Reports from the Warsaw Summit

The immediate aftermath of the second Eastern Partnership summit brought several different conclusions. The joint statement itself was a bland and uninspiring read. In true EU style, it read as though it was deliberately drafted so that you couldn’t get a story out of it if you rearranged all of the words in a completely different order. The view of the Swedish foreign minister, one of the most hawkish participants when it comes to human rights and the Eastern Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) sounded similarly unconvincing;

Others, less compromised, were also less inhibited. EurActive, a news website, described the summit as a diplomatic fiasco, inspired partly by the Polish opposition Law and Justice Party’s attacks on its government, currently conducting the EU Presidency.

The fiasco was two-fold. Firstly, no major announcement was made that could revitalise process that looks increasingly stalled in the wake of criticism of the Ukrainian government’s attitude to human rights and the rule of law. Secondly, an attempt to turn the boycott of the Belarussian government over criticism of their own human rights abuses to the organisers advantage failed to grab the imagination of the five countries that did turn up to negotiate enhanced relationships with the EU.

Few had very high hopes for the summit. Angela Merkel was one of two heads of government in attendance (including Donald Tusk of Poland who had little choice – in 2009, Merkel was the only premier to turn up and Germany undoes much of its good work in this regard by its close relations and bilateral energy dealings with Russia). However, Nick Clegg announced himself with a strongly-worded speech and this was to be a priority for the ambitious Polish EU Presidency.

Several problems with the ENP present themselves. The first is that the countries applying for what they ultimately hope will be an accession process are constrained by forces Europe hardly feels. Ukraine’s trial of Yulia Tymoshenko, which so exercises Western politicians (rightly) cannot be dropped while the Ukrainian government seek to renegotiate with Russia the basis of the gas deal for which she is being prosecuted. Many have similar experiences of corruption, subsidies that need to be reformed and uncomfortable domestic politics that are not as soluble as the EU would like to think.

The ENP is probably also underfunded; although the summit announced that the European Partnership would have a budget of €1.9bn, the €22m contribution towards building civil society and democratic movements has to be spread six ways. There is no politician in Europe today of sufficient clout or great internal need to subvert due process as has been done in so many cases in the past (Britain’s rebate, German Reunification, the Euro and the Schengen Treaty all spring to mind). Nonetheless, the importance of a westerly partner of strength and access to markets matters to the borderlands between Europe and Russia.

The major problem with the ENP is that it seeks to advance on a confessional basis. The Accession of 2004 followed economic ‘shock therapy’ and Serbia has moved rapidly along the road since the arrest of Ratklo Mladic earlier this year.

The Warsaw Summit attempted to make Belarus the sacrificial lamb by attempting to coerce the five attending parties to sign a declaration ostracising the Lukashenko regime. Admirable as this hard approach to Europe’s last dictator is, the governments of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia objected on the basis that this was somewhat irrelevant to the task at hand and amounted to bullying. On the former count, they had a point, though there is no doubt that they would have helped their cause by putting aside any concerns on the latter.

Calls in the wake of the summit for a more bilateral process (as opposed to trying to fit six very differently shaped countries into an inflexible process) have some merit – but they also fail to acknowledge that these negotiations are labour intensive at a time when the EU has to agree a new budget, an entirely new mechanism for dealing with sovereign debt crises and the potential admission of eight new members at a time of enlargement fatigue.

Those who say that baby steps toward visa liberalisation will advance the Eastern Partnership are not entirely wrong, but they are misguided if they think that these countries are ripe to be harvested. EU enlargement is entering its most difficult phase and much will depend on direction that Russia takes when Putin returns to office. This part of the world is not recovering from the financial crisis in a steady fashion and human rights are imperilled. That is why Poland has staked so much on these negotiations when it usually takes a hard line on human rights in the East.

Much like the response to the Eurozone crisis, the Warsaw Summit is not exactly a step backwards. On the other hand, the EU does not appear to be keeping pace. With Tymoshenko expected to be given a sentence of seven years next week, it is difficult to see the momentum continuing.

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