The EU was relatively united in pushing for human rights in the region – but this was not enough to reverse the negative trends in the region.
The EU’s goal is to assist the Eastern Partnership countries to transform into well-governed and free societies. But there was a series of setbacks in 2011. EU member states were mostly united in condemning the human rights violations in the region but had little impact. The EU’s response to the crackdown on civil society in Belarus after the December 2010 presidential elections was spearheaded by the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and Sweden, whose foreign ministers jointly published a letter after the election urging the EU to put pressure on “Lukashenko the Loser”. Although Cyprus and Latvia were initially opposed, arguing that sanctions were not the right tool to promote democracy in the country, the EU imposed travel sanctions and an asset freeze on more than 200 Belarusians implicated in the crackdown on civil society. However, the EU failed to rally the other five eastern partners behind a condemnation of human rights violations in Belarus. EU member states were also less resolute on Azerbaijan, which clamped down on peaceful protesters but unlike Belarus was allowed to remain a full participant in the Eastern Partnership.
Worst of all, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison on charges that the EU considers political. A united EU led by Poland put pressure on President Viktor Yanukovich by postponing his planned visit to Brussels, making the Association Agreement (AA) with Kyiv conditional on Tymoshenko’s release and threatening to postpone the December EU–Ukraine summit (in the end it took place as planned but the EU decided to postpone the signing of the AA). While the EU cannot be blamed for democratic backsliding in the Eastern Neighbourhood, its response was not always bold enough or consistent. In particular, the EU could have been tougher in raising human rights concerns with Baku. One positive development were steps to create two new tools to support democracy in the neighbourhood: the European Endowment for Democracy and the Civil Society Facility.
|Leaders: Czech Republic - Germany - Poland - Slovakia - Sweden - United Kingdom|
|Slackers: Cyprus - Italy - Latvia|