10 years of Eastern Partnership
The aim of the Eastern Partnership launched a decade ago was to bring partner countries closer to the European Union in terms of, among others, values. However, the programme fostered exchanges between neighbours in many aspects, such as economy, politics and culture. The 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership celebrated this year is a good opportunity to sum up the achievements of the EU Eastern policy in recent years.
The Eastern Partnership is a result of fruitful joint initiative of Poland and Sweden, which in 2008 proposed to launch a platform for regional cooperation and facilitation of closer relations with the Eastern European neighbours of Brussels. On 7 May 2009 in Prague, the initiative was officially launched during the summit of the heads of States and governments of the EU and partner countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
The objective of the project was to bring EU and EaP countries closer, including by means of practical and institutional assistance in the implementation of mutual cooperation agreements, progressive liberalisation of visa requirements, and ultimately – a visa waiver for EaP countries, as well as assistance in removing commercial, energy-related and infrastructural barriers. The ways to achieve these objectives included: strengthening State institutions and supporting administration reforms; supporting the involvement of civic society, pluralism and independence of the media; supporting economic development and market opportunities, developing transport connections and increasing energy security and energy efficiency. The partnership was also supposed to have a very literal dimension embodied by visa facilitations, youth exchange programmes and cultural cooperation aimed at establishing stronger connections between the citizens of the EU and the EaP.
A decade of cooperation
The last decade has brought numerous changes. Since 2009, three partner countries: Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine signed association agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas agreements, thanks to which they now enjoy visa-free systems. Thanks to the opening of the markets, the trade between them and the EU started to increase extremely fast, which made them less dependent from the Russian market. For instance, since 2009 more than 37 thousand Georgian companies took out loans for the total of EUR 882 million. Thanks to the agreement, the EU is now also the main commercial partner of Moldova and the biggest investor in that country. The agreement with the EU also strengthened the economy of Ukraine, fighting against the economic crises after the Russian annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of the war in Donbas. The Ukraine imports to the EU increased by as much as 27%, thanks to which EU Member States strengthened their position as Ukraine’s main commercial partner with their 42% share in trade.
The comprehensive and enhanced partnership agreement (CEPA) was recently signed by the EU and Armenia. Even though the CEPA does not create a free-trade area for the purpose of trade between the EU and Armenia, it provides many new opportunities for cooperation and adoption of EU norms and standards by the Armenian economy.
Yet another important step was the implementation of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan. The first implementing state was Moldova whose citizens can visit EU Member States for leisure without visa since 1 April 2014. The last EaP country that entered into a visa waiver agreement with the EU for the holders of biometric passports was Ukraine. Its citizens started to explore new opportunities immediately. According to the data provided by the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, between June 2017, when the liberalisation was introduced, and January 2019 as many as 2 million Ukrainian citizens took advantage of the short-stay visa-waiver.
As an initiator of the Eastern Partnership and a country with strong historical, economic, cultural and personal links with the countries of the region, Poland is actively involved in strengthening ties and enhancing cooperation between the European Union and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The flagship project of the EaP carried out by Poland and targeted at all six EaP countries is the EaP Academy of Public Administration attended by 504 officials from the six countries between 2011 and 2018.
Real support is also provided by Poland through development aid projects. Polish Aid supports activities in the area of good governance, human capital, media pluralism, entrepreneurship and public sector, as well as agriculture and rural development. Worth mentioning are also projects related to crisis management at national and local levels and projects supporting people subjected to internal resettlement in Ukraine. In Georgia, the Polish support enables the solutions to be implemented to prevent natural disasters and catastrophes and to strengthen the system of preventing domestic violence and protecting victims of violence. In Belarus, the projects carried out supported the system of child custody and people with disabilities, while in Armenia and Azerbaijan the projects were targeted at environment protection, people at the risk of exclusion, agriculture and rural areas. As part of human capital exchanges, young people of six EaP countries study at Polish universities. In 2019 the Stefan Banach scholarship programme available to them helps to educate more than 200 people!