Joint Press Statement by the Jean Monnet ‘NEMESIS’ Project: The Eastern Partnership of the EU: Interim Results, Status Quo and Future Trends
Vienna, 25 April 2018: Representatives from “NEMESIS”, an interdisciplinary cooperation project between the Universities of Amsterdam, Bremen, Rostov na Donu (Russia), Collegium Civitas in Warsaw and the University of Applied Sciences BFI Vienna met in Vienna to discuss interim results, the status quo and future trends of the Eastern Partnership. In the evening, there was a public event including a panel discussion dealing with the topic at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna.
When the EU elaborated its Global Strategy in June 2016, perhaps its most important geopolitical aim was the need to “project a clear vision of what the EU stands for and seeks to achieve in the world”. The Eastern Partnership (EaP) represents the EU’s most significant and far reaching initiative in this regard. The Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova imply the anchoring of these states within the EU’s political and economic orbit. Much has been achieved since the inception of the EaP in 2009; visa free regimes are in place, and the EU has become the most significant trade partner for UA, MD and GE. Nevertheless, fundamental change in the Eastern Neighbourhood remains elusive: democracy is fragile, corruption prevails, territories are splintered and the development of open and resilient societies remains far from the stated goals of the EaP. What is more, it is not clear to what degree has the EaP been able shape wider perceptions of the EU and its roles, real and potential.
The contribution of the “NEMESIS” project
The NEMESIS project has attempted to map these perceptions within both institutional as well as popular imaginaries, looking at initiatives in several of the partner states. Bringing together a unique combination of expertise ranging from cultural studies, anthropology, geography, economics, history, international relations and religious studies, project researchers have looked at how the EaP has become a crucial symbolic and strategic battleground, in spheres ranging from business cultures to education to the strategic use of the media. The title of the project – NEMESIS – was intended, indeed, to speak to these contested imaginations and narratives.
The impact of competing grand narratives
The leading project team at the Southern Federal University in Rostov na Donu engaged directly with the impact of such competing grand narratives on both existing policies and longer term political agendas for the EU and Russia. Examining official policy documents as well as their reception and perception in the media and educational spheres, they traced several such dominant narratives, and their impact on the potential ‘take-up’ of policy initiatives such as the EaP. These include defensive ones, portraying Russia as historically a victim or target of aggression and, at the same time, as the repository and protector of cultural values that the West has abandoned. Other narratives respond to the notion of a ‘normative’ Europe as the global enforcer of human rights, perceived as reflecting a hegemonic ambition. Within such a perceptual ‘hegemony-defence axis’, the competition in defining and claiming the ‘extended neighborhood’ is likely to continue and must be recognized.
Competing initiatives in the realms of culture and language promotion
Researchers at the University of Amsterdam examined the role of such competing initiatives more specifically in the realms of culture and language promotion, focusing both on Russian activities in its “near abroad” as well as comparable – largely absent – initiatives by the EU and Member States. The case of Ukraine is emblematic in this regard: Russia’s expectations of holding a ‘comparative advantage’ have not been fully realized, even prior to 2014, pointing to the limits of Russian ‘soft power’. At the same time, the EU has failed to adequately respond to Ukrainians’ perceptions of Europeanness, and what was considered (for a while at least) as a clear compatibility of Ukrainian cultural nation-building with a wider European framework of ‘unity in diversity’.
Persisting political risks for international businesses in the EaP region
Shifting the focus to political risks for international businesses in the EaP region, researchers at the Competence Centre for Black Sea Region Studies at the University of Applied Science BFI Vienna have noted how incentives by the EU to initiative reforms in order to create safer business environments have not been strong enough. As their field study in Ukraine revealed, political risks such as corruption, state capture, weak institutions and legal uncertainty still prevail. At the same time, the either-or-decision to join the EaP or the EEU has been perceived to have been a potential trigger of political instability and geopolitical conflict. Ukraine, indeed, became a symbol of the mis-match of certain EU strategies carried out in the course of the EaP, embodied in an often repeated saying describing the outcome as `the opposite of well-meant is badly done´. Given these perceptions, the future challenge is to avoid such geopolitical deadlock, while defining stronger reform enforcement strategies.
The need for a re-calibrated EaP
In similar vein, at the Collegium Civitas in Warsaw, researchers working in collaboration with colleagues in Moldova, have shown that the EaP requires a significant re-calibration in order to fulfill its potential, to support sustainable development in the region and to provide a real foothold for pro-European reformers. First, the EU needs to recognize and address the reality of state capture and oligarchic capitalism and its deleterious effects upon societies. Second, a more focused and informed approach to civil society on the part of the EU needs to emerge: involving civil society in the nitty-gritty of EaP implementation is essential for sustainable Europeanisation. Third, the EaP should put renewed focus on working with a bigger variety of stakeholders that have vital interests in Europeanisation, including higher education, local communities and individual entrepreneurs.
The role of local communities and individuals
Researchers at the University of Bremen have engaged directly with the role that can be played by local communities and individuals, speaking directly to one of the ‘blind spots’ of the EaP – and prominent in the most recent calls for a revised architecture, ‘focused on citizens’ needs and aspirations’, as announced by HR Federica Mogherini at the Brussels summit in November 2017. The Bremen research has highlighted, indeed, the potential and perceived impact of initiatives such as the EaP in people’s daily lives, in realms as diverse as mobility, employment and energy supply. While the participation of civil society is a stated goal of the EaP, this remains abstract to most people in the countries of the Eastern Partnership. For citizens, the initiative and the EU itself appear like a ‘black box’, linked to unfulfilled desires and dreams for a better life. To extend its impact and effectiveness, a ‘re-booted’ EaP would need to take fully account of the widely diverse local contexts, desires, and capacities, but also the perceptions and ‘emotional geopolitics’ framing what Europe is and can become for its partner countries – for the region’s elites, but also for its citizens.
Co-funded by: Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union
European Commission support for the production of this Press Release does not constitute endorsement of the contents which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Project Title: “Memory and Securitization in the European Union and Neighbourhood” (NEMESIS) Project Number: 565149-EPP-1-2015-1-RU-EPPJMO-NETWORK