October 17, 2013

The Vilnius Summit: Breakthrough or Stalemate?

In association with the Estonian Centre of Eastern Partnership and the Estonian School of Diplomacy, ICDS organized a roundtable discussion on the Eastern Partnership on October 1. Held at the Representation of the European Commission in Estonia. The topic of the discussion was The Vilnius Summit: Breakthrough or Stalemate?

17.10.2013
Roundtable discussion by ICDS, ECEAP & ESD
In association with the Estonian Centre of Eastern Partnership and the Estonian School of Diplomacy, ICDS organized a roundtable discussion on the Eastern Partnership on October 1. Held at the Representation of the European Commission in Estonia. The topic of the discussion was The Vilnius Summit: Breakthrough or Stalemate?
To communicate a more comprehensive view of the issue at hand, representatives of both EU and EaP countries were present. Representing EU countries, H.E. Mr. Grzegorz M. Poznański, Ambassador of the Republic of Poland – the host of the first EaP summit during its 2009 presidency of the EU – reiterated his country’s continuing strong support for the program. Next, as the representative of the current holder of the EU presidency and organizer of the forthcoming Vilnius Summit, Lithuanian ambassador H.E. Neilas Tankevičius, argued that the fact that there is so much “heat” around the negotiations means the process is now working at full speed. Lastly, H.E. Constantine Katsambis, Ambassador of Greece, assured the audience that the program would continue its progress when his country assumes the presidency in January.
From the partner countries, Ambassador of Moldova H.E. Victor Guzun talked about the irreversible process of integration already in motion in fields such as energy, transport, trade and education – just to name a few. Moreover, Mr. Ruslan Nasibov from the Embassy of Azerbaijan pointed to some major areas in which the EU is already involved in the region – such as energy and conflict resolution – emphasizing that cooperation is a two-way street. Meanwhile, Ambassador of Ukraine H.E. Viktor Kryzhanivskyi reassured the audience that for Ukraine “there is no plan B” other than signing the major agreements at Vilnius, and concluding by saying: “We’ll see you in the European Union”. Representing Armenia, Estonian School of Diplomacy student Maria Simonyan discussed the country’s controversial decision to abandon its association agreement in favor of close cooperation with Russia. She highlighted the fact that despite this decision, a majority of Armenians (72%, according to a recent poll) support EU integration; moreover, there have been public protests against the government’s decision to join the Russian-led Customs Union. The Russia question was also addressed by Davit Sukhiashvili of Georgia (also a student at ESD), who contended that Georgia needs EU’s help to protect itself from Russia. In discussion, many participants concluded that the Eastern Partnership could also be beneficial for Russia – if Moscow would let it.
As for the organizers, ICDS research fellow Emmet Tuohy and junior research fellow Anna Bulakh presented a more critical view of the Eastern Partnership , expanding on their recent paper to argue that strategic objectives in fields such as energy, visa liberalization, and trade should be prioritized over more abstract issues like promoting common values. These pragmatic goals are also all fields in which much work has already been done – as several ambassadors also pointed out—and yet which still need further cooperation. As Bulakh noted, these strategies could then serve as a starting point for a “spillover effect” that would eventually also lead to political cooperation and the forging of common values. Tuohy cited the further advantage that progress on these issues can even be made unilaterally, giving the recent example of the EU’s decision to lift quotas on Moldovan wine. Bulakh also mentioned Ukraine and Moldova, both of which are working hard to cut their dependence on Russian gas supplies, as good examples in the field of energy policy. Concrete steps like these make for irreversible ties and partnerships that trigger deeper and broader cooperation – to have something to put on the table, one first needs a table with steady legs under it, Tuohy pointed out.
All in all, as Marge Mardisalu-Kahar from ECEAP said:” The Vilnius Summit is not the end; it’s just the end of the beginning. After Vilnius the work will just have begun.”
This briefing was drafted by ICDS intern Kristiina Visnapuu.

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