A partnership divided?

When the Eastern Partnership (EP) was first unveiled in May 2008, Poland (along with co-partner Sweden) was lauded for taking the lead on enhanced relations with the EU's eastern periphery. Its aim was to improve political, economic and security relations between the six "strategically important" post-Soviet states and the European Union.

Moreover, Poland's successful transition into a stable free market democracy, helped to serve as a model. Less than two years into its inception, has the Eastern Partnership lost its luster? Recent events suggest its future looks increasingly blurry.

Rising tensions between Poland and Belarus, over recent arrests and growing harassment of Belarus's Polish minority, highlight the challenges of engaging with Europe's last remaining dictatorship.

Specifically, it forces Poland to walk a complex political tightrope, on the one hand, standing firm in support of civil, minority and "human" rights, while on the other minimizing the risk that a tougher policy stance will further isolate Belarus or push it towards exclusive Russian influence.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's election of Viktor Yanukovich - the would-be spoiler of 2004's Orange Revolution - suggests that many were not only fed up with the political and economic deficits that have long plagued their country, but were increasingly skeptical of the EU's long-term vision for and commitment to Ukraine's economic development and international security cooperation.

The longevity and legitimacy of the Eastern Partnership, relies on Europe speaking and acting with a unified voice. The lack of a coordinated EU foreign policy towards Georgia and response to the August 2008 war with Russia, is a prime example of potential consequences.

While the EP may have been the brainchild of two mid-size EU powers, it requires the muscle of larger member states like Germany and others to ensure its success. This is critical, especially as individual EU members have increasingly shaped bilateral relations with Russia and other post-Soviet states along individual geopolitical and energy security needs. The EU needs to stop sending mixed messages.

Otherwise competing political and economic fault lines will no doubt rip the Eastern Partnership apart.


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