Central Europe's contribution to Eastern Policy
On January 25, 2007, GMF's Brussels office hosted a seminar on the role and contribution that Central Europe can make in shaping the future Eastern policy of the European Union. The public seminar was opened by Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and followed by a panel discussion with the directors of several leading Visegrad think tanks -- former EU Commissioner Péter BalÃ¡zs (Director, Center for EU Enlargement Studies - CENS, Budapest), Eugeniusz Smolar (President, Center for International Relations - CIR, Warsaw), and JiÅ™Ã Schneider (Program Director, Prague Security Studies Institute PSSI) -- who presented the initial findings of a joint research project entitled "Strategic Framework for EU's Eastern Policy." The public presentation and discussion was followed by a smaller off-the-record dinner with leading representatives if both the Commission and Council as well as other Brussels-based think tanks representatives. Both discussions highlighted the opportunities as well as hurdles facing new EU members as they seek to figure out how to contribute to and impact on EU Eastern policy. It is clear that these countries would like the EU to make Eastern policy a higher priority as well as to strengthen the emphasis on promoting democratic development on the Union's borders. These are objectives broadly shared in the region and even outside actors such as the United States are broadly sympathetic and hoping that Central Europe can and will assume such a role.
So how easy or hard is it for central Europe? The discussions showed how these new EU members, in pursuing that quest, have several opportunities but also run up against real hurdles. The opportunity lies in the fact that people increasingly recognize that the EU's Eastern policy needs to be rethought in light of enlargement fatigue in Europe, changes in Russia and the need to address the aspirations of the countries on the EU's borders. One thing that was striking during the dinner discussion was how senior Commission and Council officials actually supported the desire by the Central European states to speak out, come up with new ideas and to try to play a higher profile role €“ arguing that unless and until member states spoke out in favor of such objectives very little was likely to happen. But the hurdles are also obvious and dominated much of the discussion. One is the split in the EU on how to deal with Russia and whether the desire to maintain relations with Moscow €“ in large part because of Europe's energy dependency €“ inevitably inhibits EU members from competing with Moscow for influence in the common neighborhood of the EU and Russia. Here the big question and plea from Central Europe was for the EU to try to develop a dual track or parallel approach that would allow a robust new neighborhood policy to be developed in its own right and not subordinated to the need to cooperate with Moscow.
The second and equally important hurdle is the politics of balance and coalition-building in the EU. Given the need for consensus, the new EU members form Central and Eastern Europe increasingly find that their priorities are being blocked by southern European countries who want the EU to focus more on the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Thus, the development of a new strategic framework for an Eastern policy is held hostage to an approach that divides up the pie of political will and resources based on internal political needs as opposed to strategic prioritites. What can be done? I think -- and hope -- that our colleagues from Central Europe came away a bit emboldened and with the realization that to be effective they need to become better at playing the game of coalition building within the EU. While finding the right way to speak out and take initiatives as a group of member states, they also need to work with on on the so-called Big Three “ The United Kingdom, Germany, and France “ if they hope to reach the critical mass needed tomove EU policy. And last but not least, they not only need to make a better case as to why the EU needs a new Eastern strategy. They also need to come up with specific ideas and initiatives that they can pursue and which would be welcomed in the bureaucratic corridors of Brussels. This event and study release is the beginning of a three year project to look at these issues and the papers can be found at http://www.pssi.cz/en/program-of-atlantic-security-studies/visegrad-countries-eu-eastern-policy. I hope there is more to come.
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