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The European Union's Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries were either stagnant or stumbled in their efforts to meet EU norms and standards in 2017, the latest available data shows.
Armenia, Moldova, and Georgia stepped back, while Ukraine made little improvements, according to the Eastern Partnership Index 2017 published by Civil Society Forum in December. The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is a policy initiative that aims to bring the six Eastern neighbours – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – closer to the EU.
The research traced back progress made by the six EaP countries over 2017 in two categories: the extent the countries established sustainable democratic institutions and the level of integration with the EU, including trade and mobility.
Since the report, some former Soviet states have seen progress, but also further setback and uncertainty. And with upcoming elections to the EU parliament in 2019 and debate over Brexit deal, the European neighborhood policy might be changed as well as the status of its eastern partners.
“The problem is that EU is very inward looking at the moment… I suspect the EU will be certainly not interested in a membership perspective sometime, so it’s more for the Eastern Partnership countries themselves to show that they have the momentum to get closer, whether it’s a trade, energy policy, ensuring visa-free status,” said Jeff Lovitt, the author of the report and the founder and chair of New Diplomacy non-profit.
The report features how little the EaP countries approached EU norms and standards over one year, even for the leaders of the run since 2014 – the Associated Agreement members Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. Ukraine, EU eastern neighbor of 44 million citizens, advanced by 0.01 point to 0.73 out of 1, compared to the first ever index in 2015-2016. Though, the country made more positive steps in bilateral trade and mobility.
Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova has declined drastically by 0.07 points and landed on the third place with 0.65 points after Armenia. Another Caucasus region partner, Georgia, followed with a decrease down to 0.64 points. For Azerbaijan the index remained unchanged, while it improved for Belarus by 0.08 points but still made the country to run the last one.
In the second category of the index on international linkages among business, civil society, citizens, and governments, the countries remained stable or showed moderate progress. Most of the advancements are due to the visa-free travel agreement with the Schengen countries that kicked in in 2017 for Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. The free trade area agreement is another booster that came within the associated agreement package and enabled an increase in trade turnover for all the members.
Georgia and Moldova benefited from the agreement the most with 0.71 points, followed by Ukraine with 0.66 points. The final trio Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus fell behind with 0.5 and fewer points.
On a positive note, all EaP countries were able to increase bilateral trade, making sometimes EU their first export partner like in the case of Ukraine, but the struggle to carry out EU norms is still ongoing.