EU Can't Entice Eastern Partnership States without Membership
The European Union summit in Warsaw over the weekend featured a dialogue between the EU and the former Soviet states of the Ukraine, Belarus Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia . This forum is called the Eastern Partnership and was originally conceived in 2009 by Poland and Sweden before the European Union became preoccupied with its own economic difficulties.
Its objective is to draw these states closer to the EU and help them grow economically and democratically.
Poland, the country hosting the gathering as rotating president of the EU, has a vested interest in the partnership's success. Despite improved relations between Warsaw and Moscow, Poland still casts a wary eye on its historic enemy. Democratic buffer states between Poland and Russia who are firmly out of Russia's orbit represent a strategic objective of Polish foreign policy.
With the possible exception of the Ukraine, which may yet get an association agreement by the end of the year, the Eastern Partnership appears to be dead.
One of the major enticements of the EU in the past for new applicants was the prospect of generous economic assistance. Currently, the European Union is being pressed by the member countries to cut rather than increase its budget.
Secondly, members of the European Union who are cultivating ties with Russia for the sake of energy security and increased trade, are not interested in stirring up trouble with the old-new master of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin. A further EU encroachment on what used to be the Soviet Union would be frowned upon by Putin, who regards the dissolution of the Soviet state as a tragedy.
The EU can hold out little prospect for future membership – a membership earned by greater democracy and diminished corruption. Ukraine may be the exception due to the country's size and strategic location, but in Brussels and Kiev nobody is talking about imminent membership.
Belarus boycotted the meeting because President Alexander Lukashenko was barred from attending due to his violations of democratic and human rights, and also because the conclave was openly critical of the regime. Despite the EU's economic problems it still dangled the carrot of substantial economic assistance if the Belarus regime freed political prisoners and conducted free elections.
Brussels is counting on the difficult economic situation in Belarus. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told a news conference "For the first time we see a situation in which the EU, very decisively and in a spirit of solidarity, makes help for Belarus conditional on tangible changes. These are not radical changes. This is the bare minimum that any European person expects."
Lukashenko has turned down the assistance, because he is not likely to survive a free election. He accused the EU of grandstanding on Belarus to deflect attention away from its own problems.
More embarrassing for the EU was the fact that the other guests refused to sign a declaration condemning repression in Belarus.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was told that the EU would look badly if the trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko ends up with a guilty verdict and imprisonment, but the Ukrainian president was also invited to Brussels for talks this month.
The summit, however, was a useful backdrop for Prime Minister Tusk in the run-up to the Polish elections scheduled for next Sunday. Tusk's Civic Platform Party is strongly pro-Brussels while the opposition Law and Justice Party is Euroskeptic.