The Eastern Partnership Civic Forum published its biannual Index on Wednesday, reflecting the consolidation of an EU versus Russia dynamic in the region. Brussels, the organization suggests, must “foster a joint EU response to the long-term security threat posed by Russia” in the common neighbourhood.
The Eastern Partnership Index (2015-2016) evaluates the democratization process in the six nations of the partnership, namely Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Armenia. The index looks at dimensions of governance, rule of law, and human rights protection. The index dates to 2009, when the six nations signed onto the Eastern Partnership initiative.
Since the Vilnius Summit of 2013, the Eastern Partnership has been divided between states that have signed an Association Agreement – suggesting greater alignment with the EU – and states that have signed have sought a looser relationship with Brussels. The Associated nations – Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine – face unique challenges. However, the index suggests they all need to take steps towards reinforcing rule of law, with a focus on judicial independence.
Moldova: money for something
The Brussels-based umbrella organization of civic organizations from the regions wants Brussels to link direct budgetary support provided to Moldova to measurable outcomes in combating corruption, strengthening the independence and transparency of the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, and ensuring media freedom.
Media, civic organizations, and small and medium businesses need to be empowered to check the performance of the government against specific commitments. Specifically, the umbrella organization is raising concerns over the need to limit clientelist networks – “depoliticise state institutions” – by limiting executive authority over the civil service while encouraging public accountability.
Moldova is considered a champion of legal reforms promoting alignment with the EU in the region, but that may be “window dressing,” given relatively shallow societal, business, and academic links. The country remains entrapped into a fractious parliamentary system between pro-EU and pro-Moscow forces that are holding the country behind. That also explains why Moldova lags Ukraine and Georgia in the level of political dialogue with the EU.
Georgia: winner takes all, still
When it comes to Georgia, the index focuses on the overwhelming political party of the ruling party. However, the index recognizes that the government has taken measures to bolster the independence of the judiciary. The authors express the hope that media coverage remain balanced in view of the forthcoming presidential elections in 2018.
The index also raises concerns over the influence of Kremlin-backed media, as well as civic and political actors.
Ukraine: reforms without leverage
Ukraine remains in need of deep structural reforms across the board, from the judiciary to taking bold anti-corruption measures, bolstering the independence of the civil service. Moreover, the government urgently needs interventions in the pension system, education, and the land market. Momentum for such reforms is hard to maintain, once Ukraine has been granted visa liberalization and Brussels no longer has the politically crucial leverage over Kyiv.
The authors express the hope that the EU will continue to support the country’s territorial integrity, which also includes maintaining sanctions on Russia.