The EU had a difficult year as it the eastern neighbourhood moved towards authoritarian retrenchment and the EaP lost credibility.
The EU aims to upgrade the eastern dimension of the so-called European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) through the Eastern Partnership (EaP), which is based on bilateral action plans containing a shopping list of reform commitments.
In 2010, the EaP lost credibility as the eastern neighbourhood moved towards authoritarian retrenchment. Democracy suffered a setback in Ukraine as the constitutional court in effect brought back the presidential regime of the 1990s. President Yanukovych also harassed the opposition by launching criminal procedures against Yulia Tymoshenko. Presidential elections in Belarus in December were predictably rigged and, to the dismay of the EU, followed by a wholesale clampdown on the opposition protests. This destroyed the momentum towards a cautious rapprochement with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime.
Nor was there progress in the Caucasus. The EU continues to court authoritarian Azerbaijan because of its vast gas and oil resources. Moldova is currently the only country where democratisation efforts continue. The pro-Western Alliance for European Integration emerged as a tentative winner in the general elections held in November, with 50 percent of the vote. To do better, the EU should present a clear list of demands and benchmarks on democratic performance, and link compliance with direct benefits. It needs to show firmer support to Moldova in order to build it up as a regional model.
Unfortunately, the EU continues to be divided on the EaP: Poland and Sweden originally saw it as a stepping stone to pre-accession; France, Germany and the Netherlands consider it as an altogether different track. This position is gaining traction and, in 2010, the pro-accession group conceded that membership invitations are unlikely to be extended in the next decade. There has been little attention paid on the democratic conditionality benchmarks featuring in the bilateral action plans.