Discussing the future of the Eastern Partnership with Think Tankers from Region

On 16 October 2019, IEP organized an event on “The Eastern Partnership beyond 2020: Joining efforts for a more effective policy” in the framework of the Berlin Policy Hub. In an informal setting 50 repre­sen­ta­tives from think tanks, author­ities, and media from both Germany and the region met to discuss the future of the Eastern Partnership (EaP).

After a warm welcome by IEP Director Katrin Böttger, the Special Repre­sen­tative for the Eastern Partnership of the Federal Foreign Office, Hans-Jürgen Heimsoeth, voiced his interest in the forth­coming discus­sions and ideas formu­lated by think tankers from the region.

The discussion on the future of the Eastern Partnership took place in four thematic working groups: 1) Design of the EaP, 2) Gover­nance and Rule of Law, 3) Economic Devel­opment and 4) the Security Dimension of the EaP. After input from think tank repre­sen­ta­tives from the EaP countries on potential reforms and sugges­tions for improvement in the specific fields, each group engaged in a lively discussion on the feasi­bility and potential obstacles of the proposals made. Subse­quently, the outcomes were presented by working group rappor­teurs to the plenum and commented by Ambas­sador Heimsoeth.

The working group on the overall Design of the Eastern Partnership put forward the idea of eventually offering the EaP countries a complete integration into the European single market including the four freedoms and suggested to further insti­tu­tion­alize political consul­ta­tions between EaP countries and the EU. The idea of a differ­en­ti­ation within the EaP was highly debated as it repre­sents a tradeoff between a potential reward mechanism for countries that achieve progress in reforms and the risk of discour­agement for other countries and their societies. The idea to differ­en­tiate insti­tu­tionally between the EaP countries according to their progress, was also rejected by Ambas­sador Heimsoeth, in order not to split the EaP group.

The working group on Gover­nance and Rule of Law identified two main issues that need to be addressed more effec­tively within the EaP framework: the slow process of decen­tral­ization and the lacking indepen­dence of the judiciary. Ambas­sador Heimsoeth agreed on the need for more decen­tral­ization, but called for more specific target defin­i­tions and more tangible proposals on how to achieve it. Also the need to increase capac­ities of government author­ities and admin­is­tra­tions was highlighted.

The group on Economic Devel­opment voiced its support for multi­lateral dialogue, which is necessary to assess cross-border issues and solve them together, partic­u­larly with regard to Russia, as the Russian factor still consti­tutes a massive investment barrier. Ambas­sador Heimsoeth additionally mentioned FDIs as a factor contributing to reducing unemployment and supporting economic devel­opment.

Sugges­tions for improvement presented by the working group on the Security Dimension of the EaP included among other things the integration of the EaP countries into the Common Foreign and Security Policy, rather than the current punctual cooper­ation in certain fields. According to Ambas­sador Heimsoeth’s assessment, there is potential for an inten­si­fi­cation of bilateral cooper­ation.

Following the discussion, all partic­i­pants were invited to an informal networking dinner, where the think tank repre­sen­ta­tives from Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine had the oppor­tunity to present themselves at a “fair of oppor­tu­nities” and further discuss the future of the EaP with their German inter­locutors.

The Berlin Policy Hub is part of the “Europeanization beyond process” initiative supported by the Open Society Founda­tions and aims to intensify exchanges between Eastern European think tanks and their German counter­parts and to facil­itate new forms of cooper­ation. The project gives think tankers from Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine the oppor­tunity to present their expertise and research results to a German audience, while at the same time gaining a better under­standing of the discourse within Germany on these topics.