eastbook.eu. The publication expresses the views of the author only and should not be identified with the official position of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This interview also appeared in the Polish language at http://www.eastbook.eu/2017/10/16/rozmowa-johannes-hahn/ and in the Russian language at http://www.eastbook.eu/ru/2017/10/16/interview-johannes-hahn-eap/

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