The Unrequited Eastern Partnership with Georgia

The French think tank IFRI has published a 22-page report on the Eastern Partnership initiative (EaP) and Georgia which finds that significant problems and obstacles exist for the establishment of a successful neighborhood policy.  We still think the EU has the best chance of working on conflict resolution in the Caucasus, but there appears to be a lack of political will to do the heavy lifting.

The EU’s markedly more visible involvement in Georgia allows a greater understanding of the wide range of activities that it was undertaking in the lead up to the 2008 war. With the introduction of the EaP in May 2009, the EU has an opportunity to breathe new life into its relations with the countries to its East rather than just “showing commitment” to them. The EaP must be used to its fullest extent by all involved in order to avoid it becoming just an empty signal of political support in response to a time of heightened tensions.

Georgia will be an eager participant in the EaP: the policy allowingTbilisi to advance its own reform project, to disassociate itself fromRussia and possibly to rally others to its cause. What is less certain,however, is the degree of involvement from the EU member states. TheCommission’s proposal stresses the value which member states can bring,and plans to expand delegations in the partner countries show that theCommission will uphold its end of the bargain. Yet the commitment ofWestern European states in particular is by no means clear: some fearthat there is little enthusiasm for the initiative.57 The EaP haspotential, but it must be realized through sustained member stateparticipation, and it must not become a token gesture. If such lowestcommon denominator thinking prevails, then the EU will again fail todevelop effective policies in this region. It is down to Sweden, as oneof the co-sponsors of the project, to use its 2009 EU Presidency toadvance the development of the project and add real content to theproposals.

It is also clear in Georgia’s case that while the EaP has thepotential to become a more effective Neighborhood Policy, it is not asubstitute for an effective conflict policy. Indeed, it was notdesigned as a policy to tackle conflict issues. The proposal containsonly a timid recognition of the importance of conflict resolution forthe EU. Whilst this shows a continued awareness of the problem, itamounts to nothing more than the repetition of intentions outlined inprevious ENP documents. Furthermore, in recognition of Russia’s keyrole in any solution, the EaP–in which it does not participate–is notthe forum in which a resolution will be elaborated. Having said that,if the reforms are successful, conditions will be more favorable forconflict resolution.