Three Eastern Partnership neighbours: Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus

The EU’s Eastern Partnership policy, established in 2009, covers six post-Soviet states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. It was created to support political, social and economic reform efforts in these countries with the aim of increasing democratisation and good governance, energy security, environmental protection, and economic and social development. All the members except Belarus are part of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.

Ukraine

The dramatic events that have taken place in Ukraine since November 2013 began as a pro-EU protest against then-President Victor Yanukovych’s decision not to sign the Association Agreement with the EU, which had been initialled in March 2012. This movement eventually led to a change of government and to parliamentary elections (in October 2014), which brought pro-European and pro-reform parties to power.

Following the Euromaidan movement, Russia illegally annexed Crimea in March 2014, and the eastern part of Ukraine plunged into an armed conflict spurred by Russia-backed separatists. According to the UN, over 10 300 people have been killed in Ukraine since the onset of the conflict. This includes the 298 people travelling on 17 July 2014 on Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which crashed in a separatist-controlled area.

Despite the Minsk agreements brokered in 2015, and the establishment of negotiating formats such as the Trilateral Contact Group and the Normandy format, periodic outbreaks of fighting have called into question the sustainability of the truce. The EU has linked its economic sanctions against Russia to Moscow’s full compliance with the Minsk agreement. The sanctions have remained in place ever since.

The Association Agreement entered into force on 1 September 2017, having been provisionally and partially applied since 1 November 2014. One of the agreement’s cornerstones, the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), became fully operational on 1 January 2016.

In addition to political backing, the EU has also pledged a EUR 12.8 billion support package to support the reform process in Ukraine. Under a jointly defined reform agenda, the EU is closely monitoring progress in a series of priority areas: the fight against corruption, reform of the judiciary, constitutional and electoral reforms, improvement of the business climate and energy efficiency, and reform of public administration.

In autumn 2014, the Commission created a dedicated Support Group for Ukraine, comprising experts from the EU institutions and Member States, who provide coordination and advice to the Ukrainian authorities in key reform sectors.

Deployed in Ukraine in December 2014, the EU Advisory Mission for Civilian Security Sector Reform Ukraine (EUAM) coordinates international support for the civilian security sector and, in addition to operational activities, provides strategic advice to the Ukrainian authorities, including training, on how to develop sustainable, accountable and efficient security services that strengthen the rule of law. Ukrainian citizens with biometric passports enjoy a visa-free regime in the Schengen area for short stays of up to 90 days. The regulation on visa liberalisation for Ukraine entered into force on 11 June 2017.

a.The European Parliament’s position

Since the start of the current legislative term in July 2014, the European Parliament has passed 10 resolutions relating to Ukraine. The most recent, on the cases of Crimean Tatar leaders Akhtem Chiygoz, Ilmi Umerov and the journalist Mykola Semena, was adopted on 5 October 2017. On 11 October 2016, the leader of the Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Dzemilev, was shortlisted for the 2016 Sakharov Prize.

b.Inter-parliamentary cooperation

Under the leadership of Elmar Brok, the lead MEP for its democracy support activities in Ukraine, the European Parliament is also implementing a far-reaching capacity-building programme for the parliament of Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada. These efforts build on the recommendations drawn up as part of the needs assessment mission conducted by former Parliament President Cox between September 2016 and February 2017.

Parliament is also responsible for steering a mediation process, the Jean Monnet Dialogue, which brings together the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada and leaders of the political factions to follow the implementation of these recommendations.

The legal frameworks for Parliament’s support and capacity-building are the Memorandum of Understanding, signed with the Verkhovna Rada on 3 July 2015, and the Administrative Cooperation Agreement, signed by the Secretary Generals of the two legislatures in March 2016.

c.Election observation

The European Parliament has been very active in observing elections in Ukraine and sent three observation missions in 2014-2015: for the presidential elections on 25 May 2014, the parliamentary elections on 26 October 2014 and the local elections on 25 October 2015.

According to the international observers, the October 2014 parliamentary elections were well organised, transparent, democratic and generally in compliance with international standards. The vote was seen as consolidating the positive electoral practices recognised during earlier presidential elections in the country. However, some irregularities persisted, mostly (90%) on the part of candidates in single-mandate districts in the southern regions. On 2 November 2014, ‘presidential and parliamentary elections’ were held in the eastern regions of the country. The EU did not recognise the elections and considered them to be illegal and against the letter and the spirit of the Minsk agreements. The elections to the Russian Duma took place throughout the territory of Crimea on 18 September 2016, but were not observed by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE ODIHR).

Moldova

On 27 June 2014, the EU and Moldova signed an Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), which has been applied provisionally since September 2014. In April 2014, Moldova became the first country in the Eastern Partnership to benefit from a visa-free regime. Following the banking fraud scandal in 2014, EU assistance was temporarily suspended. However, after an agreement was struck at the end of 2016 on a programme between Moldova and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the main aim of which being to stabilise Moldova’s banking sector, and in view of Moldova’s compliance with other budget support conditions (e.g. progress on public finance management), the EU resumed its disbursement of budget support. Bilateral assistance to Moldova under the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) could range from EUR 335 million to EUR 410 million in the 2014-2017 period. As soon as the Association Agreement with the EU was ratified by the Moldovan National Assembly, Russia introduced a series of measures targeting imports from Moldova and withdrawing the country’s trade preferences under the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) FTA.

Following a relatively calm election campaign focused mainly on geopolitical issues (the EU versus the Eurasian Economic Union), Moldova’s parliamentary election on 30 November 2014 ushered in a pro-European and pro-reform liberal majority coalition, although the pro-Russian Socialist Party obtained 21.37% of the vote. Local elections took place on 14 June 2015, with pro-European parties gaining a narrow victory over the pro-Russia camp. Major corruption scandals sparked street demonstrations, involving thousands of people. There have been four governments since the election, highlighting the political instability of the country.

The Socialist Party’s pro-Russian candidate, Igor Dodon, won the presidential elections in autumn 2016.

Despite being deeply unpopular, the governing coalition moved to adopt a new electoral law on 20 July 2017, shifting from a proportional to a mixed system, with 51 MPs to be elected in majoritarian constituencies, with one round of elections, and 50 MPs to be elected by a proportional vote. The law was passed notwithstanding the negative opinions of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and the OSCE ODIHR, and messages issued by EU leaders previously.

A major challenge for Moldova remains the issue of the breakaway region of Transnistria, which has unilaterally declared independence. Official talks, held in a ‘5+2’ format and aimed at settling the conflict, have so far yielded only limited results. Thanks to a bilateral protocol, the DCFTA was extended to Transnistria from 1 January 2016.

In addition, political tensions between Chisinau and Comrat (the capital of Gagauzia) surfaced in the autumn of 2016, as a result of the interpretation of the 1994 law on the special status of Gagauzia and other political developments (including the arrest warrant issued for four Gagauzian politicians). The political conflict has since been resolved thanks to the mediation of the OSCE, US and EU ambassadors to the country.

a.The European Parliament’s position

On 4 July 2017, the European Parliament adopted its position on the Commission proposal granting a maximum of EUR 100 million in macro-financial assistance to Moldova. Parliament emphasised that this assistance should help to restore a sustainable external financing situation for the country, and support its economic and social development. It also called for the Commission and the European External Action Service to monitor fulfilment of the financing’s preconditions and objectives. In a joint statement that accompanied the decision, Parliament, the Council and the Commission stressed that respecting effective democratic mechanisms, including a parliamentary system and the rule of law, would be a pre-condition for the disbursement of macro-financial assistance.

b.Inter-parliamentary cooperation

EU-Moldova relations were formalised in 2014 with the signing of the Association Agreement. The first meeting of the EU-Moldova Association Council was held on 16 March 2015 and the fifth meeting of the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Association Committee took place in Strasbourg on 25 and 26 October 2017.

c.Election observation

Parliament was invited to observe all the recent parliamentary elections in Moldova. The legislative elections of 30 November 2014 were assessed relatively positively by the international observers of the OSCE ODIHR long-term observation mission. Together with OSCE ODIHR, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, a European Parliament observation mission followed the parliamentary elections of 8 October 2016. The European Parliament delegation also observed the 2016 presidential election. The delegation praised the work of the central electoral commission and commended the large number of female candidates, while condemning the abuse of administrative resources, lack of campaign finance transparency and unbalanced media coverage.

Belarus

In recent decades, the EU’s relations with Belarus have been difficult at times, owing to constant human and civil rights violations in the country. Since 2015 however, Belarus has displayed a more open attitude towards the EU and the Eastern Partnership. Its relations with western countries improved ahead of the October 2015 presidential election, and it played an important role as host for EU-mediated talks on the Ukraine crisis. In response, the EU committed itself to a policy of ‘critical engagement’ with Belarus, as outlined in the Council conclusions of 15 February 2016.

While the EU condemns Belarus’s well-documented human rights violations, Brussels is open to further EU engagement and sectoral cooperation on the condition that the relationship is based on common values. Tangible steps taken by Belarus to respect universal fundamental freedoms, the rule of law and human rights remain key to shaping the EU’s policy towards the country in the years to come.

On 25 February 2016, the Council decided not to prolong restrictive measures for 170 people and three companies whose listings had already been suspended. However, it did extend the other pre-existing measures, including an arms embargo, an asset freeze and a travel ban imposed on four people listed in connection with the unresolved disappearances of two opposition politicians, a businessman and a journalist.

The EU-Belarus Human Rights Dialogue resumed in July 2015, with the most recent round taking place in July 2017. In order to provide a forum for a policy dialogue at the level of senior officials, the EU-Belarus Coordination Group was established in 2016. The main goal of this body is to steer cooperation between the EU and Belarus and oversee the further development of relations.

Belarus participates proactively in the multilateral formats of the Eastern Partnership. Negotiations on a Mobility Partnership were concluded in 2017 and negotiations on visa facilitation and readmission agreements are underway. Both sides are currently concluding talks on the partnership priorities, which will become the first document to be signed between Belarus and the EU.

A wave of protests, which spread across Belarus in February and March 2017, marked another turning point in bilateral relations. The EU strongly condemned the crackdown on peaceful protesters.

a.The European Parliament’s position

The European Parliament has passed a number of resolutions criticising Belarus on account of its political prisoners, its constraints on media freedom and civil society, its failure to respect human rights and its flawed parliamentary elections. On 6 April 2017, Parliament passed an urgent resolution on the situation in Belarus, condemning the crackdown, in February and March 2017, on peaceful protests across the country.

b.Inter-parliamentary cooperation

Parliament does not recognise Belarus’s National Assembly because of the manner in which elections are held in the country. Consequently, it does not maintain bilateral relations with that Assembly. Instead, Parliament’s Delegation for relations with Belarus meets regularly with members of the Belarusian opposition and civil society to discuss political and economic developments in the country. Meeting OSCE standards for elections is a pre-condition for Belarus’s admission to the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly. The EU’s recent rapprochement with Belarus prompted a European Parliament delegation to travel there in June 2015 and in July 2017.

c.Election observation

Belarus has not invited Parliament to observe elections since 2001. The last parliamentary elections took place on 11 September 2016, with election observation missions by OSCE ODIHR and PACE.

 

Krzysztof Bartczak

01/2018