The second summit of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership program got off on the wrong foot. First of all, it had to be postponed. It was originally scheduled to take place in May in Budapest but the Hungarian organizers anticipated serious issues with attendance. Most European leaders showed no enthusiasm for attending the summit and it was clear that the timing was far from perfect. As a result, the summit was put off until September 29 and 30 and relocated to the capital of Poland, which had always been the most active participant in the program on the EU side.
The new date proved even less appropriate. The EU’s economic issues aggravated and only a few European leaders attended the summit. The recent events in North Africa obviously pushed the Eastern Partnership program lower down the priority list for many EU governments. In addition to the EU’s bad relations with Alexander Lukashenko, a conflict with Ukraine flared up over the trial against the country’s former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Behind the scenes, Viktor Yanukovych promised that Tymoshenko would not be jailed if convicted following the decriminalization of the offence she is charged with. However, this promise is still to be delivered on.
The Belarusian issue escalated into a double scandal. First, Belarus was not represented at the summit at all, neither the foreign minister nor the ambassador showed up. Second, participants from Eastern Europe refused to sign a tough declaration on Belarus drafted at the summit.
The summit’s main declaration omitted any mention of the Eastern Partnership members joining the EU in the future despite the insistence of Ukraine and Georgia. However, scrapping visas, previously an issue that had been delegated to the distant future, was reclassified as one being actually addressed. The EU did not undertake any significant financial obligations. Meanwhile, the countries that are the main focus of the Eastern Partnership cannot boast of any major success in democratization or economic reform.
Moscow, which has sufficient grounds to consider the Eastern Partnership a program to restrict Russia’s influence over its neighbors, can note with satisfaction that the summit showed a lack of progress in the program implementation and lower priority the EU attaches to it. The meeting in Warsaw served to keep the program running but not to move it forward.
However, it would be a mistake to believe that Moscow’s economic pressure on its neighbors, which has been exacerbated by high gas prices and the launch of the Nord Stream pipeline, will go unopposed. Naturally, the country’s neighbors, particularly Ukraine and Belarus, will soon have to make serious concessions to Russia. But integration under pressure has one serious disadvantage: its results become very unstable as soon as the partners find an alternative. The European Union is currently preoccupied with other issues but it hasn’t thrown in the cards; it has simply taken a pause. The EU is a serious player in the field and its current difficulties should not mislead politicians that the EU’s position in this area can be disregarded.