The EU’s Eastern Partnership – Post-2020 Priorities
Caption: European Council President Charles Michel at a press conference following an EU-Eastern Partnership Leaders' summit on June 18, 2020. Image: Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock
On 2 July, the European Union re-asserted its commitment to the ‘Eastern Partnership,’ a system of cooperation with six east-European nations (including Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) intending to promote democracy, good governance, security and the rule of law. This came with a five-year proposal of priorities that focuses on several main areas of action: accountability of institutions, environmental and climate resilience, and digital transformation.
Part of the plan sees the mobilization of €2.3 billion from the EU budget in grants and funding guarantees to support post-pandemic recovery and help sustainably transform the economies of the Eastern Partnership countries. This, it is hoped, could eventually leverage a total of up to €17 billion of further public and private investments. Targets for such investments are likely to include additional support to 500,000 small and medium enterprises, addressing hybrid and cyber threats, fighting corruption, and providing increased access to high-speed internet in 80% of the region’s households. There are also goals of reducing energy consumption by at least 20% in 250,000 homes, improving access to safe water services and air quality, assisting the vaccinations of health workers and providing additional support to civil society and independent media.
In terms of physical infrastructure, the proposal sees the building or upgrading to EU standards of around 3000 km of priority roads and railways, including the North-South corridor in Armenia and the East-West highway in Georgia. In addition, investment is envisaged for the Alyat (Ələt) free trade zone in Azerbaijan and to restart twice-shelved plans to give Georgia a deep-water Black Sea port at Anaklia, near the Abkhazian border. The latter project had begun (as Lazika) under the Saakashvili regime, was cancelled in 2012, restarted in 2016 and stalled again in 2019.
More than 17 million euros of humanitarian funding will be allocated to help those affected by the 2020 Second Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Baku has been seeking international involvement in the rebuilding of western Azerbaijan over the last six months, with further investment from EU companies expected. Considering the truly vast sums of money that will be required for the reconstruction of whole devastated regions, the financial commitment to the Eastern Partnership seems a relatively modest, while highly welcome, contribution.