The ENP, as the previous chapter shows, contains some degree of vagueness as an institutionalized approach with big ambitions yet limited offers, endorsing countries with extremely diverse political and economic circumstances and underpinned by crosscutting processes of bilateralism and regionalism. Eastern Partnership represents the latter – regionalist – dimension within the European Neighbourhood Policy. Therefore, the launch of Eastern Partnership was sought to fill the existing gaps in the ENP and enhance the promotion of normative values in a particular region.
The initiative to start a deeper cooperation between the EU and Eastern European countries, however, was put forward not by the Commission, but by the Polish-Swedish joint proposal in May 2008. Formally Eastern Partnership was launched by Joint Declaration accepted in the Prague summit in May 2009 and included 6 Eastern neighbours – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Initially EaP was not granted any specific institution or endowed with particular funding. But the creation of EaP coincided with intra-EU transformations caused by Lisbon Treaty. Particularly the changes regarding the extension of High Representative’s competences and development of European External Action Service, a part of which is the ENP, had important implications for EaP, such as the enacting the principle of differentiation. (Martínezgarneloy Calvo 2014: 133).
One of the peculiarities of EaP is the double track mechanism which was envisaged to bolster partners’ commitment to shared values and reforms. This mechanism consists of bilateral and multilateral frameworks of cooperation between the EU and EaP countries. The bilateral framework highlights heterogonous character of states and their varying objectives of cooperation within common standards. Therefore, EaP offers partners new contractual basis and prospect for Association Agreement (AA) for achieving political association and economic integration. However, AA does not envisage membership opportunity. But at the same time, it is thought to replace PCA and puts forth more extensive list of policy areas for further harmonisation. Policy sectors and reforms formulated in AA basically have legally binding character and checked by more elaborated monitoring system, as compared with Action Plans (Boonstra and Shapovalova 2010:3). The goals of AA regarding economic integration are to be achieved through Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA). Thus, offering a share in European market appears to be the main incentive for partner countries. Other levels of bilateral track include mobility and visa facilitation, as well as energy security and social policy (EC, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council - Eastern Partnership, 2008: 4-11).
The multilateral track is conceived as complementary platform supporting aforementioned bilateral initiatives. Initially this track appeared to be rather bulky and vague with operational structure maintained by EaP Summits, Ministerial meetings. But several years of EaP’s activity has elaborated this dimension. Current multi-level mechanism targets all priority areas and comprises Civil Society Forum, European Endowment for Democracy, EURONEST, thus, providing more space for non-state stakeholders to be engaged into the implementation of country wide and regional programmes. Multilateral efforts are focused on 4 platforms: democracy, good governance and stability; economic integration and convergence with EU policies; energy security, contacts between people. Wide range of EaP activities and flagship initiatives within both tracks are funded through European Neighbourhood Instrument (EC, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council - Eastern Partnership, 2008: 14). The multilateral track of EaP is considered to be more inducing in terms of providing a panel for exchange of best practices among six countries and, hence, stimulating those lagging behind to catch up with pacesetters. (Casier, Korosteleva, Whitman 2013: 3).
As it was mentioned in the beginning of the chapter, EaP was expected to compensate the deficiencies of the ENP, by categorizing offers and specifying channels of operation and funding. However, evaluations and analysis given by different authors are not much optimistic about its effectiveness. Some of the authors argue that EaP basically fails to overcome the pitfalls of the ENP in bringing about tangible changes in the Eastern neighbourhood. Democratising capabilities of the EaP are hindered by inefficient use of available funds. It is argued that important stakeholders (civil societies, media and local communities) still receive negligible amount of material assistance while much of the support being delivered to respective governments (Boonstra and Shapovalova 2010:12).
Another dimension of the problem is the complexity of geopolitical situation in the region. Territorial disputes, conflicts, active engagement of other regional actors caused a bubble of insecurity in the region. Hence, the EaP runs into problems when striving to reinforce regional cooperation. On the other hand, the EaP possess very scarce capacity to deal with security problems, due to the focus on normative aspects of cooperation. This argument further supported by passive involvement of the EU in the conflict resolution process in the region. (Boonstra and Shapovalova 2010:13). In this regard, the external challenger of the Eap in the Eastern neighbourhood is Russia which regards these countries as a sphere of its influence. In fact, these countries are tied with Russia in terms of trade and economy. Hence, placing them in dilemma of choosing between Russia and EU, leaves a negative impact on the EaP’s capability (Casier, Korosteleva, Whitman 2013: 8).
Korosteleva also argues that EaP has inherited the contradictions and vagueness of terms formulated in the ENP. The principle of differentiation accentuated in the EaP structure should have overcame existing ambiguities about partnership. However, in practice, the notion of partnership remained vague, which also explains discrepancies between the EaP official discourse and actions, and varying interpretations of goals and policies. Moreover, with the launch of the EaP, EU policy toward the neighbourhood tends to privatise “joint ownership” and “shared values” thus prescribing the partners the role of “norm taker” instead of equal negotiator (Korosteleva, 2011: 246).