Mind the Gap in the Eastern Partnership:
Opportunities and Limitations of the EU`s Foreign Policy in Belarus and Moldova
MA East European Studies
Supervisor: Dr. Carlos Reijnen
Second reader: Dr. Christian Noack June 2021
Table of Contents
Abstract ... 2
List of Abbreviations ... 3
1. Introduction ... 4
2. Theoretical Framework ... 6
2.1. Soft Power ... 6
2.2. EU External Governance ... 8
2.2.1. Foreign Policy and CFSP ... 8
2.2.2. ENP and EaP ... 10
3. Methodological Framework ... 14
3.1. Layout and Methods ... 14
3.2. Case Selection ... 15
4. EaP in Belarus ... 16
4.1. EU – Belarus bilateral relations ... 16
4.2. Economy ... 18
4.3. Governance ... 23
4.4. Society ... 27
5. EaP in Moldova ... 33
5.1. EU – Moldova bilateral relations ... 33
5.2. Economy ... 35
5.3. Governance ... 39
5.4. Society... 44
6. Conclusion ... 48
Bibliography ... 51
The thesis looks at the EU as a soft power actor and examines its external policy approach towards its Eastern neighbors – Belarus and Moldova. Through the Eastern Partnership (EaP), the EU has established a special framework of cooperation with these countries, yet its effectiveness remains questionable depending on the area of cooperation. On one hand, the thesis aims to identify and analyze such areas where the EU`s strategic objectives and foreign policy instruments have proved to be successful thus far. On the other hand, areas in which such an approach has been challenged and limited are similarly distinguished and evaluated.
As such, the rendered research seeks to provide a sectoral analysis (institutional; economic;
social) of the EaP implementation within Belarus and Moldova, and subsequently compare the advancement and shortcomings therein between the two countries. Looking beyond the scope of the EaP framework, other external factors that hinder the effectiveness of the EU – EaP-country cooperation are considered.
Keywords: Eastern Partnership; Belarus; Moldova; EU external policy; Eastern neighborhood;
sectoral cooperation; partnership building
List of Abbreviations
AA – Association Agreement AP – Action Plan
CBC - Cross-Border Cooperation CSO – Civil Society Organization
CFSP – Common Foreign and Security Policy
DCFTA – Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area
DG MOVE – Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport
DG NEAR – Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations EAEU – Eurasian Economic Union
EaP – Eastern Partnership
EaP CFS - Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum
EBRD - European Bank for Reconstruction and Development EC – European Commission
EEAS – European External Action Service EIB – European Investment Bank
ENI – European Neighborhood Instrument ENP – European Neighborhood Policy EP – European Parliament
EUEOMS – EU Election Observation Mission
E5P - Eastern Europe Energy Efficiency and Environment Partnership FPI – Foreign Policy Instrument
IFI - International Financial Institution MS – Member State
PCA – Partnership and Cooperation Agreement SME – Small and Medium-sized Enterprise TCA – Trade and Cooperation Agreement TEN-T – Trans-European Transport Network
The geopolitical space between the EU and Russia is not particularly in the limelight of daily EU affairs – internal or external. As the world`s most successful regional integration group, the EU naturally seeks relations with other important actors and trade blocs whilst strengthening its domestic conditions. Nonetheless, the countries that exist on the EU`s eastern periphery - yet are not its member states - ought to be given a separate and unique attention. In order to consolidate power (civilian; normative; market) over the European continent, it is crucial for the EU to maintain and further develop relations with its direct neighboring countries. In recent years, Ukraine has been especially in the spotlight due to unfavorable (geo)political conflicts and power-games, and thus also the EU has been increasingly more involved therewith. However, countries such as Belarus and Moldova are, in parallel, in complex political and economic situations; yet there is an evident lack of engagement from both sides. This sort of vacuum between Europe and Russia gives the EU the opportunity to establish and enhance its particular state-of-the-art external policy towards these border-line countries. The motivations for thence are manifold; from an increased security in the region, to facilitated flow of human capital, augmented trade, and thriving bilateral and multilateral relations on all levels.
In 2009, the EU created a special framework of cooperation with six of its eastern post-Soviet neighbors; namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. (European Commission 2020a) The reasoning behind the selection of concretely Belarus and Moldova will be later explained (Chapter 3.2.), and the thesis will consequently provide a comparative study of the two countries and their sectoral cooperation vis-à-vis the EU. In other words, I will aim to analyze the gap (when existent) between the EU`s narrative and action plans on one hand, and the measures and action steps implemented on the other. In order to do so in a coherent way, three main areas of cooperation will be identified (economy; governance;
society), and their respective analysis conducted. Accordingly, tangible results (or lack thereof) over the past decade will be examined in these cooperation areas in both Belarus and Moldova.
The EU has expressed and promoted a positive rhetoric regarding the past 12 years of the EaP existence; nevertheless, the many issues encountered along the way (including slow
democratic reforms, conflicts over territorial integrity, et al.) have been associated with an ever-growing ‘EaP fatigue’. Academics, think tanks, and other experts on both national and EU level point towards the relative inefficiency of the one-size-fits-all approach of the EaP framework. (College of Europe 2019) The initial enthusiasm for the new EaP program has been gradually subsiding and replaced by a more realistic and pragmatic rapprochement of the EU`s foreign policy towards its eastern neighbors. Each of the EaP countries is very specific in its domestic political and socio-economic affairs, and hence also their relation and cooperation with the EU is then carried out and accomplished differently. How does this demonstrate within distinct sectors in Belarus and Moldova; and which areas have proved to be the most fruitful and successful thus far? Correspondingly, which EaP deliverables have been presented with the most challenges and shortcomings in both states, and why? Looking even outside the EaP scope, other factors (national and international) that have had an influential effect on the EaP implementation and its (in)effectivity in Belarus and Moldova will be considered - an example of such being the exertion of Russian influence.
In order to examine (beyond) the EU foreign policy status quo, Belarus and Moldova are chosen for the analysis of the EU`s contemporary external action approach in the light of the EaP. I will thus examine the EaP compliance and performance in concrete areas, and additionally seek to explain the inherent limitations and opportunities in these. This is particularly relevant, since the majority of the EU`s attention within the EaP is directed mainly on forging relations with Ukraine, yet these two European countries are somehow an overlooked part of the EU`s periphery. It is thus compelling to study and explore the potential and conduct of the EaP program, whilst knowing that this unique framework of cooperation is without the guarantee or a realistic potential of an EU membership offer for Belarus and Moldova for the time being.
As such, the central premise of the thesis is formulated in the following research question:
RQ: What are the conditions for a successful implementation of the EU`s foreign policy in Belarus and Moldova vis-à-vis the Eastern Partnership, and how does this differ from
sector to sector?
2. Theoretical Framework 2.1. Soft Power
In international politics, each actor wants to consolidate and maximize its power. To define power as such, it is the ability to shape and/or alter other`s preferences by the means of coercion, payment, persuasion, or attraction. Moving beyond the realist understanding of (hard) power, in modern-day politics the power is primarily leveraged by the capacity to attract and influence (domestically and externally), and is crucial especially for regional blocs such as the European Union. The EU's acquis communautaire has been used for interstate reconciliation and the overall integration of the region - and above that it is something that is exported and diffused whilst engaging and cooperating with other countries outside the EU.
However, rather than sharing or spreading its acquis in the means of hard power (i.e.
coercively), it is done so through the ability to appeal, co-opt, and shape the preferences of the other through what is known as the soft power (i.e. cultural diplomacy, values, politics).
(Michalski 2005; Nye 2004)
The researcher that most contributed and developed the concept of soft power from the 1990 onwards was Joseph Nye - one of the most important contemporary political analysts and academics from the US. Nye's distinction between the hard and soft power has become a fundamental principle in the political and international relations (IR) debate. Nye claimed that soft power enables to accomplish “preferred outcomes by attraction rather than coercion or payment” (Nye 2017, p. 1). Advocates of the enhancement of public diplomacy also utilize Nye's theory, as he highlights the advantages of the ‘attractive’ power by encouraging other actors to want what you want/have. It is ultimately rooted in the elements of culture, values, and ideals - meanwhile the economic appeal also plays a significant role. (Michalski 2005; Nye 2008)
Naturally, soft power itself is relative (and dependent) based on what the target countries are. For the sake of this thesis, the target group are the EaP countries Belarus and Moldova.
From their perspective, the EU has significantly greater soft power assets when compared to their own, or other competitors of the EU. Nonetheless, the geopolitical and economic influence of Russia has to be taken into account, including its impact on EaP aspirations to be
closer (or part of) the EU, and the overall motivation to comply with the EaP framework. With a changing internal and international context, this also affects the relative and absolute soft power of the EU, yet also brings out different aspects of the EU`s attractiveness.
Fundamentally, soft power is fluid and changeable over time, and in regards to the EaP amongst its target countries, remains having an eminent pull-effect in multiple spheres.
On a critical note, some scholars have also noted and analyzed the problematics of the EU`s soft power in its foreign policy. Namely, the soft power does not address nor tackle the gap between the capacities and expectations of the EU`s external governance. What is more, some academics would argue that soft power even widens this gap by creating more expectations and hopes for what the role of the EU ought to fulfill in concrete foreign policy areas - and thus only adding to the disillusionment of such. (Nielsen 2013) Furthermore, some critics say that amongst the complexities of soft power is the fact that it is ‘soft’, and this can be an issue if a country does not possess a lot of (cultural or economic) attractiveness alone.
Nevertheless, this can most plausibly be discarded in the case of the EU since it is the most advanced and integrated regional bloc, with a huge economic appeal globally. Additionally, soft power can be very effective when used in a range of combined state-centered public diplomacy (through concrete policies), and also involving non-state actors that reinforce the affinity and incentives for the third party. This could be exemplified by non-governmental organizations that through their activities further deploy state-related ideals and messages, which are central to their own identity and thus their capacity as actors . (Michalski 2005) Particularly in the case of the EU, soft power takes on the form of normative power; implying the EU`s non-coercive influence over other IR actors. Accordingly, it is the notion of normative power Europe coined by Ian Manners, who considered the international role of the EU as being a promoter of democratic values and norms as the focal point of external influence.
From his perspective, the EU has since the 1990s shifted and moved from a military and civilian power into a normative power of global importance. Historically, this portrays a certain paradox, since once the most powerful continent ruling through force and physical impositions - is now shaping global standards in normative terms. Grasping the notion of the latter, it is located somewhere amongst the academic debate over the ‘idée force’ (i.e. the
ideological power), the power over opinion, and moving beyond the institutional characteristics and rather understanding the EU identity as such. (Manners & Whitman 2000)
Manners argues that not only is the EU built on a normative basis, but it naturally pervades into its foreign policy. Hence, the EU as a normative and soft power extends its norms and values into the international system through its words, actions, and - ontologically - by what it is. Accordingly, apart from the realist perceptions of the EU (as a civilian and military power), the EU should also be considered a normative one for manifold reasons; exemplified by the transnational European Parliament; the ‘pooling of sovereignty’; the pursuit and conditionality of democracy and human rights; and others. These EU constitutive prisms essentially shape what is considered ‘normal’ in world politics - and that is ultimately one of the greatest powers of all. (Manners 2002) With the objective in mind of consolidating its (normative) power-position in the international order, the EU has concurrently developed its foreign policy, and the following chapter reflects its relevant characteristics and blueprint thereof.
2.2. EU External Governance
2.2.1. Foreign Policy and CFSP
The functioning and acquis of the EU, including its external governance, is very sui generis. As mentioned before, rather than employing hard and coercive approach, the EU operates through soft and normative power and is oriented towards crisis-management. Besides, all of the EU states are part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), and any decisions and policies implemented vis-à-vis the CFSP need to be taken unanimously. Accordingly, one of the most apparent issues of the EU external governance are the divergent and conflicting national interests. The EU`s treaties and declarations are full of ambiguities and disguises - especially in regards to foreign policies. The EU has been reluctant to make bold choices and exceedingly interfere in affairs beyond its borders. On the other hand, aiming to consolidate and unite the interests of all 27 member states is a complex task to achieve, and thus such ambiguity could also be seen as an opportunity for broader interpretation and interstate reconciliation. (Nitoiu & Sus 2019; Smith 2013)
The EU formalized its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) in the Maastricht Treaty in 1991, and further elaborated and developed the CFSP in the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. In the latter, the European External Action Service (EEAS) was established, and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy was appointed (currently: Joseph Borrell). The EEAS chief is hence responsible for carrying out the CFSP and facilitating other foreign policy instruments (FPIs), which are further divided into geographical and thematical directorates. The EEAS as the EU`s diplomatic arm works closely with all other EU institutions and national ministers (especially foreign affairs and defense), and is running over 140 EU Delegations and Offices around the world. Other priorities and tasks include diverse military and civilian operations, and election observation missions (EUEOMS). (EEAS 2019; EU 2021) Regarding the CFSP framework, the following key strategies and mechanisms are set out, and further elaborated in issue-specific Articles and Treaties. Primarily, the CFSP seeks to preserve peace and security in the EU and beyond, promote international cooperation, and consolidate democracy, rule of law, and respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms.
Furthermore, the Global Strategy for CFSP highlights the ‘State and Societal Resilience to the EU`s East and South’, cooperative regional orders, and an integrated approach towards conflicts and crises. The latter also encompasses terrorism, cyber security, hybrid threats, energy security, climate change, and others. (EEAS 2018) In general, the EEAS narrative and the Global Strategy reflect a shift from the traditional role of geopolitics (though military capabilities), and rather signal the promotion of Union`s interests and values from the aforementioned soft power and normative perspective. (Müller et al. 2014)
The debate on the EU`s role as a global actor and its foreign policy has been very present ever since the end of the Cold War. There has been a heightened awareness of the internal institutional weakness when it came to effective unified decisions and rapid crisis responses, reflected also in matters concerning the Balkan or Iraq war. Despite significant improvements being made over time, the CFSP remains rather inter-institutional than supranational – and is one of the least advanced EU common policies. This brings up questions concerning the EU`s intentions of being an influential actor in the IR and world politics. Since 2015, the European Commission (EC) has published around 110 White Papers and factsheets, which define and reflect upon diverse EU`s political priorities and the future of Europe. Amongst those, 14 deal with the EU`s external policy and its role as a global actor, and most experts agree that the
EU ought to consolidate a bigger geopolitical power-position – especially in its closest neighborhood. (Brudzińska 2019; EU 2021)
From the perspective of world-class policymakers and practitioners, the EU has made an important progress in its foreign policy over the past years. However, how should the EU`s CFSP for 2021 and onwards look like, in order to secure and optimize its objectives? The EC is aware of the international geopolitical situation and challenges, and has resorted towards strategic autonomy and a more pragmatic approach. Experts suggest an assertive foreign policy; whilst targeting select partners and issues, increasing attention on its immediate neighborhood, and bridging the mentality gap between member states and the bloc as a whole. (Brudzińska & Markowitz 2021) It will be compelling to analyze the EU`s policy development towards the EaP and the attitudes towards emerging IR challenges accordingly.
2.2.2. ENP and EaP
In the light of the EU`s relation to its closest eastern and southern neighbors1, the EU has established and launched the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) through the EEAS in 2003.
The primary objective of its creation has been to prevent any conflicts arising between the enlarged states and the EU periphery; and instead focus on encouraging regional security and stability, promoting the values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the ENP was reviewed in 2011, and again revised in 2015 through joint consultations with external partners, international organizations (IOs), academia, and civil society. The Commission`s Directorate-General (DG) that primarily engages with the ENP is the DG for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations (NEAR), which formulates related policy proposals and carries out evaluations. The revised priorities of the ENP put the main focus on the regional stabilization in political, economic, and security- related terms. Amongst its two core principles is the differentiation approach towards the ENP countries – i.e. respecting diverse interests and aspirations of the ENP states in relation to the EU. The second one concerns the ownership, and namely that the EU together with the
1 The ENP countries are: (to the South) Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine*, and Tunisia; (to the East): Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
ENP set the program priorities together – hence enabling a sense of ownership to all partners involved. (European Commission 2020b)
The academic literature on EU foreign policy and geopolitics has framed the ENP in three main ways. Firstly, it highlights that the EU has created a new (perception of) its territory and borders vis-à-vis the eastward enlargement, thus also bringing new challenges and cross- border cooperation (CBC) strategies and micro-management. Secondly, scholarship emphasizes the salience of EU`s approach via the lens of regionalism, as it promotes a concept of particular regional integration of the post-Soviet space through its ‘good practices’. Thirdly, the EU`s neighborhood is framed through the prism of the EU`s broader global governance, underpinning the bloc`s actorness in the world order as a whole. While the EU`s engagement with the ENP countries has been motivated by stabilization of the region and promotion of interests, it has nonetheless been perceived by some as ‘a return to geopolitics’. It is explicitly Russia that presents an antidote to the EU`s liberal (Western) acquis proliferation, and considers the EU`s rapprochement towards the eastern neighborhood as an intervention into its sphere of influence. This is especially relevant in regions where interests of different (hegemonic) actors overlap and/or clash. Russia has a lot of cultural and political influence in the post-Soviet states; and this has also incentivized the EU to review its security strategy, and furthermore engage in crisis management within the ENP region. (Müller et al. 2014) In fact, Russia officially engages in the CBC activities under the ENP umbrella, yet is not part of the ENP as such. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 has furthermore made the EU reconsider some areas of cooperation with its eastern neighborhood (especially security-related), and has increasingly more focused on the aspect of mobility partnerships. (Bouris & Schumacher 2017)
In the wake of revised ENP, the EU has sought a more tailored approach towards its Eastern and Southern neighbors. Thereupon, the ENP has branched into several bilateral, regional, and multilateral dimensions; since the scope of the countries and issues was too broad to grasp by a single framework. These cooperation initiatives incorporate: the Eastern Partnership (EaP); Union for the Mediterranean; the Northern Dimension; Black Sea Synergy;
and the EU Arctic Policy. All of these programs are financed by the European Neighborhood Instrument (ENI), whose budget for the period 2013-2020 was €15.4 billion. (EEAS 2021)
The EaP was inaugurated in 2009 as a joint initiative of the EEAS for the eastern dimension of the ENP. Its main objective is formulated as to “accelerate political association and deepen economic integration” between the EU and the EaP region. (European Parliament 2021) Within such, the EaP countries are offered the flexibility to choose specific sectors of cooperation, including the degree of engagement therein. In the former, these areas include good governance, economic development, environment and energy security, and strengthening of civil society. The bilateral track of the EaP is based on the Association Agreements (AAs) and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTAs). It further incorporates visa facilitation and readmission agreement program, in order to contribute to an improved mobility for citizens and also offers the prospect of a future visa-free regime for the EaP countries. (European Commission 2020a)
One of the main proponents of creating a special framework for the Eastern dimension of the EU`s external policy was Poland. The idea was already pitched during its accession negotiations in 1998. The then Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Geremek argued that the enlarging EU MS have a partner-like relations with states that remain on its exterior. Poland stressed the importance of focusing on keeping the (economic and civic) mobility between the EU and non-EU countries, whilst highlighting the role of the newly enlarged member states in the EU`s foreign policy dialogue. (Klatt 2011) A decade later, the Polish proposal became more relevant and was supported by Sweden – which was key as Sweden was holding the presidency term of the EU Council. Consequently, the EU Council asked the EC for new program plans in June 2008. The Polish-Swedish paper on the Eastern Partnership served as the foundation for the EC`s official working document and proposal, which was then handed to the European Parliament (EP). The latter then reviewed the existing points of the EC`s communication, and positively recognized the need for an advanced external policy for the eastern neighborhood. This was aligned with the EP`s resolutions on the enhancement of the ENP and the CFSP as a whole. (European Parliament 2008) The newly created EaP in 2009 then emphasized not merely the continuity of economic and sectoral reforms within the eastern region, but put an extra emphasis on democracy, rule of law, and human rights – underpinning the EU`s common norms and values. (Füle 2011)
As mentioned in Chapter 2.1., the EU has a preference for using rewards and incentives over punishment and threats. The former hence attracts the other actor as it wants to be involved
and benefit from the expansive global EU market. The ultimate reward for third countries is the EU membership itself, which has enabled the EU to exert substantial influence over shaping the domestic institutions and reforms in countries that were part of the EU enlargement process in the past. (Zielonka 1998) It could be thus assumed that such a vision and potential of joining the exclusive EU ‘club’ is a powerful incentive for counties that cooperate with the EU nowadays. The question, nonetheless, remains whether the EaP countries can realistically be hopeful of one day becoming EU members - if indeed they desire so. The ENP and EaP programs refrain from offering any concrete future proposal for such, albeit their mere existence is an attestation to the fact that the EU intends to provide its eastern neighborhood countries an alternative; namely a more particular and customized framework of collaboration. (European Commission 2020a)
An inquiry that arises is to what extent does the EU do so opportunistically - in order to keep the region secure and as much aligned to its acquis as possible? On the other hand, the countries voluntarily (and initially also eagerly) joined the ENP and EaP as there is nothing to lose - and aspiringly only get benefits from the joint partnership. Thus, if a cooperation is desired and provides a win-win situation for all parties involved, such constructive developments of bi- and multi-lateral relations can have further positive effects on the overall integration of the extended region. Yet, it is essential to examine whether the intended goals and deliverables have indeed been accomplished, and what factors are impeding the successful implementation of the common EaP objectives, and how these can be prevailed.
From the presented theories and realities of the EU external governance (including the Eastern Partnership), I hence apply its scope in relation to my RQ and intended analyses.
Accordingly, following hypotheses are derived:
H1: The EaP as a particular framework of EU`s foreign policy is an effective tool in building closer relations with Belarus and Moldova on multiple cooperation levels.
H2: Other external factors beyond the EU`s sphere of influence determine or shape the implementation and outcome of the EaP depending on the cooperation sector.
3. Methodological Framework 3.1. Layout and Methods
The thesis utilizes a combination of theory and empirics to answer the original RQ and corresponding hypotheses. It is a comparative qualitative study, using the EU external policy instruments as the point of comparison; whilst the implications thereof on Belarus and Moldova vis-à-vis the Eastern Partnership will be analyzed. In both countries, the relation and cooperation with the EU is expected to be different in different areas of engagement respectively. As such, the core of the thesis is divided into two large sections (Chapter 4 & 5), each dedicated to one EaP country. These are then further separated in sub-chapters, which will examine how the EaP program is exerted in specific sectors of collaboration. The proceeding Discussion part will be dedicated to compare and contrast the sectorial cooperation analyses between the EU and specific EaP country; and provide an overview of the successes, limitations, and opportunities in each.
After laying out the theoretical and methodological framework, I will follow up with a comprehensive situation analysis in order to assess the nature of the EaP enforcement within Belarus and Moldova. This initially involves a description of the nature of the EU – EaP bilateral relations, and how the Eastern Partnership became enforced in each. Subsequently, I will outline what have been the initial EaP Action Plans (AP), best practices employed, reports and monitoring along the way, and what has been achieved thus far. Going a step further, through a gap analysis I will seek to identify which of the EaP foreign policy instruments have had a limited influence, in which concrete sectors , and examine why.
The implemented research methods in my thesis are most importantly content analysis and process tracing. Both are widely used qualitative research techniques encompassing a broad range of information/data analysis tools and their respective developments. Content analysis essentially implies a systematic inspection of textual information; its descriptive observations and interpretations. The content analysis approach aims to derive and explain the meaning of words, themes, and underlying concepts presented. The studied sources usually include various documents, texts, including audio-visual material. It can be either directly retrieved from the available data, or preceded by a given theoretical and conceptual background as a
form of guidance. (Hsieh & Shannon 2005) The possible limitation of this method is the (in)availability of the data itself, and increasingly so when concerning more sensitive and in- depth matters. Additionally, the fact that official documents regarding the EaP are mainly provided by the EU, this could generate a certain bias, as there is a general lack of rendered research on national levels (including accessibility and transparency thereof).
The next research method utilized is process tracing, which is a popularly used qualitative technique when studying social and political phenomena. It is generally applied by scholars carrying out a within-case analysis (here: the country-specific EaP workings in different cooperation sectors). Process tracing is relevant for in-depth research of contemporary situations and happenings in real-life context. It seeks to investigate the (causal and correlational) inferences between events and actors within the studied phenomenon; and thus answers the questions why and how - rather than what. In essence, it is a systematic tracking of the past- and continuous process developments, and notes the various intervening variables in such. It is very outcome-oriented, and thus focuses on researching mechanisms, conditions, and configurations that lead to the present-day matter of being. (Blatter &
Haverland 2014; Collier 2011) I will use this method whilst analyzing the EaP implementation and sectorial developments in Belarus and Moldova, by examining their situational and sequential interplay.
This thesis will predominantly make use of the official EU websites and documents, policy papers, (non)governmental publications, bilateral- and EaP annual action programs, statements by the EU and national political leaders, communiqués, interviews in (inter)national media, public speeches, etc. The secondary sources comprise various academic and scholarly publications, journal- and newspaper articles, analyses conducted by independent research centers and think-tanks, and other expert evaluations.
3.2. Case Selection
Within the ENP/EaP there is a general emphasis on a EU-centered regulatory harmonization approach, which is typical for its external governance. While the one-size-fits-all method was highly criticized within the ENP, this is to a smaller extent also applicable to the EaP. Naturally,
the EaP is more niched on the EU`s eastern neighborhood, albeit it remains complex to encapsulate the diverse range of problematics and cooperation practices between the EU and the EaP states into one framework. As such, the EU also develops bilateral relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. (Bouris & Schumacher 2017;
EEAS 2021) The reasoning for choosing to focus on particularly Belarus and Moldova is the following. I intended to choose those EaP states, which are in the EU`s immediate neighborhood; and thus discarding the option of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia being in the Caucasus/Central Asia. Furthermore, the EU has the most developed relations and enhanced cooperation with Ukraine than with any other EaP country. This would hence demonstrate a significant asymmetry if comparing the EaP enforcement in Ukraine versus any other EaP state. For those reasons, Belarus and Moldova were chosen as adequately comparable countries; together with their commensurable geopolitical situation amidst substantial Russian influence.
Subsequently, when examining the EaP implementation within a country, it is convenient to do so by means of sectorial division. In 2017, the EC and EEAS together created a workplan (20 key Deliverables for 2020), and in this framework identified four priority areas of the EaP.
These are: economic development & market opportunities; strengthening institutions & good governance; connectivity & energy efficiency; and mobility & people-to-people contacts.
(European Commission 2020a) I used this as a roadmap when establishing the cooperation sectors for my research. For the sake of my thesis I distilled the aforementioned areas into the following: Economy; Governance; and Society. In the preliminary research I observed the lack of (result-oriented) cooperation in the energy and climate sector, and thus any energy- related issues that will arise will be included in the Economy section.
4. EaP in Belarus
4.1. EU – Belarus bilateral relations
As this chapter will illustrate, the EU`s relations with Belarus are quite complex ever since the disintegration of the Soviet Union – ranging from periods of closer mutual engagement to almost full isolation. Unlike other EaP countries, Belarus has opted for a rather loose form of
cooperation. It has never committed to a direct legal approximation to the EU acquis; and although approximation has occurred to a certain extent - its legal framework remains rather weak. The EU-Belarus relations can be considered as the most unsteady and troublesome from the EaP states; and both Belarus and the EU have altered policies towards each other manifold times. The problematics of the rule of law, democracy, and human rights lies at the core of the EU`s critical argumentation thereagainst. On the other hand, Belarus is not willing to let the EU interfere in its domestic affairs, whilst simultaneously favoring closer integration with Russia and Eurasia. (Karliuk 2014) Nonetheless, some positive aspects of their bilateral collaboration are exemplified by the progress in the visa dialogue, the Belarusian presence in negotiating platforms concerning the Ukrainian crisis, and releasement of several political prisoners. Over the past decade, the EU and Belarus have cooperated in technical matters regarding mobility partnership, financial assistance, civil society support, and other forms of issue-specific projects and dialogues. (European Council 2021a)
Belarus has been part of the ENP ever since its inception in 2003, and thus also a member of its eastern dimension - EaP - since 2009. The ENP legally builds upon the previous Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCAs) – later transgressing into Association Agreements (AAs).
What is compelling to note is that the EU-Belarus PCA was concluded in 1995 (still under the USSR) and ratified by Belarus – albeit the EU froze its ratification to this day. This is due to the lack of compliance to democratic principles, and political & civic rights in Belarus. (European Commission 2020a; 2021a) As contrast to Moldova, there is no aspiration for an eventual EU membership – hence maintaining the EU-Belarus relations rather superficial and schematic.
Since there is no AA for Belarus, the EU has also not set out a state-specific Country Report and Action Plan (AP) that would determine concrete reforms and sector-developments for a period of 3 to 5 years. As such, the EU engages with Belarus through the EaP framework, EaP Action Plan, and other targeted bilateral projects and agreements. (European Parliament 2021)
Especially within the period 2016-2020, the EU-Belarus cooperation increased in the light of the ambitious EaP workplan called 20 Deliverables for 2020. (European Council 2020b) Within such, important tangible measures have been implemented and achieved in different sectors – which will be demonstrated in the next chapters. The bilateral relations are further aimed to be developed through the so-called Partnership Priorities framework, which is currently
being negotiated.2 This would set further specific cooperation goals and strategies for the coming period. (European Commission 2020a; 2021a) After the releasement of political prisoners in 2015, the EU lifted the majority of its restrictive measures posed on Belarus - including on President Lukashenko himself. Accordingly, the EU Council Conclusions from February 2016 set out a renewed EU policy towards Belarus and the bilateral relations progressively improved. However, this has altered since October 2020, when the EU responded with sanctions due to the fraudulent nature of the run-up, conduct, and the aftermath of the presidential elections in August 2020 in Belarus. (European Council 2021a) Overall, the joint EU-Belarus cooperation requires a thorough revision and a distinct approach. Meanwhile, the EU policy towards Belarus remains a challenge. There is a potential of an improved cooperation vis-à-vis the EaP specifically; yet it is clear that there is no prospect of a future EU membership. Belarus is since 2015 part of another supranational bloc - the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). This fact, inter alia, inhibits deeper relations with the EU, as some agreements and competences are non-transferable and exclusive merely for the EAEU. (Karliuk 2014) Nonetheless, there is no explicit or easy solution to the socio-political crisis in Belarus, and therefore saying that the EU failed there would be exaggerated. Knowing that the EaP is the most substantial platform where the EU can engage with Belarus bilaterally and regionally, it is worth investigating and comprehending which policy proposals and plans have succeeded, failed, or stagnated - and why. Therefore, in the next sub-chapters I will analyze the EU policies and mechanisms applied vis-à-vis the EaP in three different sectors, and consequently examine its (lack of) realization.
The initial steps of the EU-Belarus trade relations go back to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) from 1989, which was later re-endorsed by independent Belarus after the USSR dissolution. The TCA has overall modest goals that include the promotion of economic cooperation and investment based on the notion of reciprocity, equality, and non- discrimination. TCA requires no commitments or aspirations for a legal approximation of the
2 Due to the unfavorable political situation in Belarus since August 2020 elections, any further developments are for now halted.
partners, and hence this mutually ratified agreement remains in force till this day. Although the TCA is the only significant agreement of this scale between the EU and Belarus (since the PCA has not been ratified by the EU), there are other specific/targeted agreements in place.
Nowadays, the majority of the mutual (economic) relations are governed through the EU Council and the EEAS. (European Commission 2021b; Karliuk 2014) Belarus also applied for the WTO membership in 1993, albeit the accession process is still ongoing. The EU supports Belarus herein, as it would make the business environment in Belarus more stable and predictable. (European Council 2020a)
The EU is the second largest trade partner for Belarus (after Russia), and amounts for around a quarter of the country`s overall trade. Under the EaP umbrella, financial assistance provided by the EU (through the ENI) has doubled between 2016-2020 to a total of €30 million annually.
In the period 2014-2020 the EU assistance to Belarus amounted to €170 million. Belarus exports mostly prime products and raw materials to the EU – such as wood, base metals, and mineral fuels. The EU exports mainly technically advanced goods; like machinery, chemicals, and transport equipment. Both partners meet twice a year on a Dialogue on Trade between the EU`s DG for Trade and the Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs, to discuss trade-related inquiries and best practices. (European Commission 2021b) In addition, there are dedicated EaP Platforms and Panels that organize high-level and expert meetings on issue-specific topics (here: EaP Platform for Economic Development and Market Opportunities). Gradual developments and challenges are discussed in relation to the EaP implementation, and draw upon both EU and national expertise. (EaP CFS 2021)
On the EaP Summit in 2017, the EU endorsed a more result-orientated approach towards the EaP region and published 20 Deliverables for 2020, with several key economy-related objectives. One of the most prominent ones addresses the gap for accessing the financial resources and assistance in Belarus. Connected to this is the overall improvement of the business and investment environment, highlighting the potential of small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) growth. (European Council 2020b) This was already laid out prior to the Summit, as the EU Council progressively made separate conclusions on the economic developments in Belarus ever since the EaP outset (highlighting the Conclusions from 2011 and 2016). (European Council 2016) One of the presented EaP goals was the enhanced cooperation with international financial institutions (IFIs) - specifically with the European
Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB).
An advance herein can be seen mainly from 2016 onwards, as Belarus has significantly increased its liaison with IFIs on various levels. This aided Belarus in accessing funds for key infrastructure projects, but also the private sector (SMEs). (European Council 2020a)
The former (i.e. public sector) also addresses the investment into Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), and thus building upon the European-wide network of highways, railways, airports, and other transport connectors. All of these are regulated vis-à-vis the EaP Transport Panel, which was launched in 2011 in order to improve the exchange of information and the best practices between the EU and EaP member states. Its primary objective is to strengthen transport connections between the regions, meanwhile underpinning and reforming regulatory convergence across European transport modes. The EaP Transport Panel provides bilateral assistance to EaP countries, and simultaneously through DG NEAR encompasses the overall EU external investment plan, technical support, and support to road safety in the eastern neighborhood. The EU provided Belarus with EaP indicative maps in 2018 through the Commission Delegated Regulation 2019/254; and collaborated in numerous transport-related public investment projects. Exemplification thereof is the reconstruction of the M-7 road section connecting Minsk and Vilnius; reconstruction of the M-10 road on the Russian border;
the electrification and modernization of concrete rail projects; restoration of the E40 international arterial waterway linking the Baltic Sea with the Black Sea; and others. The latter is a good example of the cooperation complexity of such sizeable TEN-T projects, as the E40 waterway builds on effective CBC with Poland and Ukraine, and since 2014 also has a separate Commission with 70 members. (European Commission 2021c) Accordingly, under the TEN-T investment plan, the EU deliverable for improved connectivity and road safety has been targeted; and thus far achieved by the means of (re)constructing of 890 km of roads and 200 km of rails in Belarus. (European Council 2020a)
Regarding the private sector, the EaP deliverables stressed the importance of unlocking the SME growth potential and creating new job opportunities at regional and national level.
(European Council 2020b) The EU is supporting SMEs through the specialized initiative EU4Business, which acts jointly and bilaterally in all EaP countries. The EU4Business caters to improving access to finance, upgrading services to businesses (also B2B), promoting better regulations, and seizing trade opportunities. In this framework, the EU has assisted 4500 SMEs
in Belarus with funding, expertise, and entering new markets – creating more than 5700 new jobs. (European Council 2020a; EU4Business 2021a)
In 2020, there were 20 SME-specific projects that the EU financially supported, with a total budget of around €53 million for the course of their implementation. Of these funds, 45% has gone to dedicated bilateral projects, and the resting 55% to regional EaP business programs.
The latest country report from March 2021 shows the numerical and sectoral breakdown of the EU intervention in the Belarus` SME sphere. The largest area of cooperation is the Access for Finance (A4F), with a total investment of €22.28 million. Here, the EU allocates funds through specific SME grants; incentive grants (linked to loans); structured funds; capped loss recovery (grant contracts); and interest subsidies. Thereafter follows the area of Business Enabling Environment (BEE), where the EU allocates funds for the capacity building of national policy-makers and regulators; supports the private-public dialogue; and regulatory reforms.
The smallest field of the EU intervention are the Business Development Services (BDS), where the majority of the €13 million funding goes to consultancy services for SMEs. Other instruments of EU-Belarus BDS engagement concerns B2B activities, capacity building, incubators, and trade information support. (EU4Business 2021b)
Furthermore, the EaP also aims to target energy and climate-related projects. Since 2017, Belarus is part of the Eastern Europe Energy Efficiency and Environment Partnership (E5P), which is a specialized multi-donor fund for energy programs managed by the EBRD. (European Council 2020a) Its primary focus is on the following sectors: district hearing; waste management; water/wastewater treatment; street lighting; renewables, and the overall improvement of energy-efficiency. On joint E5P meetings in 2017 and 2018, Belarus expressed its commitment to energy sustainability and security based on high international standards. The first grant of €7 million went to Puhovichi Solid Waste Project, which is the Belarus` first regional and environmentally-friendly landfill in accordance to EU standards.
Another project approved in 2019 targets wastewater treatment facilities in 6 Belarusian cities. Altogether, the E5P has provided access to an overall €27.8 million of investment funds for Belarus, which so far financed 2 concrete energy programs. Nonetheless, although there have been tangible results and mutual effort, the numbers are still the lowest across other EaP countries (e.g. Ukraine receives €962 million for 25 different projects). (E5P 2018; 2021)
The EU`s deliverable for stronger connectivity and sustainability is furthermore enhanced by annual EU-Belarus dialogues on environment and climate action. The EU`s Action Plan from 2015 concerned the “Strengthening Air Quality and Environmental Management in Belarus”
for the period of 2014-2017. The program was financed by the ENI with a budget of €14.5 million, and focused mainly on the improvement of air quality in Belarus and modernization of its monitoring. This Commission`s Decision was meant to directly benefit environmental and living situation for the Belarusian population, whilst promoting civil society participation.
(European Commission 2015) Albeit no substantial climate-projects have been launched by the EaP, the EU sought to engage the local Belarusian authorities in adopting sustainable energy policies. Namely, in recent years around 52 local authorities joined the European-wide Covenant of Mayors initiative, and therewith fostering climate- and energy action from the local bottom-up level. (European Council 2020a) On a critical note, the topic of nuclear safety is brought up by the EU yet is not elaborated nor engaged with. This is very relevant since Belarus is constructing a nuclear power plant Ostrovets near the border of Lithuania. The EU encourages Belarus to cooperate with international authorities and especially its neighboring countries regarding the project, so as to build on cross-border trust and overall nuclear safety in the region3. The nuclear power plant operation is an important energy strategy for Belarus in order to lessen its reliance on gas supply from Russia. Interestingly, the project is financed by Russia itself. (World Nuclear Association 2020)
It is worthy to note that the relative EU-Belarus trade and economic cooperation is dependent on the substance and nature of cooperation. Belarus is namely defined by the EU as a Limited Access Order (LAO); meaning that the ruling elite impedes fair access to economic resources for its own private benefit. On the contrary, with an Open Access Order, a full spectrum trade and entrepreneurial competition would be allowed and encouraged. As such, the authorities in Belarus will partially limit private sector development as it might threaten the existing monopoly of control. Moreover, this implies that external actors like the EU should not seek to promote its economic opening to the world, which could undermine the elite`s grip over the country`s economy. (Ademmer &Langbein 2019) The economy in Belarus is founded and sustained on large state-owned enterprises, as is the majority of the production assets.
Namely, the combination of state control combined with economic repression and fiscal
3 Lithuania and Germany have still objections to the construction of Ostrovets
discipline contribute to the regime stability. Lukashenka`s post-communist economic model thus prioritizes the role of state, non-entrepreneurial social groups, and provision of social and health security. (Yarashevich 2014) Belarus hence clearly deviates from the EU principles of democracy and market economy, which will continue to challenge the EaP country- cooperation. As demonstrated in this chapter, there have been tangible EaP cooperation engagements and achievements, yet the EU continues to have a limited space for maneuvering due to strong state authority, burdensome legislation and regulations, corruption, and lack of pluralist democracy.
The topics of democracy and rule of law have lied at the heart of the EU`s criticism of the Belarus` governmental and institutional setting, and has been the reason for turbulent relations amidst the partners. The EU has progressively imposed restrictive measures on Belarus already since 2004. This ensued in regards to the unresolved disappearances of four individuals in 1999 and 2000 – namely a journalist, businessman, and two opposition politicians. The EU further adopted sanctions due to violations of human rights, infraction of electoral standards, and hard repression of democratic opposition. These sanctions specifically targeted 170 individuals and three companies. Moreover, in 2011 the EU imposed an arms embargo on Belarus. Most of these restrictive measures were lifted in 2016. The period between 2016 and 2020 was carried in light of improved bilateral and EaP relations.
However, after the Belarusian presidential elections in August 2020, the EU once again imposed sanctions as the elections were considered fraudulent and unfair. (European Council 2021a)
For the EU, the rule of law is amongst its top priority areas and has continuously aimed to encourage judicial reforms and fight against corruption in the EaP states. This is also depicted in the 20 Deliverables for 2020, where four action points were given exclusively to the governance section. (European Council 2020b) Belarus has been a difficult country to collaborate with, and there is overall little progress that has been made in this regard. There have progressively been bilateral dialogues concerning the necessary reforms for modernization and democratization of Belarusian institutions, yet it has not provided desired
results nor much progress. (European Commission 2021a) As such, the EU has rather cooperated with Belarus vis-à-vis the multilateral track of the EaP. There is a specialized EaP Panel 1 for “Strengthening Institutions and Good Governance”, where the EaP representatives and respective experts hold thematic meetings. The Panel 1 has been regularly active between April 2016 and December 2019, which has also been the last (20th) joint meeting of Panel 1 so far. Concrete meetings included discussions on: Human Rights and Conflict Resolution; Governance and Public Administration Reform (PAR); Local and Regional Democracy; Anti-Corruption and Justice Reforms; Security & CFSP; Hybrid Threats; Gender Equality in Public Service; e-Democracy; and Rule of Law. (EaP CFS 2021)
In January 2019, a PAR Panel seminar was organized in Tallinn concerning the Czech and Estonian experiences of decentralization, transparency, and e-governance. This is a good example of when the younger EU member states (especially from the Central-Eastern European region) share their best practices in their journey towards the EU acquis approximation. With the support from the EC, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Estonian Center for EaP co-organized an interactive seminar with focus on anti-corruption measures, territorial reforms, e-solutions, and decentralization of local governments. The civic participation in aforementioned policy-implementation was stressed out, in order to involve other stakeholders than merely the (regional) governments. (EaP CFS 2019)
Within the EaP framework, the EU and Belarus also meet twice per year via designated EU- Belarus Coordination Group, which is a high-level institutional meeting that oversees and steers the Brussels-Minsk cooperation on different levels. (European Council 2020a) The first meeting of the Coordination Group took place in 2016; and has since mainly focused on partnership priorities of democracy and human rights, among others. A specific agreement thereof is the Action Document for the “EU Good Governance Program in Belarus”, which was implemented as the Commission`s Decision and financed by the ENI in the amount of €10 million. The action aimed to foster dialogue between the government and civil society organizations (CSOs); and thus support a more inclusive and participatory system of governance in Belarus. The project was launched in the framework of the EaP deliverables for 2020, so as to target the lack of participation of civil society actors in the public decision- and policy-making. The Belarusian government adopted a National Human Rights Action Plan and created a High-Level Advisory Group on the Rule of Law and Access to Justice, which were
meant to demonstrate a real interest in the targeted issues, and provide tangible actions towards the goal of participatory governance. The CSOs were given at least €5.6 million in the form of grants. (European Commission 2017)
Another EU-Belarus AP agreement includes the EC Decision from 2019 about the EU-Belarus Legal Cooperation Program. Its objective is to improve domestic mechanisms in Belarus for achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs) in the legal sphere. The Program costs around €10 million and is financed via ENI. The EU Action Document refers to the necessity of reinforcing the national (economic and civic) legislation by opening up to global markets and aligning to international legal standards. Reforms and modification of the Belarusian legislation are required in order to improve the judicial system, transparency in governance, data protection, and societal provision to administrative and legal services. The AP expects increased technical (bilateral and EaP) cooperation; in particular with five institutions in Belarus (Ministry of Justice; Investigative Committee; National Center for Legislation and Legal Research, Center of Legal Information; National Center for Electronic Bodies; and Institute for Retraining and Qualification of Judges). Both partners have been committed to the improvement of proposed SDGs, and the overall judicial and administrative public services. (European Commission 2019a) The expected issues of implementation are related to the fact that the Belarusian Ministry is the main interlocutor of the Program, as well as the majority of all stakeholders involved are in liaison with the government. A coordinated national approach might have seemed to be convenient; however, other organizations and civil society actors would be beneficial for an independent input and evaluation in this case.
No formal assessment nor transparent results of the Legal Cooperation Program have been publicly provided. (European Commission 2021b)
The continuation of the EU assistance for Governance and Rule of Law programs has been dependent on the commitment and follow-up of the strict conditions and measures posed by the EU bilaterally and in the overall EaP framework. Due to the absence of its convincing progress and full-fledged implementation, the EU has since 2019 halted to initiate another cooperation program in this sector. Accordingly, the EC Decision on Belarus in 2020 has concluded that the Single Support Framework for 2018-2020 was not created, neither the EU- Belarus Partnership Priorities for this period were negotiated. As the restrictive measures and sanctions have once again been implemented in 2020, the EU has since cooperated with
Belarus vis-à-vis special measures set out in Regulation No 236/2014. Herein, the EU has rather focused its assistance towards civil society support and programs thereto related (further elaborated in Chapter 4.4), instead of continuing its direct engagement with the Belarusian government. (European Commission 2020d)
Another important cooperation area within the Governance sector is the Human Rights problematics. Belarus has been on the radar internationally due to its legislative restrictions of freedom and the existing death penalty. Domestic NGOs warn that the national legislation violates freedoms of assembly, restricts free media and speech, and abuses the judiciary system. (Human Rights House 2019) The EU has remained committed in supporting Belarus in its implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, and in the period 2014-2018 granted financial assistance of €30 million to enhance civil society capacity building, including the support for independent media. (European Council 2020a)
Annually, both actors meet at the EU-Belarus Human Rights Dialogue, which was created to provide a forum for discussion and evaluation of the human rights situation in Belarus.
(European Commission 2021a) In July 2019, human rights organizations in Belarus published a joint position on the EU-Belarus dialogue, where they reviewed the latest bilateral meetings and provided several recommendations. The CSOs stated that despite some positive steps made by the Belarusian government, there have been no substantial changes regarding the human rights issues in the country – from the institutional, legal, nor practical stance. As such, there is an evident gap between what the government commits to - and what is actually being implemented/altered in national legislation. (Human Rights House 2019)
In November 2020, Belarus announced that it suspends its participation in the Human Rights Dialogue with the EU due to changes in the EU foreign policy towards Belarus and freezing of the EBRD and EIB cooperation programs. Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that there is not much sense in participating on a full-fledged EaP basis if destructive steps are being taken from the EU side – referring to sanctions imposed. (Belta 2020) Respectively, since the elections in August 2020 there have not been any interactions with the government in this field. (European Council 2021a)
The Belarusian foreign policy is rather orientated eastward than towards the EU, and has been forging its economic and military integration with Russia. As the (Western) international
community condemns Belarus for the infringement of human rights, its leadership continues to reject and repress any political opposition and its alternatives. (Yarashevich 2014) Experts and policy-makers provide the following implications and recommendations derived from a thorough evaluation of the EU`s role in Belarus. Given the balanced order closure of Belarus, the EU should acknowledge the dominant role of political elites in Belarus and thus very little to no space for promoting the country`s political opening. As these elites control the majority of the political and economic sphere in Belarus, any pressure (in form of requirements or conditionalities) could result in the withdrawal from any cooperation framework with the EU (as is shown in the Human Rights Dialogue). Accordingly, the EU should continue to cooperate in areas where the elitist power-position is not threatened – and hence focusing on strengthening the private sector development, engaging with civil society, and other non- politicized and economic matters. (Ademmer &Langbein 2019)
On another note, this raises the question of the relative EU`s soft and normative power in Belarus; considering that only non-politicized EaP policies tend to be the ones that are actually implemented and successful. This speaks to the EU`s limited scope of areas of cooperation with Belarus, whilst ensuring that the issues treated do not question the authority`s status quo and its conduct. Observing the political developments in 2020, the EU has nonetheless reacted with sanctions towards the government, meanwhile vocally supporting the main opposition leader Tikhanovskaya – which has naturally exacerbated the EU-Belarus relations once again. Reflecting on the EaP program concerning the sector of Governance, the overall achievements of the EaP deliverables have been very weak. Albeit the intended objectives have been broad and vague from the onset, there is not much space nor willingness from the Belarusian side to follow the EU rules and regulations – meanwhile consolidating its relations with Russia and the EAEU at the same time. As such, post-2020 EU-Belarus diplomatic relations have been rigid and austere, and this consequently also affects the actual EaP execution – currently hindering its working to merely several non-political fields.
Despite the crisis in the political landscape concerning the re-election of Lukashenko, Belarus has seen unprecedented developments and ‘awaking’ of its civil society over the past year.
Experts go as far as saying that the people in Belarus are actually the EU`s closest allies in the means of their shared values and goals. (Slunkin 2020) In fact, the EU`s objective within the EaP has been to “demonstrate and deliver tangible benefits to the daily lives of citizens across the region” (European Council 2020b). This testifies to the fact that civil society lies at the heart of the EU-EaP cooperation – from students, professionals, to non-governmental organizations.
In the light of the 20 Deliverables for 2020, objectives for EaP society include: progress in mobility partnerships & visa liberation dialogues; EU-EaP research and innovation programs;
investing in young people (i.e. their skills, entrepreneurship, employability); and establishing an EaP European School. (Ibid) Across the EaP region, the EU has funded more than 260 projects and reached over 600 organizations since 2014. The support to civil society in Belarus comes in numerous forms: different education programs for students and academic staff; CBC projects; visa and readmission agreement; humanitarian aid to vulnerable groups; research and innovation programs; mobility schemes; and others. Concretely in Belarus, over €180 million has been granted to local CSO / NGO initiatives. (European Commission 2020c) Belarus is bordering with three EU states (Latvia; Lithuania; Poland), and thus cross-border cooperation (CBC) is a key part of the EU-Belarus active engagement. In fact, CBC is a recognized European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) for addressing common challenges and lifting living standards in border areas. It was firstly implemented as an EU ENP regulation for the period 2007-2013; and since the EaP creation further prolonged for 2014-2020. Concrete CBC programs funded by ENI and ERDF within Belarus are the Latvia- Lithuania-Belarus Program and Poland-Belarus-Ukraine Program. (European Commission 2020f)
The Joint Operational Program for Latvia-Lithuania-Belarus was submitted in 2015 to the EC, and Joint Monitoring Committee and Programming Task Force were designated. Since its launch, the CBC Program has been successful in strengthening relations, raising capacities, and sharing experiences and expertise between people and organizations of respective neighbor countries. Examples of implemented projects in these cross-border regions include:
(re)construction of frontier check-points; developments in telecommunication infrastructure;
preserving cultural and historical heritage; improving access to healthcare for vulnerable groups; flood prevention and management; etc. Currently the Latvia-Lithuania-Belarus