Security in our neighbourhood serves the security at home
A new impetus in relations
The Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit held last month in Brussels was marked with optimism. The European Union, together with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, have reaffirmed their commitment to strategic and ambitious cooperation based on common values and mutual interests. We can say that the Eastern Partnership, established in 2009, has been key to the EU’s Neighbourhood policy and has delivered closer relations with countries in the region.
Concretely, the “more for more” principle in the EU’s strategy related to the Eastern partnership has achieved success in the countries’ democratic processes and has resulted in visa liberalisation and the full entry into force of the Association Agreements with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. In addition, the relations with Armenia have taken positive steps with the recent entry into force of the CEPA agreement and the signature of the agreement to join Horizon, the EU’s programme stimulating research and innovation. As a standing rapporteur on Azerbaijan, I welcome the news that after years of stalemate in the negotiation on the partnership and cooperation agreement with Azerbaijan, progress has been made and, in the words of President Aliyev, the agreement is more than 90 per cent agreed upon. Senior officials have expressed their hope to finalise the text by the end of this year.
That the EU shares its solidarity with its Eastern neighbours, has been exemplified during the COVID-19 crisis. The EU and its Member States have assisted its partners with financial support and equipment for a total value of 2,5 billion euro, including the delivery of vaccines and the facilitation of vaccine deployment. Building on the experiences of the pandemic and the prospects of outstanding challenges, the declaration of the recent summit expresses the partners’ dedication to the new EaP policy beyond 2020 that focuses on recovery, resilience and reform. With an economic and investment plan of 2,3 billion euros, the EU aims to mobilise up to 17 billion euros to invest in sustainable economies, digital transformation, climate resilience, inclusive societies, the rule of law and security.
An honest broker
Ahead of the EaP Summit, another high-level meeting took place in Brussels concerning the security situation in the South Caucasus. After the 44-days war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, I have often called for a stronger European engagement to bring peace and stability to the region. More than a year later, the EU has played a constructive and noteworthy role as an honest broker in the conflict. President of the Council Charles Michel has met with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan to lower tensions and to discuss conflict resolution in the region.
The outcome of the meeting should be welcomed as both leaders have reaffirmed to continue to work on previously agreed points, such as resolving key humanitarian issues, the release of detainees, addressing the fate of missing persons and restoring communication lines. The leaders also agreed to launch the negotiations on the delimitation and demarcation of the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, for which the EU is prepared to make available an expert mission and technical assistance. Earlier European actions to conciliate both countries after exchanges of military fire have even led to the establishment of a direct communication line, between the two neighbours’ Ministers of Defence to prevent similar future incidents. These achievements show that stronger European engagement with conflicted parties remains crucial for trust-building and progress in negotiations, as for our future relations with these two countries.
A way forward
In addition to the European assistance provided to reform societies and economies, I believe that the EU should invest more in the security situation of its Eastern Neighbourhood. Belarus, the border of Ukraine, the situation in the South Caucasus, all these challenges for the region also affect the EU. By engaging in the stability of our neighbourhood, we secure stability at home. This is an important part of our path towards more strategic sovereignty.
Next to the Eastern Partnership programme, we should promote dialogue, mediation and negotiations between these countries. With its broad experience in conflict resolution, cultural heritage protection, peaceful mediation and interreligious and intercultural dialogue, the European Union can offer much more than it is doing now. It can provide a path towards sustainable and peaceful co-existence in the region, as security and stability are preconditions for any economic development. European diplomatic actions such as we have seen last month should not just be a post-crisis emergency measure but an active and continuous European approach to our eastern region, as we should equally invest more in our southern neighbourhood and the European perspective of the Western Balkans.