FES Regional Office for Cooperation and Peace in Europe, based in Vienna
FES Regional Office for Cooperation and Peace in Europe, based in Vienna
For the EU, Eastern Europe is important
Looking East today for the European capital Brussels means something different than 30 years ago. At the end of the 1980s the East meant Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and of course the Soviet Union. Today the understanding of East follows the boarders of the countries of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine – and Russia. These countries are not part of the European Union (EU) or NATO and will not join in the foreseeable future. But the region is important for the EU, with its 217 million people (40% as many as the EU) and its total area of 17.1 million km² (four times the size of the EU).
It is a fact that nearly 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the adoption of the Paris Charter, both of which symbolized a new era for Europe, the outlook for Europe as a unified and free continent looks grim. Norms for cooperative security, as envisioned by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, have broken down. Cooperative European security does not work. Europe, even though it does not want to realize it, is in a fierce geopolitical competition. Tensions exist within the EU, within Europe and within the transatlantic alliance. The US is questioning multilateral agreements. The goal is to become stronger, but Fareed Zakaria argues in Foreign Affairs differently: “The Self-Destruction of American Power.” And last but not least China is becoming a player in Europe with its 16+1 talks with countries from the EU (11) and the Balkans (5).
Against this background it is hardly surprising that the population in Europe is concerned. According to the “Security Radar 2019” survey by the FES Regional Office for Cooperation and Peace in Europe (ROCPE) 69% of French, Germans, Latvians, Poles, Russians, Serbs and Ukrainians are concerned about wars and conflicts in general and 47% think that wars in Europe are likely because of increasing tensions between Russia and the West. No doubt the risk of a renewed arms race is not something people want to see again after the end of the Cold War.
Furthermore, there is a common and widespread dissatisfaction among citizens with regard to their own country’s status, regardless of membership in international organizations and the type of government. In detail this can have different causes, but many respondents see lower status as linked to the foreign policy performance of the state and the policies of other countries.
Surviving not by luck or common sense but by norms
One important argument for thinking more about Europe’s Eastern region is that it plays a role in stability, prosperity and security not just for Europe, but for the world as a whole. Climate change, migration, food security and of course security in general can no longer be tackled from a mostly regional level but increasingly require a global perspective. In other words, Europe should avoid being divided into the EU and the rest of Europe. The EU should work hard on minimizing disagreements within itself and within Europe and start becoming an actor with a strategy that is based also on the interests of all of Europe. Europe’s ability to work together as a whole is important for security, stability and prosperity on the continent, not only for the sake of the EU.
The problem is that well-written papers on finding answers to these questions are on the table and are already familiar. One could even argue that in general an Eastern policy has also been written, though not as a unified whole but in three pillars, which are almost unconnected:
– The Eastern Partnership, with twenty deliverables agreed upon;
– The five guiding principles of the EU’s policy towards Russia;
– A new Central Asian Strategy.
It seems that the status quo is not so bad after all. Most governments could argue that the state of affairs could be much worse and that international relations are always messy and difficult. One needs to look for improvement, ease the pain and manage the challenges. If there is a changing of the guard in several governments, new opportunities could present themselves and feasible solutions could be possible.
Steps towards Eastern Europe and beyond
One would have to look for a process to move out of the deadlock we have today concerning security in Europe, with an emphasis on Eastern Europe. The approach would be a two-fold one: not only decision makers would start the process, but also societies. This would encourage a deeper discussion and would involve a larger community than merely decision makers and experts. The public should be more involved because too much is at stake. This step-by-step approach:
- The first step would be to concentrate on the level of ambition for an initiative on Eastern Policy and beyond: for cooperative security and prosperity in Europe. What is needed? Is the aim to renew or adjust the existing level of security? Or is it less ambitious and the main goal is to manage the status quo? Or is the EU only interested in easing the pain of the most vulnerable, in this case the countries of the Eastern Partnership?
- The initiative could come from France or Germany or even better, if possible, from all the countries of the Weimar triangle (France, Germany, Poland). The EU would take the initiative seriously and point out the interests of the EU towards security in general and security in particular concerning the countries of the Eastern Partnership and Russia, based also on the national interests of the member states. In this process it also has to be clearly defined why a cooperative security approach is essential for the EU.
- The EU would come up with a clear catalogue of interests and norms for a policy in Europe that a majority of states can agree upon. This approach is a prerequisite for an EU that is capable of acting. The goal is not only to live in peace and to guarantee stability in the region, but most importantly to lay out a plan for a prosperous future in a very volatile environment. Europe will have to face unprecedented competition from other states and continents and has to be prepared.
- The results from steps 1 to 3 will be discussed with decision makers and also with societies of the Eastern Partnership states that are aspiring to get closer to the EU, as well as with other states that are looking for other ways to modernize. Apart from norms and values these countries should also look at their respective interests and should take into consideration the needs of Europe as a whole.
- The results from steps 1 to 4 provide a foundation for involving Russia. In a state where foreign policy is heavily decided among the elites it could be a challenge to involve the public. But there are competent think tanks that would take up the task.
The goal now is to start a sustainable process for prosperity and security, which is vital for Europe for today and tomorrow.
 Krumm, Reinhard et al., Wake-up Call for Europe. Security Radar 2019, p. 13. https://www.fes-vienna.org/e/new-publication-security-radar-2019-wake-up-call-for-europe/.
 Ibid., p. 21.
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