The English language online workshop entitled “Understanding the relations between the European Union and the Post-Soviet Countries - Drama or Prosperity?” organised in the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe was implemented as a result of the cooperation of the European Public Law Organisation – EPLO, the Europe Direct Szeged and the International and Regional Studies Institute of the University of Szeged, Faculty of Law and Political Sciences.
The so-called Eastern Partnership is one of the major areas of the Neighbourhood Policy of the European Union, concentrating on the Post-Soviet countries, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and the Ukraine.
Several bilateral and multilateral political and economic agreements have been drawn up by now between the EU and countries covered by the Eastern Partnership. However, as reports about the achieved results regularly point out, historical, political, cultural and economic differences lingering between the Western world and the countries of the Eastern Partnership, hinder the latter in improving their “democracy indicators” and establishing an ever closer relationship with the EU.
The sensitivity of Post-Soviet countries towards external events and actors also makes it difficult – sometimes almost impossible – to successfully implement the Eastern Partnership.
The workshop organised by the Europe Direct Szeged and the International and Regional Studies Institute of the University of Szeged, Faculty of Law and Political Sciences focused on the relations between the EU and the Post-Soviet countries within the frame of the Eastern Partnership, with special focus on legal, political, economic, cultural, geographical and trade related points of view. The central question of the workshop organised online was to enumerate the possibilities of Post-Soviet countries to develop their relationships with the European Union regarding democracy, human rights and the rule of law, either separately or together.
Dr. Várkonyi-Gültekin Gizem, assistant professor at the International and Regional Studies Institute of the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences opened the discussion and also played the role of the moderator of the event. Ioseb Nanobashvili, Former Ambassador of Georgia to the Hellenic Republic and to the Republic of Serbia, Director of the EPLO Regional Branch for the South Caucasus held a lecture entitled “EU accession prospects and challenges for South-East European states: Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova”. In his lecture, he identified as a problem and serious shortcomings of the Eastern Partnership that the strategy of the EU does not provide a real “European perspective” for states cooperating within the Eastern Partnership. Cooperation in its current form only allows drawing up a limited curve of development and convergence, unlike in the case of the Western Balkan states whose cooperation agreements clearly outline the possibility of future membership.
In his lecture entitled “Relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union” Zoltán Egeresi, Researcher at the National University of Public Service, Institute for Strategic and Defence Studies, devoted to examining the relationship of Azerbaijan and the European Union, underlined: approaching the European Union and economic relations with the EU is a key area of the foreign policy of Azerbaijan, but the past thirty years of the country have been chaotic and the exact present state of affairs can only be understood in the light of the events of this period. One of the several points emphasised by the lecturer was that we had to take into account the sensitive relationship between Azerbaijan and Georgia while forming the neighbourhood policy of the European Union and that stability has to be a key priority.
Máté Csicsai, Policy Assistant to the Deputy Director-General in charge of the Eastern Neighbourhood, European Commission held a lecture entitled “Reforms and Resilience: Transforming Ukraine and the Eastern Neighbourhood”. He stressed: the European Union seeks to build the Eastern Partnership policy on values such as prosperity, democracy and stability. In the framework of this, supporting media plurality and non-governmental organisations, as well as promoting the idea of the rule of law have a special importance. The European Union tries – more or less successfully – to strengthen these values, also part of the European identity, in the region, therefore promoting them is one of the main objectives of the strategy. But all these are also completed with instrumental efforts, like supporting growth in economic performance, establishing the institutional framework of democratic governance or social mobility. Concerning the latter, the lecturer emphasised that the European Union tries to promote knowledge transfer with the countries of the region through several research programs and the Erasmus program. He also stated that investment and governance would be the two main pillars of the new Eastern Partnership policy of the EU.
Bernadett Szőke-Kis, Ph.D candidate, University of Szeged, Doctoral School of Law examined states covered by the workshop starting out from their Soviet past in her lecture entitled “Gain, Responsibility, Gained Responsibility? The EU and the Post-Soviet Secessionist Entities”. As the researcher explained in her lecture: we have to treat the Post-Soviet countries primarily as an independent region, formed on the territory of the former Soviet Union and born because of the fall of the Soviet Union. The identity of these states is first of all defined by the will to build independence. The researcher of the University of Szeged presented, among others, the so-called “non-recognition and engagement” policy of the European Union in her lecture, which is able to combine the diversity of political and economic instruments and policies striving at conflict management, also ensuring the possibility for the EU to be present in the region in a neutral but effective manner.
The lectures were followed by an intensive debate. Inter alia, it was noted that one of the key points of the development of the questions discussed at the event would be the EU Neighbourhood Policy, determining the Eastern Partnership, to be published in December 2021.