The European Union and Post-Communist Europe: One Approach or Several?

Martin Dangerfield. Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics. Volume 23, Issue 4. 2007.

“The Orange Revolution is over. In it, the Ukrainian society demonstrated its democratic credentials, its respect for the rule of law and its awareness of its right to free media. As a result of this, Ukraine has proved indisputably that it is a European state, not only in terms of geography but, most importantly, in terms of upholding key European values.” — (G. Gromadsky et al., Stefan Batory Foundation Warsaw, May 2005)

“While Mr Yushchenko’s ascent to power following the 2004 Orange Revolution was seen in the US and Brussels as a sign that Kiev had moved decisively towards the West, Mr Yanukovych’s election triumph this year had cast doubt on prospects for further Euro-Atlantic integration.” — (Financial Times, 15 September 2006)

“We are moving away from Euro-romanticism and moving toward Euro-pragmatism. Our goal will primarily be to build a Europe in Ukraine.” — (Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, 6 September 2006)

“Ukraine is making an effort to fulfil the demands for EU accession candidates and expects a confirmation of its European perspective from Brussels.” — (Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, 29 September 2006)

What is a ‘European identity’? Is it something that can be bestowed or something that has to be earned? The enlargement of May 2004 meant that the European Union already included the majority of countries that are considered to be ‘European’. The ‘Danubian’ enlargement of 2007 and the provisions to admit West Balkan countries in the not-too-distant future will further consolidate the position of the EU as a manifestation of Europe itself. Yet some European countries are also confronted by what may be interpreted as a deliberate EU policy of exclusion and face being left on the sidelines while perhaps even watching what many consider to be a non-European country (Turkey) enter the club. Some countries, of course, do not at present aspire to full membership of the EU. In Western Europe this group comprises Switzerland along with European Economic Area (EEA) members Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein, who have all nevertheless developed intensive integration with the EU. In Eastern Europe, Russia regards itself as a strategic partner of the EU rather than a potential future member, while Belarus at present de facto excludes itself from even the most basic aspects of European integration.

To what extent, therefore, are the prospects for future inclusion of additional European post-communist states into the European integration process already predetermined by the alternative approaches the EU has adopted to the various categories of post-communist country? Distinguishing among the 2004 and 2007 EU entrants (East-Central Europe—ECE), the Western Balkan countries covered by the Stabilization and Association Process (SAP) and the Western Newly Independent States (WNIS)—Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus—currently allocated to the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), this article will argue that, despite some key differences, the EU approach to all post-communist states has nevertheless had a key consistency in that it involves a route map to an advanced position in the European integration process. With respect to the European integration prospects of the WNIS, the main focus of this contribution, the article will also propose that any talk of a strategic choice of ‘Europe or elsewhere’ which rests upon whether or not a promise of EU membership is available at the present time is an ill-advised discourse. Furthermore, assuming a European vocation genuinely exists, a lack of willingness to engage with the integration opportunities at hand just because membership is not clearly on the horizon at the present time would be a huge missed opportunity. For post-communist countries the ‘return’ or ‘turn’ to Europe is heavily connected to identity issues and—for certain segments of society, at least—the desire to leave behind the negative legacies of the past or avoid unpalatable associations with their other former Soviet neighbours. However, for these aspirations to be realized a dose of Euro-realism is necessary so that WNIS citizens are genuinely aware of what lies behind the pursuit of EU member status and the tough reality of what Europeanization entails in practice.

A Misguided Obsession with EU Membership?

Many EU member states are, to put it mildly, in somewhat reflective mood over future enlargement as the EU grapples with absorbing the latest batch of new entrants. Since May 2004 the enlargement issue has come on to EU citizens’ radar and this has had important consequences for the enlargement stances of the existing member states’ governments. It has also had the effect of toughening the entry conditions for the next generation of entrants and increasingly rigorous scrutiny of preparedness. As the European integration process spreads southwards and eastwards, the incorporation of additional countries inevitably becomes an ever more complicated and lengthy process, not least because it involves increasingly disparate levels of economic development and variations in both commitment to and progress in reform. In addition, beyond current membership promises, the future enlargement conundrum also involves states with a highly interdependent and somewhat unpredictable relationship with Russia; this not only complicates the business of defining what sort of relationship can develop with the EU but also means that other EU foreign policy considerations are brought into play.

A key question for those European countries so far denied an EU membership prospect—and this category clearly equates with Ukraine and Moldova—is what kind of relationship they can develop with the EU and with the EU integration process in general. A subsidiary two-part question is whether they can remain satisfied with what is on offer to them at the moment, namely the ENP, and whether the design of and resources allocated to the ENP are sufficient to ensure that its objectives will be realized. Difficult as it may be, perhaps one productive way forward is to relax the assumption that being ‘in or out of’ the EU are stark categories which depend purely upon actual membership. At the end of 2005 it was stated (during an interview given by the European External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner to the Ukrainian press) that ‘contrary to statements in the beginning of the year, the Ukrainian government now does not put so much emphasis on membership with the EU anymore’ and this was raised in order to establish whether interest in integration with the EU itself had cooled or simply become more realistic. To the extent that it holds true and is not a smokescreen for an alternative strategy focusing on deep integration with the Russian Federation and others in a ‘Eurasian’ perspective, Yanukovich’s statement quoted at the head of this article suggests that the latter prevails. Various alternative relationships with the EU are practised in Europe today. If in countries such as Ukraine the discourse of a European future can continue to be conducted more in terms of how the country’s relationship or position in the European integration process can be developed and intensified—and less in terms of an obsession with EU membership per se—and the political agenda can be mobilized around this goal then prospects for successful Europeanization and affirming a European identity can be much more encouraging. This argument in turn depends on accepting that the ENP is more a device for inclusion than exclusion and that it can bring progress, in terms of both economic development and European integration prospects. It also depends on being realistic about membership aspirations at this stage.

One EU Strategy or Several?

Most commentators take the view that the EU has, by virtue of various modes of engagement, regionalized post-communist Europe into three distinct groups of states, each of which reflects different orders of priority and varied levels of privilege in EU relations. The first group is ECE, consisting of the eight entrants of May 2004 plus—notwithstanding later entry and some variation in entry conditions—Bulgaria and Romania. The second set of states covers the SAP group, all of which have a promise of membership but remain a diverse group consisting of candidates in negotiation (Croatia), candidates awaiting the start of negotiations (Macedonia), an associated state (Albania), and states currently moving towards association (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina). The third group includes East European states distinguished by explicit denial of a membership perspective or even prospects of an association. These states are the subject of an EU vision—or, some would say, rhetoric—in which they can develop a relationship short of full membership but nevertheless entailing advanced integration with the EU. In principle this concept implies de facto something beyond association and along the lines of the EEA concept.

The third group is further sub-divided in terms of the formal mechanisms employed to meet the goal of intensified integration with the EU. All states in this group have signed a Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) with the EU. PCAs are ‘legal frameworks, based on the respect of democratic principles and human rights, setting out the political, economic and trade relationship between the EU and its partner countries. Each PCA is a ten-year bilateral treaty signed and ratified by the EU and the individual state’. Six PCA states—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine—are participants in the ENP. According to the official EU position, the ENP ‘offers our neighbours a privileged relationship, building upon a mutual commitment to common values (democracy and human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development). The ENP goes beyond existing relationships to offer a deeper political relationship and economic integration. The level of ambition of the relationship will depend on the extent to which these values are effectively shared’. Russia declined the offer of ENP status and its relations with the EU—though not essentially different from the goals of ENP—are managed through a framework that formally categorizes Russia as a ‘strategic partner’ rather than neighbour. From 2007 onwards, ENP partners and Russia will share the same EU funding instrument, the ‘European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument’ (ENPI).

It would be disingenuous to suggest that there are no serious variations in what has been on offer from the EU to these three regions. The absence of a membership perspective together with the declaration that ‘the ENP is not about enlargement and does not offer an accession perspective’ clearly reflects a fundamental distinction between the ECE and SAP areas on the one hand and the WNIS states on the other. Second, there has also been a patent ranking in terms of EU priorities, with the ECE countries prioritized first, followed by the SAP countries and WNIS. Third, there is the question of the ever-blurring distinction between the enlargement process and the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The May 2004 enlargement has been declared ‘the most successful act of foreign policy that the EU has ever made’, yet of course this process began when the CFSP was embryonic and the foreign policy effectiveness of enlargement and the attendant conditionality was yet to be fully revealed. The rapid steps forward in CFSP and European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) since the late 1990s has meant that relations of SAP and WNIS with the EU have become much more explicitly intertwined with EU foreign policy. EU engagement in the SAP zone has been driven by security imperatives, with accession having been deemed a necessary ingredient for fulfilment of EU foreign policy objectives for the region. Thus it has been the case that the pre-accession process and other instruments have been deployed in tandem with explicit EU ‘hard’ security undertakings, notably the completed and continuing EU peace-keeping missions in Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina respectively. Also, unlike its approach to ECE, the EU has made regional co-operation a central plank of its strategy in the SAP area and—via both the provisions of SAP itself and the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe (SP)—has had very much a ‘hands on’ role in driving and guiding the regional co-operation process. Yet whereas the SAP states have been simultaneously part of the enlargement process and the CFSP, this is not the case so far for WNIS states, whose status in this respect is more explicitly a topic of CFSP and formally separated from the enlargement agenda.

Notwithstanding the significance of these differences, is the distinction between the ECE–SAP and the WNIS strategies of the EU one of ends rather than of means? As well as stressing variations, it is equally valid to point to some common threads in the way the EU has approached and interacted with the three regions. If the membership perspective is stripped out, it is clear that the EU has deployed its ‘soft power’ in a rather path-dependent way, to the effect that the process and instruments used by the EU towards its WNIS partners are very much based on the ECE and SAP approaches. The common ingredients have been: (i) political dialogue; (ii) economic integration with the EU via various degrees of trade liberalization with a free trade area a goal in all cases; (iii) technical assistance projects—backed by dedicated EU funding instruments (PHARE, TACIS, CARDS)—to support the post-socialist transformation and eventually to facilitate the practicalities of adopting EU laws and regulations; (iv) the application of conditionality which links the provision of EU rewards with progress on EU-determined political and economic reforms; finally (v) the key principle of differentiation, which allows for individual countries’ relations with the EU to progress at varying speeds, not tied to a group or regional timetable, with country-specific plans for EU preparation and concomitant deployment of EU technical and financial assistance.

One key comfort for states feeling marginalized by the EU should be the fact that, despite some key differences so far, mainly to do with the proscribed endgame for the WNIS, there is broad consensus that the EU’s approach to all post-communist states has nevertheless had a key consistency in that it involves a route-map which is designed to end in an advanced position in the European integration process. As Cremona put it, ENP is ‘an offer of an enhanced relationship with the EU based on the EEA model, that would be as close to the Union as can be without being a member and the use of instruments derived from the [CEE states’] pre-accession process’. Thus even the WNIS are being offered an intensive relationship with the EU, providing the necessary obligations can be met. By concentrating efforts on the European integration process rather than purely on the status of EU membership at this stage, eastern ‘neighbours’ could become de facto significantly more ‘in’ than ‘out of’ Europe. In sum, this means that the main differences have been in the principle of EU engagement with the WNIS—a relationship other than membership—rather than the practice of EU engagement. This in turn focuses debate on the question of the incentives that are available in order to ensure the implementation of the reforms needed to engage in the mainstream European integration process.

How Meaningful Would a Membership Promise Be at the Present Time?

A widely made critique of the application of the pre-accession methods used for the 2004 and 2007 entrants to WNIS states is that the ENP is heavily laced with conditionality. For the recent ECE entrants, the grand bargain was the acceptance of conditionality—essentially the toleration of large-scale external interference in internal affairs—in return for the prize of membership. As Mayhew and Copsey put it, a ‘fundamental dilemma of ENP is therefore the question of whether following closely the accession route in terms of procedures and conditionality and monitoring is not in fundamental conflict with an apparent determination not to offer these countries a perspective of accession’. Furthermore, recent research on the impact and effectiveness of conditionality during the pre-accession phase holds that a membership perspective is absolutely indispensable in order to compensate for the high costs of adaptation to EU norms and standards. Given that the EU makes any significant progress in integration dependent on the non-negotiable, sustainable establishment of standards for democracy and human rights along with the rule of law, then the findings of Schimmelfennig suggest that the ENP will ultimately founder at the first hurdle, or at least that engagement with the EU will not be the key force in such developments: ‘EU influence on compliance with human rights and democratic rules in the candidate countries has generally not been effective before the EU had developed a clear membership promise for the Central and Eastern European countries and if it did not make compliance an explicit condition of accession (or the beginning of accession negotiations)’.

One riposte to Schimmelfennig’s position might be along the lines that, if the WNIS elites are socialized into recognizing that membership is a long-term goal at best and a stake in the European integration process is a feasible and valuable objective, then a goal short of EU membership may carry more incentives than it did in the ECE case. Also, in the ECE case there was no precedent that would have convinced those elites that compliance with human rights and democratic rules would open the door to worthwhile progress in EU integration. For the WNIS states, the experiences of both ECE and, especially, SAP provide those crucial precedents. It is also impossible to evade the important question of how meaningful or relevant a membership perspective would be at this time. Past experience may provide a convincing argument that the prospect of membership is a necessary condition for effective conditionality; but there is also the argument that the provision of an accession date or time-frame is also an important ingredient. Critics of the EU’s actions in the West Balkans, where the promise of membership is in place, have contended that, for the seriously lagging ‘problem’ states such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, the accession perspective is so long-term that the EU’s leverage on the reform process is compromised. Abramowitz and Hurlburt, for example, wrote that if ‘even fast-progressing Croatia has to wait ten years for admission, what inducements can Brussels offer Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia, and Macedonia? … High representative Paddy Ashdown has been heard to remark that he has only one big carrot, EU membership, with which to influence Bosnian behaviour. But this carrot will start to seem less tempting if Brussels cannot make the prospect of membership realistic and the benefits tangible’.

Even in Croatia, the increasingly hard-line EU approach to conditionality, which prevented negotiations beginning as planned in March 2005, generated significant disillusion with and resentment towards the EU. The EU stance on the Gotovina affair resulted in plummeting popular support for EU membership and widespread perceptions that the EU was acting as a ‘bully’. Note also that the reformist party which led Croatia to candidate status was rejected at the elections of December 2003, meaning that the relevance of progress in integration with the EU was not the main priority for voters who ‘may shift their allegiance away from the most western-oriented political forces if these fail to provide for effective governance and improvement of the economic situation’. Moreover, the March 2006 parliamentary election in Ukraine showed that not only did the pro-Europe, pro-EU banner fail in itself to constitute a decisive vote-winning platform but also has not been the most telling factor in determining whether the reformist elements in Ukraine’s politics can even remain united. Finally, a potentially even more fundamental point is that some have recently been questioning the assumption that the EU has actually exerted a deep and lasting influence on the political environment of even the May 2004 entrants. Recent signs of ‘failing or failed’ governments in Hungary and Poland gives, according to the Financial Times, ‘an impression of increasing instability in Eastern Europe. Yet it is just another sign that deep political divisions in the region are back on display after a long period when the countries were on their best and politest behaviour to get into the European Union, which they did in 2004’.

A membership promise without a time-frame runs the risk of exerting only a relatively short-term impact on the reform process and it is likely that pressure for a date to be set will build, especially in the context of an electoral platform based on European integration. Reaching one milestone—achieving a membership promise—will soon put the next milestone on the agenda. Yet while it cannot be assumed that the EU will definitely not give a membership promise to WNIS states at some stage, it is a cast-iron certainty that no date will be given before or even when negotiations begin, as the Croatian and Turkish cases show. The run-up to the Bulgarian and Romanian accession bordered on the farcical, and the way the EU was ‘stung’ will leave a clear legacy for future enlargements:

the important thing is not to repeat this bungled Balkan timetable. The EU had never previously given candidate countries a final entry date before embarking on the actual negotiations with them. And, hopefully, it will never do so again. Indeed, the lesson may have been learnt. For in launching the inherently far more problematic negotiations with Turkey and other candidates, the EU subsequently decided entry would depend on candidates showing they had implemented and enforced EU rules, not just agreed to them on paper.

Finally, who is empowered to give a cast-iron membership promise at the present time? In theory, the need for accession treaties to be ratified by member state parliaments has meant that accession can never be guaranteed until it has advanced through all EU and member state ratification processes. But for enlargements which have already taken place this ratification was never a major issue in practice as all concerns of existing member states would be settled or compensated for during the accession negotiations which are themselves a two-level game—intra-EU deals to arrive at common EU negotiating positions, on the one hand, and deals between the EU collectively and the acceding states, on the other. Nowadays the situation is more unpredictable for putative entrants, since some member states—France (for all accessions after Croatia) and Austria (for Turkey)—have given notice that they will hold referenda as part of the member state phase of accession treaty ratification. Thus some candidates face the prospect of meeting all the accession criteria only to fall at the hurdle of public opinion. This will therefore render ‘membership promise’ dependent on a factor beyond the applicant’s control.

In any case, whether the EU membership promise is early or premature, delayed, or a credible or non-credible commitment, this does not alter the reality of the European integration process and the massive practical and political task of adopting the acquis communautaire and developing the genuine institutional capacity to deliver it. It took ECE states over ten years to transform themselves from associate to full members. A similar time-frame or longer would apply to the WNIS given the context of a lower starting base, a developing acquis, and a more hostile and rigorous assessment and monitoring environment for EU candidates. A mere glance at the current EU–Ukraine Action Plan, which works as a reform blueprint for Ukraine, including several measures also serving as preparation for developing integration with the EU, reveals the extent of the task at hand. The mere listing of action plan tasks takes up 25 pages of the action plan document and includes 71 different titles, each of which has several subheadings (some with as many as ten). This is a substantial manifesto for change, with—if implemented—a justifiable claim that it will ‘significantly advance the approximation of Ukrainian legislation, norms and standards to those of the European Union [and] will build solid foundations for further economic integration’.

ENP: Exclusion Strategy or Integration Policy?

ENP has been interpreted in a number of ways. This is not an exclusive list, but discernible perspectives most relevant to this discussion range from the rather pessimistic assessment which classes ENP as essentially a conscious strategy of exclusion and representing first and foremost an attempt to pre-empt future accession attempts by former Soviet states and settle the final borders of the EU. One explanation among others for this is based on the neo-realist perspective on international affairs, which views the EU expansion in geopolitical terms and the limits of that expansion defined by the parameters of the Russian sphere of influence in post-Cold War Europe, something which also affects accommodation within NATO too. In this view, the prospects for a genuine Europeanization of WNIS are poor and ENP is therefore of little value for this purpose, the EU’s lack of willingness to devote serious resources being further evidence of a disingenuous policy on its part. In this vein, Margot Light and her collaborators wrote:

[n]o matter how frequently NATO and EU officials reiterate that they have no intention of redividing Europe, irrespective of how many ‘partnership’ agreements they offer to non-members, the inevitable consequences of admitting some countries to full membership of the organizations and excluding others is to produce ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’.

Karen E. Smith supplements this by saying that ‘the policy instruments available to the EU are inadequate. Far too little is on offer, both to encourage democracy, economic reform and so on from the “bottom-up” (via aid and free movement of people), and to try to force governments to comply with political and economic conditions’.

Second, a marginally less critical position from Wolowski who (discussing the Ukrainian case in particular) sees an ‘EU policy paradigm’ based on ‘only as much integration so as to not make Ukraine feel excluded by Europe’. This view recognizes some genuine attempt by the EU to achieve a measure of integration but subject to strict limitations and driven mainly by the need to secure WNIS co-operation on matters that relate to the EU’s economic and security interests in the WNIS region and also to balance the nature, scope and objectives of its engagement with an eye to the higher-ranked priorities of the EU relationship with Russia.

Third, ENP as an approach is inconsistent in that—as noted above—it relies in all its key features on the accession and enlargement approach yet excludes—if the aim is genuinely to promote democracy, stability, security and prosperity in the WNIS area—the key ingredient in the workability of this approach, namely the promise of membership. Just as the enlargement strategy for the ECE new members was clearly path-dependent because of its reliance on the ‘classical’ method of EU enlargement, ENP is similarly path-dependent but with reference to an enhanced version of the ‘classical’ method of EU enlargement used in the context of the transformation environment of ECE. This path dependency can be taken as evidence that the EU either suffers from a lack of imagination or has faith that the success of the enlargement approach validates it as a formula for delivering similar EU security objectives elsewhere. A critical or optimistic assessment of ENP will therefore follow depending on the judgement of whether the WNIS states need a tailor-made approach and whether conditionality can work without a promise of membership or Romano Prodi’s early optimism will prevail: ‘the goal of accession is certainly the most powerful stimulus for reform we can think of. But why should a less ambitious goal not have some effect?’

Fourth—and this may be as much an explanation of its path-dependent character—ENP has been seen from an institutionalist perspective as a way to maintain a prominent and influential position in EU foreign policy for the European Commission. As Judith Kelley put it, ‘the Commission relied on institutional learning and strategic adaptation from enlargement policies to expand its foreign policy domain … the ENP extends the foreign policy role that the Commission played during enlargement, and enables the Commission to continue playing a significant role in external affairs’.

Finally, according to the official European Commission view, ENP is, for now at least, a ‘concrete alternative to enlargement’ that provides for a major step forward in the EU’s engagement and a device for inclusion based on genuine partnership with clear integration prospects for designated neighbours who are prepared to programme their future political, economic and institutional development according to EU norms and standards. Furthermore it does not prejudge how relations with the EU could develop further down the line. In this official view ENP is a win–win game for both parties. A Commission official, Eneko Landaburu, has described it as ‘a virtuous circle, a policy based on shared value and enlightened shared interest: by increasing our neighbours’ prosperity, stability and security, by projecting our prosperity, stability and security beyond our borders we increase our own’.

The future effectiveness of ENP will only be revealed over time, but so far it does seem that since it entered the implementation stage, especially where action plans have been agreed and come on stream, it has been possible to discern a growing level of optimism that ENP may at least deliver some benefits and indeed be a realistic way forward. In late 2005 the World Bank newsletter on transforming economies—Beyond Transitions—devoted a whole issue to the theme of Ukrainian reform and several observations on the merits of ENP featured. Anders Åslund was cautiously positive when he wrote that the ENP Action Plan for Ukraine ‘contains many concrete steps to be taken by the EU and Ukraine. The demands on Ukraine amount to sensible reforms to which few would object. The EU offers might not be very generous, but they do foresee improvements in market access and substantial exchanges in the sphere of education and science’. A more optimistic viewpoint was expressed by Andrew Tiffin, who saw the EU–Ukraine action plan as positive for Ukraine’s economic prospects and definitely offering an integration perspective: ‘The Ukraine–EU Action Plan is both timely and appropriate. The Action Plan covers a wide range of tasks and measures, and by harmonizing Ukrainian standards with those of the EU, it aims to accelerate Ukraine’s progress toward a market-based economy that is firmly integrated within Europe and global markets’. In even more upbeat fashion, Iryna Solonenko argued that prior to the ENP the main problem was not so much the absence of a membership promise that undermined Ukrainian reforms as the absence of ‘strong integration incentives’. In contrast to the ‘conditionality deficiency’ arguments which surrounded the pre-ENP approach of the EU, ‘the EU has acquired new instruments to promote democracy in Ukraine … ENP has provided new incentives for Ukrainian reforms’. According to Solonenko, the critical ingredients of the ENP include: (i) the fact that the EU–Ukraine action plan and the initiative of Ferrero-Waldner and Solana in the form of the ‘ten-point supplementary plan’ now provide the additional ‘carrots’ and ‘conditional instruments’ needed to stimulate reforms; (ii) an enhanced ‘socialization’ process based on people-to-people contacts, educational programmes, sharing of transition experiences, activities to improve ‘capacity’ of civil servants, etc.; (iii) a monitoring process—based very much on the modalities of the ‘accession partnership’ used for the ECE states—with capability to punish or reward efforts and progress and also perhaps to encourage a ‘competitive’ attitude among all ENP states in the race to implement the action plans.

Continuing with the optimistic take on ENP, in a substantial exposition of the economic and interconnected integration benefits of ENP, European Commission officials Michaela Dodini and Marco Fantini—albeit not expressing an official Commission view but writing in the critical context of the foremost debating forum for scholars and practitioners of EU affairs—argue that the ENP does offer serious added value to the PCA arrangement and also brings the prospect of significant economic growth and development effects that are desirable irrespective of any ambitions for European integration. Their analysis argues that a favourable economic impact will occur via structural reforms that ‘should result in an upgrade of the regulatory framework to make it more conducive to growth’. In addition, there will be the beneficial impact of a macro-economic policy anchor and the usual growth-creating effects of trade liberalization following reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers with the EU. The discourse of membership perspective has tended to overshadow the links between integration with the EU and the domestic economic reform and renewal of former Soviet bloc countries. There is ‘a legacy of regulations that, even after a decade or more of reform, are inadequate to the needs of modern economies … ENP offers countries a ready-made regulatory framework. For countries wishing to put in place a modern regulatory framework, adopting the acquis as a reference is likely to be easier than developing a new one from scratch’.

In general, what does seem to be increasingly indisputable is that the ENP offers a route to deeper integration with the EU and is a clear upgrade in relations from the concept of the PCA. This has been recognized in official circles in WNIS and is evident in deed (namely, the generally enthusiastic engagement with the action plans) and in political rhetoric. We must wait to see whether all this will ultimately equate with the famous ‘Everything but the Institutions’ statement made by Romano Prodi in the early ENP gestation period. Certainly, the integration ‘endgame’, as it stands in the concept of ENP, remains somewhat vague and the promise of a ‘stake in the internal market’ now on offer falls short of the suggestion of full participation in the ‘four freedoms’ that was part of the original ‘wider Europe’ proposal. The poor prospects for free movement of labour are an obvious problem, and this fact alone will probably ensure that the ENP will not deliver the equivalent of EEA membership.

There are also risks and uncertainties connected to any wholesale adoption of the internal market rules and it will be a challenge to achieve a more targeted application of them in order to balance the risks of premature over-regulation of WNIS economies with threats to the integrity of the single market itself. However, it is certainly one that is better raised earlier rather than later. Uneven impact across the ENP countries will no doubt be another issue. In general, as Lavanex and Schimmelfennig caution, it is questionable whether ‘intensified functional co-operation can be a long-term alternative to accession for aspiring countries, such as Ukraine or Moldova … [t]he absence of incentives comparable to EU accession, budgetary constraints, competing priorities within the ENP and its oscillation between normative and strategic priorities may hamper its transformative potential’. But these reservations cannot be answered at present and certainly lie well beyond the scope of this contribution. The focus here is the narrower issue of whether there is an integration perspective for WNIS and whether the measures and process involved conform to the more fundamental policy goals of economic growth and development. The answer seems to be yes, assuming that the EU economic governance model is the best way forward for the WNIS.

From Integration Perspective to Membership Perspective?

Kelley sees the ENP as ‘clearly an effort to extend, or even emulate, the success of enlargement. Indeed as one official said the ENP is “a diluted version of the enlargement policy”. But the neighbours are not current membership candidates and few have the potential of becoming so’. The ‘few’ with potential are clearly the WNIS neighbours; however, as was argued above, a promise of membership is unlikely to materialize in the near future, it would be of questionable credibility or value at this stage, and to obsess about it now is unlikely to be productive. The idea that an integration perspective could become a membership perspective at some future point is a different matter, however. Although the barriers to EU entry will also remain considerable, at least for the foreseeable future, and the existing queue—long in terms of the time it will take to process it as well as numbers in it—must be cleared first, some grounds for optimism exist.

First, although the EU is sticking rigidly to the stance that ENP is not a stepping-stone to membership, it has not irrevocably said ‘no’ to ENP states. As far as the Commission is concerned, Gromadski and his associates wrote that its ‘position is quite clear: it intends to focus on the ENP for now. However, while it accepts that the ENP is not about membership, it does not a priori exclude membership in the long term’. There is a clear recognition that the WNIS are European countries and therefore meet the basic criterion for inclusion, as Olli Rehn reiterated in a speech given at the European Policy Centre (Brussels) in May 2006: ‘The EU Treaty indicates that any European country which respects the values of democracy and the rule of law may apply for EU membership. The Union defines itself through its members’ shared values, rather than by geography’. Views are also being aired that the EU will eventually have to incorporate all clearly European states, otherwise the issue of where the final border lies will never go away. For example in August 2006 Andreas Schockenhoff, deputy chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, wrote that Article 49 of the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty ‘should apply in principle to all European countries including Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova’.

Second, in speaking of the EU position, one must remember the nature of the political entity that is the EU and the multitude of alternative views and positions within it. Among the member states there is in fact anything but consensus on offering a membership perspective for Ukraine, for example. Gromadski et al. claim that in the immediate aftermath of the Orange Revolution ‘more than ten Member states have been keenly interested in the building of new relations with Ukraine’. This of course reflects the important fact that enlargement itself has changed the dynamics of the debate on future enlargement processes, as seven out of the eight new ECE members (all except Slovenia) were included in this group and ‘specifically, Poland, Hungary and Lithuania have fought for a new formulation on Ukraine’s membership prospects’. As well as inputs to the top-level strategic debates in the European Council, the new members are also in a special, perhaps unique, position in terms of a role in the ‘Europeanization’ of the WNIS states, for example through the contributions of their exclusive sub-regional co-operation vehicles (such as the Višegrad Group) to the ‘socialization’ dimension of the ENP (see below). Different stances of the main elements of the EU governance structure should also be noted: ‘in contrast with the European Parliament, the European Council representing EU member states and the European Commission, the EU executive, remain reluctant to accept that Ukraine could eventually join the EU’. The reaction of the European Parliament to the Orange Revolution was an astonishing level of support for a membership perspective for Ukraine: the February 2005 EP vote on whether Ukraine should be given such a perspective was passed by 467 to 19.

Another reason for cautious optimism that an integration perspective can eventually pave the way for a membership perspective stems from the ENP methodology which, as noted several times above, is based on the enlargement method. It is therefore de facto a chance to prepare for EU membership. As Dodini and Fantini point out, ‘successful participation in the ENP can be a very effective tool to demonstrate European credentials for those NCs hoping to eventually join the EU. Moreover, all progress made in the ENP framework would reduce future efforts to prepare for EU membership’. The ENP therefore seems in principle to have considerable integrative scope to place WNIS—notwithstanding the uncertainties of what a ‘stake in the internal market’ will eventually amount to—in the core affair of the European project, which is economic integration. As Tsoukalis wrote in 2006, ‘European integration started as an economic affair, though with strong political undertones. Today, economics remains the backbone of it’. In other words, as the Financial Times put it, the ‘business of Europe has always, among many other things, been business’. In addition, the coincidence of ENP goals and the practical aspects of adaptation to the EU internal market offers a test for whether the Europeanization path is the right one for WNIS because internal market adaptation entails many of the inescapable obligations that new EU members are required to assume.

Prior to the May 2004 enlargement the reservations and worries of the impact of large numbers of new members from the parts of Europe that are economically weaker and less secure in the ‘soft security’ sense were debated mainly at elite levels. Since the expansion took place, the enlargement issue has very much come on to the popular radar and a ‘problem’ for the political leaders in the member states to address in the domestic political discourse, and therefore an electoral issue. Thus, as far as further enlargement is concerned, the resonance of ‘integration capacity’ is particularly strong at the present time, and for some ‘it is clear that in some member states the pace and scale of enlargement is approaching the limits of what public opinion will accept’. Yet while current EU public opinion on enlargement is not especially encouraging neither is it disastrous. A special Eurobarometer report—published in July 2006 and based on data gathered in March–May 2006—that focused on attitudes towards EU enlargement found that the EU population is divided on the issue: 45 per cent of EU citizens were found to be in favour of EU enlargement while 42 per cent were against; meaning anti-enlargement views were actually in the minority. The most enthusiastic states were the ten new members, where at least one out of two citizens supported further enlargement, while in Germany, Luxembourg, France, Austria and Finland more than 60 per cent of respondents disapproved of it.

On the negative side, there were inconsistent responses around perceptions of the impact of further enlargement on particular issue areas. Whereas ‘most Europeans’ had positive views about enlargement’s impact on issues such as peace and stability, cultural enrichment, mobility in Europe and so on, ‘with regard to the economic and social consequences of the process, EU citizens worry most about employment’. For the EU-25 as a whole, 75 per cent of respondents agreed (14 per cent disagreed) with the question ‘in economic terms, the enlargement of the European Union increases jobs transferring to countries where labour is cheaper’. Also ominous was the response—62 per cent agreed, 27 per cent disagreed—to the suggestion ‘in social terms, the enlargement of the European Union increases the risks of criminal activities’.

Although the issue of enlargement beyond the present crop of countries slated for future entry was not included, these attitudes at least give some tentative indications of how an announcement about a membership perspective for WNIS would be received by the EU public. Clearly it is hard to imagine the prospects for lower restrictions on movement of people becoming more palatable even in the framework of ENP. On the other hand, part of the reason for this special Eurobarometer report was to tackle misperceptions of enlargement and to try to achieve a more balanced public view. Since it was notable that ‘citizens who feel they are well informed are more in favour of enlargement than those who do not’, any chance of moderating the current public opinion constraint on future enlargement needs ‘more information and communication about EU enlargement in order to better assess the benefits and challenges of this process, in the context of a clear political project for Europe’. A further positive angle is that the absence for now of prospective membership for the WNIS means that public opinion may be far less of a hindrance for implementing the ENP and the substantial moves forward in increasing the economic integration on offer through it.

Sub-regional Co-operation and the EU Integration Endeavour

Given that the interplay between the broader objective of economic and political transformation and the prerequisites of EU accession is clear and strong, it is useful to remember that other international organizations are engaged with the WNIS. As Kelley reminds us, ‘the Commission will not be alone in working towards reforms: the Council of Europe, the United States and the EU member states will also be among the actors pushing for reforms’. In addition, there are also the outreach policies of sub-regional groupings such as the Nordic Council, and, lately, the Višegrad Group which is increasingly focusing its activities externally and on co-operation with Ukraine in particular. Although operating at the micro-level, the various dimensions of sub-regional co-operation make valuable if often unnoticed contributions to Europeanization processes. Longer-established sub-regional groupings such as the Nordic Council have been providing various forms of assistance to EU pre-accession since the early 1990s and since the enlargement of May 2004 those sub-regional associations made up exclusively or predominantly of post-communist countries—Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), the Višegrad Group, the Central European Initiative—have secured their post-enlargement relevance by focusing their activities and resources on those European states lagging behind in the Euro-Atlantic integration process. In this way, the new member states, and particularly those directly neighbouring and therefore most interested in the WNIS, can play a key role in the ‘socialization’ dimension of the WNIS’ Europeanization as well as offering other sorts of practical assistance.

It is also extremely important not to forget that European integration is a multi-layered process with the EU at its core but not monopolized by the EU. WNIS can also participate in sub-regional integration programmes safe in the knowledge that such exercises are essentially compatible with, rather than contradictory to, their EU membership ambitions. In this sense, economic integration with other former Soviet states and Russia, such as could develop in the Single Economic Space (SES), should not be viewed as an alternative to EU integration but in principle as something compatible with and supportive of it. The Central European Free Trade Agreement experience is particularly informative in this respect. Scrutiny of CEFTA has shown that sub-regional integration complements rather than impedes integration with the EU. However, CEFTA’s success was ultimately predicated on the fact that it was largely restricted to free trade and market integration. In this way, it not only enabled and resulted in mutual integration among those ECE states joining the EU at the same time but also made it possible for states that had in place a free-trade agreement with the EU to participate even though they had a slower EU accession timetable.

In the post-Soviet context, then, the key condition is that mutual economic integration should not go further than the degree of economic integration that all the participating states have reached with the EU. This is to avoid disruptive termination or reversal of economic integration in the event of any of the parties moving significantly ahead in the process. There are therefore sound practical reasons why Ukraine is ‘only interested in that part of the Common Economic Space (CES, formed in 2003 together with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus) that concerns free trade, while the CES aims for more, including a customs union and a monetary union, as in the EU’. Changes to this position would of course seriously risk placing intra-CIS integration on a collision course with further EU integration as a far-reaching integration plan for the SES at this stage would clearly derail progress towards reaching a free trade agreement with the EU. In the context of Prime Minister Yanukovych’s statement of 14 September 2006 that Kiev’s plan to join NATO was now on hold, it was also reported that that ‘while Kiev would like a trade deal with Brussels, EU officials warn this will be impossible if Kiev joins a customs union with Russia. Moscow is promoting such a customs union with several former Soviet neighbours’.

One final point on this issue concerns Moldova and the fact that this country is also covered by the SP. Trade liberalization has been an important element of the SP programme for some time now and Moldova has been part of the network of free trade agreements put in place for the SP area, which introduces a rather complicated situation for any potential Moldovan participation in the SES or sub-regional economic integration project for WNIS countries. Even if the SES were to result in just a free trade area, a system of certificates of origin would be needed, but if the SES is based on a customs union or more then all SES countries will have to match Moldova’s trade provisions with other SP countries, or Moldova’s trade arrangements with the SP area would face very serious disruption. Looking forward to the next stage in intra-SP trade liberalization, which is set to be a multi-lateralization of free trade via a ‘big bang’ enlargement of CEFTA—to be known henceforth as ‘CEFTA 2006’—due to take effect on 1 May 2007, the situation becomes even more complex. For Moldova, how would CEFTA membership fit with SES membership? Apart from the very complex technical aspects of membership of two bodies, will the sub-regional integration in South-Eastern Europe remain the main pull for Moldova?

CEFTA and SP developments also raise the important question of whether Ukraine and other CIS states could join CEFTA and whether an enlarged CEFTA could become an alternative option to the SES project. The original CEFTA membership conditions have been significantly relaxed to allow the participation of all SP states—such as Moldova—and this certainly opens the door to other former Soviet republics. For Ukraine in particular, accession should be eminently possible under the CEFTA 2006 accession criteria, and let us not forget that links with CEFTA are not new. In the mid-1990s Ukraine was pushing hard for CEFTA membership and attended CEFTA summits as an observer in 1996 and 1997. Ukraine even lodged a formal application to join on 3 July 1997. Croatia successfully promoted the idea of CEFTA as the tool for multi-lateralizing intra-SP trade in order to avoid being thrust into a discrete economic integration association for South-East Europe, something that was anathema to Croatia because of a mixture of associations with ‘re-creating Yugoslavia’ and Croatia’s EU ambitions. Yet there was also a sound practical argument along the following lines: why create new economic associations when vehicles fit for the purpose are not only already available but also require certain standards to be met that are needed in any case if the broader EU integration objectives are to be realistic? CEFTA has already shifted its focus from ‘Central Europe’ to ‘South-East Europe’ so why can it not take in Eastern Europe too? Sentiments expressed in the past that ‘CEFTA is a finishing school for the EU’ may be a little strong, especially for the reconfigured CEFTA, but the fact that CEFTA states must have, or be on course to acquire, a free trade agreement with the EU is a condition that builds in an automatic compatibility with further integration with the EU. There is a strong argument that WNIS debates on strategies for mutual integration should seriously start investigating the possible CEFTA option.

Conclusions

The EU enlargement scenario is somewhat confused at present and the only certainty is that further expansion will inevitably be a long-term process. ‘Europeanization’ is available to all post-communist countries and the real choice is over the direction of internal reform and the external regime to which those reforms are meant to foster access. It is the success or failure of the internal reform process that will ultimately determine what level of integration with the EU will be feasible. The key challenge for European states without an existing promise of membership is therefore essentially about political strategies for keeping EU integration and the associated reform measures on track. Significant and generous engagement of the EU is vital, and questions about whether the EU will provide adequate support will loom large. At the present stage, pressure on the EU to increase the resources on offer to assist that transition and open up as many EU programmes as possible in the meantime seems a much better option than wasting energy on fruitless attempts to accelerate membership itself.

It is also vital to question—if not debunk—the idea that the WNIS face some kind of stark choice between integration with the EU and integration with other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). For one thing, the two activities are both part of the multi-layered, multi-level broader European integration process. Second, the two processes are more likely to be complementary than contradictory since the reform measures needed to make integration with the EU work are much the same as those needed to foster sub-regional economic integration. An intensification of mutual integration will automatically occur between fellow travellers to deeper relations with EU integration. Assuming any intra-CIS integration that might occur is founded on market integration it should be pursued alongside EU integration processes with the proviso that the level of integration should not go further than that which all parties have in place or are on course to achieve with the EU. At the present time, if the SES project does go ahead it should clearly aim at ‘shallow’ free trade (i.e. tariff and quota removal). Moreover, since Moldova joined CEFTA in 2006 and this has in principle opened the door to other WNIS future members, is the SES really necessary as a separate exercise if market integration is the main objective? Of course, if an intra-CIS integration model were to be predicated on dirigiste principles that undermined the compatibility with EU integration, then intra-CIS integration would be a strategic choice of a kind, but destined to be a dead-end as far as results of integration are concerned or even a case of economic union based on ‘annexation’ rather than integration.

As for the ENP, despite the reservations over the lack of a membership perspective and whether the method and instruments of the accession process for ECE countries can work in the context of former Soviet republics, it seems rather indisputable that the ENP process entails an all-important integration perspective that could result in, at a minimum, an ‘enhanced association’ between ENP countries and the EU. Europe would be genuinely divided if there were no process of engagement between the EU and the WNIS; by increasing the WNIS’ involvement in cross-border connectivity, the process of knitting WNIS into the European fabric is already at work. The EU member states at present appear to hold the cards on how deep the relationship between WNIS states and the EU can go, but ultimately it will be up to the societies and governments of the ENP countries to determine whether there is meaningful and committed engagement in the European integration process. In Ukraine, the post-Soviet state directly in the spotlight on the EU membership perspective issue, at least some elements of the political elite have allegedly replaced Euro-romanticism with Euro-pragmatism. Yet a heavy dose of Euro-realism also needs to be prescribed because—membership promise or not—integration is the reality of the process. It is already under way but could easily be derailed; either way it involves travelling a long and arduous path. Citizens of the WNIS will need to understand what lies behind the political slogans and be carefully prepared for the costs of Europeanization and persuaded that the long-term gains are real and worth waiting for. It is a peculiar fact that the EU tends to be more popular in countries outside it than in countries that are already members. This precious asset should not be squandered!