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4 November, 2013 16:15   ▪  

Experts: EU’s toolbox for Eastern Partnership countries suffers from major weaknesses

Compared to previous EU policies, the EaP toolbox has greater potential to introduce and stimulate domestic reforms in the region. However, the EU's toolbox suffers from major weaknesses, resulting in a series of gaps with partner countries, a senior research fellow at the Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS) Laure Delcour and reader in Politics and International Studies at the University of Birmingham Kataryna Wolczuk in their paper for European Policy Center admit.

“There is a huge discrepancy between the level of development that the acquis presupposes, and partner countries' current situation,” experts admit. Moreover, the extensive use of conditionality generates more systematic convergence, yet it widens the gap between EU rules and EaP countries' immediate needs. The one more weakness is poor number of incentives offered: DCFTAs include little short-term economic benefits for partner countries while these have to bear considerable upfront costs. Thus, Laure Delcour and Kataryna Wolczuk claim that while the EU's approach makes full sense as a long-term strategy of rapprochement and possibly as leverage for transformation and modernisation, it entails considerable short term challenges for EaP countries.

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This is because the EU has designed its strategy with internal lenses. It has overlooked both partner countries' specific needs and regional ties. Each of these countries has its own political and economic trajectory and a distinctively intricate set of relations with the EU and Russia. While most of them want to move towards the EU, all of them are and will remain one way or another, dependent on Russia. Against this backdrop, the conclusion of the Association Agreements in Vilnius is just a first step in terms of integrating the Eastern neighbours with the EU.

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The EU will have to tackle some challenges to keep the EaP on track. Once the Association Agreements are concluded with Moldova, Georgia and possibly Ukraine, the focus should be on facilitating implementation. It is important that the EU promotes institutional and regulatory solutions which are most attuned to the context of the country and hence likely to result in actual, even if gradual, implementation.

It is also important that the EU continues to engage with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus, taking into account the specific situation of each country. Finally, having recognised the enormous pressure on EaP countries to join the Eurasian regime, the EU ought to better take into account the regional context in which the EaP operates. To be effective, the Union should de-centre its policies from its own experience and craft a nuanced and contexualised strategy. It also needs to deliver on its promises, primarily on visa liberalisation.

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