On May 13 & 14, the EU and 6 of its Eastern Neighbours are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership Policy. For the occasion, the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will hold a special anniversary Summit with their EU counterparts to mark the event. There will also be a number of associated events, including a celebratory concert, a dinner hosted by EU president Donald Tusk and a Civil Society Conference.
The EaP was launched in 2009 to reinforce relations between the EU and its Eastern neighbours. It is more a process than a policy however: neither a policy in the conventional sense, nor an organization, it has elements of both and essentially helps bring together all 34 countries. The process mobilizes the EU’s economic power of attraction, its soft power and its administrative capacity to pursue common goals, such as economic integration with the EU’s Eastern partners and the development in partner countries of political institutions and economic governance that are compatible with, and inspired by the EU.
The EaP involved in particular the negotiation of association agreements including “deep and comprehensive” trade provisions between the EU and its neighbours. Three of the EaP countries have now signed such agreements, while Armenia has signed a similar but slightly looser agreement, the “Comprehensive, Enhanced Partnership Agreement” (CEPA) that is compatible with its continued membership of the Eurasian Economic Union.
The official, governmental EaP is furthermore shadowed by an “EAP Civil Society Forum”. The facilitator of its Armenian platform, Boris Navasardyan, has accepted to give us an interview on this occasion.
Interview with Boris Navasardyan, Country facilitator for Armenia of the Civil Society Forum – the civil society component of the Eastern Partnership (EaP)
A seasoned journalist Boris Navasardyan is president of the Yerevan Press Club. He is also member of Council of Europe’s expert group on the civic participation in the decisions making.
The Civil Society Forum is composed of civil society organisations of EaP and of EU countries. In EaP countries, these organizations are structured into national platforms.
Question: What, in your opinion, are the Easter Partnership’s (EaP) main achievements?
Answer: The Eastern Partnership has been very helpful in defining priorities of EU’s relations with the 6 individual partner countries. It has now, at long last, signed association agreements with three of those countries [the Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova]; it has found a compromise version of the Agreement with Armenia; and it has designed very specific agendas for its relations with Azerbaijan and Belarus.
On the other hand, the EU almost completely failed in the multilateral track, because the 6 countries of the region are now even more different than they were 10 years ago.
For Armenia specifically, the EaP in general and the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) agreement in particular provided a good opportunity to design a national development programme and thus compensate for the lack of vision of both the old and the new government.
Of course, the EU’s financial support is also an invaluable advantage in this new stage of cooperation.
So, it is now up to the Armenian government to develop effective action plans in each thematic priority of CEPA. The context is now favourable to progress thanks to the greater legitimacy and public support of the new Armenian authorities since the “velvet revolution”; thanks to the trust of the EU in the goodwill of Armenia; and thanks to the EU’s flexibility and creativity.
“The context is now favourable to progress”
Q: Why is this 10th anniversary significant?
A: The event is significant because it is the right time to assess the progress of the Eastern Partnership and once more attract attention to the EaP in the EU. Of course, attention involves the risk of exposing the EaP to criticism for its shortcomings, particularly in the run-up to the European elections.
For Armenia the celebration will be a timely reminder of the need to start implementing the CEPA Agreement signed in November 2017. Implementation has been lagging in the last months of the previous government and in the first year of the new and the Armenian public also does not yet understand how this treaty could help change the country. Public discussion of the CEPA and of the EaP in the media in the coming days will certainly contribute to a greater awareness of the significance of EU-Armenia cooperation.
Q: What is the role of the Civil Society Forum in the EaP?
A: Initially, the civil society engagement of the Eastern Partnership was unprecedented and very ambitious: the mission of the EaP Civil Society Forum (CSF) was to contribute to the formulation of the agenda of the EaP, to help monitor its implementation and to raise public awareness about the EaP throughout Europe.
But it soon appeared that the European bureaucracy was not prepared to delegate such a power to the Forum, and also, to be fair, that the civil society organizations involved in the CSF did not always have the required capacity. As a result, the CSF has not really served as a counterweight to the official process, and relations between the official EU institutions and the Forum have been those of a contractor with a service provider, or of a donor with a grantee.
The CSF has of course been very pro-active in its advocacy for the respect of human rights and the rule of law, and to help protect and strengthen democratic institutions. However, the results in this specific spheres arguably do not involve much added value beyond what civil society might have achieved without the Forum.
The CSF Armenian National Platform (ANP) had a very difficult period between 2013, when Armenia refused to sign the Association Agreement it had negotiated with the EU, and 2016, when negotiation on CEPA started. The uncertainty in the relations with the EU during that period caused an existential crisis in the Platform, but we eventually overcame it and the platform subsequently thrived.
“If a common regional identity was developed anywhere,
the CSF is where we nurtured it.”
Q: What would you say has been the CsF’s main contribution?
A: The Forum has been the only part of the EaP process where real constructive multilateral cooperation of the representatives of all 6 partner countries and EU colleagues sustained. If a common regional identity was developed anywhere, the CSF is where we nurtured it.
Together, we have carried out dozens of projects over the past 10 years to address such issues as fighting corruption, empowering women and youth in the region, improving the business environment, promoting energy security, creating social dialogue and more.
I would especially like to stress such joint products of the Forum as reports on European Integration Index and Media Freedom that allow objective comparisons between EaP countries.
Overall, hundreds of NGOs have mobilized in the CSF to promote the success of the Eastern Partnership.
Q: How would you describe your role in the CsF?
A: I have been facilitating the ANP [the Armenian National Platform of the CSF] 5 years out of 9 and have read my mandate as implementer of the Forum’s mission in the national level. Thanks to our efforts, Armenia was the first country with a national platform, complete with a leadership, bylaws, legal registration and a secretariat. Until recent times we even had the largest membership, with more than 260 CSOs. I am proud to say that we established an ideal vehicle that is capable of delivering any contribution to the EU-Armenia cooperation. It just needs fuel (recognition and resources) to effectively utilize its potential.
Unfortunately, despite the considerable support provided by the EU to the CSOs of Armenia, the ANP has not been a significant recipient. This reflects an ambivalence on the EU’s part towards the structure for civil society engagement which it initiated. As a result, most of the achievement of the different national platforms, including the Armenian one, were fueled mainly by the enthusiasm of their members.
Besides being CSF Country facilitator, I was have also played a role in the CSF as a whole, in various capacities.
Q: What are your hopes for the future?
A: This 10 year-anniversary of the Eastern Partnership is helping to identify the depth and potential for europeanization of the 6 countries of the former USSR. People used to divide EaP countries into two groups – those which had signed Association Agreements and the rest. The new approach is to single out the Armenian case as an intermediate category, but my understanding is that there are in fact 6 different countries, and each needs to build their relations with the EU in its own way. And I believe that Armenia will be a model from the point of view of cooperation with the EU through the implementation of the CEPA. Of course, the outcome will depend not only on the national government and on their counterparts in Brussels, but also on the greater engagement in the process of civil society and especially of the EaP CSF national platform.
Q: What is the diaspora’s role in the EaP and the CsF, if any?
A: My impression is that there are some influential circles in Europe’s Armenian Diaspora that are quite eurosceptical and that this translates into a reluctance to welcome a deepening of EU-Armenia relations. I would expect from our compatriots in Europe that they assess bi-lateral cooperation between Armenia and the EU independently from the crisis manifestations and from certain failures in the member states or in the Eastern neighborhood.
Armenia is a sovereign participant of this process and has all opportunities not to repeat others and its own mistakes, to use CEPA fully in line of our vision of the future of the nation.
Armenian diaspora organisations have well known lobbying capacities in Europe. They should work more closely with the Armenian government, civil society and expert community to develop a common agenda and its implementation in the context of Brussels-Yerevan relations.
The EaP’s 10 Anniversary Events
- On Monday 13 in the morning, EU foreign ministers will meet their counterparts from the Eastern partner countries for their annual joint session. On the same day, beginning at 18.30, President Tusk will host the leaders of the Eastern Partnership Countries for dinner.
- On Tuesday 14, a high level conference will take place at the European Commission (Charlemagne building). More information HERE.
- On Tuesday 14, the Civil Society Platform will hold its own conference. More information HERE.