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Security challenges in the Eastern Partnership countries – Euronest working document

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Gunnar Hökmark is the EP rapporteur of the Euronest report Security challenges in the Eastern Partnership countries and enhancing the role of the EU in addressing them. 

This text is the working document which was discussed in Tbilisi 12 February 2018. The final report will be voted on in June 2018.


Security challenges in the Eastern Partnership countries and enhancing the role of the EU in addressing them

The EU and Eastern European partners share a vital interest in ensuring peace and security in Europe as a primary condition for their stability, prosperity, and development. Internal security and peace in the EU and Eastern Partnership countries require the respect for and upholding of international law and order, sovereignty and fundamental freedoms. These are the principles on which the EU’s relations with its Eastern European partners are based. The Eastern Partnership pursues the common goals of promoting stability, confidence-building and cooperation, supporting democratic reforms, good neighbourly relations, peaceful conflict resolution and regional cooperation, enhancing people-to-people contacts and boosting trade, in order to increase political dialogue and association as well as economic cooperation and integration. It is of utmost significance to the Eastern Partnership initiative to strive for strengthening the partner countries’ resilience to external pressure.

Since the adoption of Euronest PA’s last resolution on regional security challenges in partner countries in 2013, most security challenges then-identified are still present and new ones have arisen, including the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. In general, these stem from internal difficulties that are in most cases political, social, and economic in nature and from external factors such as the lack of progress in the settlement of regional conflicts and an aggressive Russian foreign policy in Eastern Europe, including violating the European security order.

Through founding and developing the Eastern Partnership, all partners have recognised that their internal security depends on each one’s external security, in a context of rising threats. In 2015, the review of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) gave the opportunity to step up security related cooperation between the EU and its partners. That has led the EU to determine new security priorities for its Eastern Neighbourhood Policy, including, in particular, the fight against cybercrime and corruption, and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. In consequence, the EU has renewed its commitment to promote stabilisation and resilience of its partners and has earmarked further resources in the ENP frame for this purpose.

The complex geopolitical context and unprecedented security challenges in terms of both conventional and hybrid warfare, extremism and radicalization, cyber-crime, terrorism and organised crime cannot be solved without shared responsibility and cooperation. Therefore, further efforts and initiatives are necessary to encourage closer cooperation and exchanges between the EU and the Eastern European partners that will render an effective and quality response to these challenges.

Against this backdrop, the present working paper aims to facilitate Committee Members’ first discussion in preparation of the report of the Committee on “Security challenges in the Eastern Partnership countries and enhancing the role of the EU in addressing them”. It presents main issues, which pose a threat to the security of partner countries and how the EU has strived so far to help them find solutions. It also emphasises a list of questions addressing prospects for an enhanced role of the EU in helping its Partners to tackle security challenges.

1.      Strengthening partner countries’ governance and rule of law

Good governance, fight against corruption and progress towards the goals of democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights are major internal sources of security. At the fifth Eastern Partnership Summit of November 2017, participants agreed that the implementation of reforms by partner countries in public administration and the judiciary, as well as the fight against corruption were essential to strengthen their resilience. Participants also agreed that the development of effective, accountable, transparent, and democratic institutions would reduce societal vulnerabilities.

For over a decade, the EU has pursued actions and supported reforms of partner countries in the areas of democratic governance, justice, rule of law, and fight against corruption. The EU has put a special emphasis on supporting governance in security area. It has focused on enhancing cooperation on sector reform, mainly consisting of strategic and policy advice and institutional capacity building. Furthermore, in the framework of EU CSDP Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have participated in EU-funded missions and operations. In addition to participation in this common effort, cooperation should also foresee intensifying the exchange of the operational and strategic information with Eastern European partners.

The EU has also strengthened judicial and police cooperation with partner countries. Development of rule of law and anti-corruption mechanisms, implementation of judicial and public administration reforms, and cooperation in the area of civilian security are also among the “Eastern Partnership – 20 Deliverables for 2020” set out by the European Commission and the European External Action Service, in the Joint staff working document of 9 June 2017.


  • Should the EU establish regular ministerial meetings with partner countries to be devoted to security and defence issues in the multilateral frame of the Eastern Partnership or at bilateral level?
  • Should the EU further involve partner countries in existing formats of cooperation under the EU CSDP and extend possibilities of participation in EU CSDP-funded missions and operations? What shall be done to further strengthen partner countries as common security provider?
  • How can more effective engagement of partners in the EU specialised agencies and programmes in the security area (EDA, ESDC, EUROPOL, FRONTEX, etc) be promoted and ensured?
  1. Deepening economic integration

Sustainable economic development, prosperity and poverty reduction are key elements for ensuring stability and reinforcing the sovereignty of partner countries. Trade and foreign investment are one of possibilities for the EU to address those challenges in partner countries. The Association Agreements (AAs) with Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine include provisions on economic growth, poverty reduction, social development, and protection. The Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTAs) are part of the EU’s most ambitious bilateral agreements that the EU had ever signed with non-EU countries. They are a powerful instrument to help those three countries to modernise their economy. However, efforts shall be made to ensure practical application of available opportunities with engagement of the private sector.

Partners’ ambitions shall not be limited to implementing AAs and DCFTAs. New incentives and milestones are needed – be it a Customs Union that would further deepen trade relations and improve customs control, or popular initiatives such as the elimination of roaming charges, or integration in the EU’s energy union or digital market.

The new Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement signed between the EU and Armenia, in November 2017 set provisions for a better regulatory economic environment, paving the way for further investment opportunities for Armenian and EU companies. The new comprehensive agreement that the EU and Azerbaijan have been negotiating since February 2017 should result in new opportunities for Azerbaijan to diversify its economy and provide a good basis for further cooperation in the area of sustainable socio-economic development.  The EU and Belarus have also advanced in negotiations on new and tailor-made EU-Belarus Partnership Priorities under which economic development and modernisation should be emphasised from the Belarusian point of view.

Deeper economic integration and cooperation benefit both EU and Eastern European partners, but cannot only focus on integration between the EU and respective partner country. Further steps need to be taken to deepen bilateral and multilateral regional integration among Eastern European Partners, as well as strengthening the regional infrastructure, including energy infrastructure, to enhance security and decrease dependence on external actors.


  • What should the EU and associated countries do to maximise the impact of DCFTAs’ implementation on economic growth and the functioning of their markets in order to strengthen their resilience to external economic pressures?
  • Should the EU provide new incentives to its partners in the economic sphere and link them up to good governance and security-related areas?
  • Shall EU support gradual engagement of partners in the EU agencies and programmes for enhanced sectoral cooperation?


3.      Overcoming information warfare

At the NATO Wales Summit in 2014, General Philip Breedlove, the military alliance’s top commander, made a bold declaration, saying that Russia is waging “the most amazing information warfare blitzkrieg we have ever seen in the history of information warfare”. Since this statement, the Russian leadership has encouraged or sponsored through affiliated media, wide spread disinformation campaigns and has continuously supported anti-European sentiments in partner countries, aiming to derail their European course. Russian official media have presented the Eastern Partnership as an anti-Russian project. The rhetoric used by Russian propaganda in general towards partner countries questions their rights to decide freely and democratically their foreign and security policies and to choose for themselves whether or not they join any treaty.

At the fifth Eastern Partnership Summit of November 2017, participants agreed on the need to strengthen strategic communication efforts with a view of thwarting Russian propaganda, to promote visibility of cooperation between the EU and partner countries, and raise public awareness about disinformation. In the ‘Eastern Partnership – 20 Deliverables for 2020’, the EU and partner countries recognised the importance of development of a better, clearer and tailored-made strategic communications. A milestone to increase audience for EU information material to counter disinformation campaigns in partner countries was set.

Since September 2015, the European External Action Service’s East StratCom Task Force has tackled the issue of Russia’s disinformation campaigns by documenting what disinformation looks like and debunking the myths spread to confuse citizens. At the same time, the Task Force has provided media outlets and journalists in partner countries, with support and factual data.

In efforts to counter propaganda and strengthen resilience, there has to be strong support for professional, independent and fact-based journalism, recalling that media freedom and freedom of expression are fundamental rights, which form the basis for a functioning democracy.


  • What legislations and mechanisms should partner countries develop to counter Russian propaganda?
  • How can cooperation between the EU and partner countries be strengthened in addressing Russian propaganda?
  • How can measures aimed at capacity building and information and content sharing be strengthened?
  1. Reinforcing cyber-security

In spring 2017, the e-Governance Academy, the Estonian leading think tank International Center for Defence and Security, assessed cyber-security maturity levels in partner countries. The study reveals that all of them should improve their ability to respond to cyber incidents, establish or enhance cooperation with other countries and with the private sector, improve the protection of critical information infrastructure, and develop cyber defence capabilities of armed forces.

The study also reveals that out of these six priority areas, as of today, their ability to respond to cyber incidents and to coordinate cyber crises, as well as the ability to develop public-private partnerships and international cooperation are largely lacking in the region as a whole. In the area of coordinated response to large-scale cyber incidents, none of the partner countries had created a response plan, and cyber crisis management exercises have been organised only in Georgia, while Ukraine has set up a cyber-operations centre. Belarus and Georgia have established formal public-private cooperation frameworks. Moreover, Belarus, Georgia, and Ukraine have identified measures to protect critical information infrastructure and have set up a specific unit for this.

The Global Strategy for the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy, released in June 2016 presents the strengthening of cyber-security as a priority to protect the security of the EU, as a whole. The Global Strategy commits the EU to support its neighbours in building cyber-capacities and to invest in cyber-diplomacy. At the fifth Eastern Partnership Summit of November 2017, participants recognised the importance of joint action in enhancing cybersecurity and fighting cybercrime. Moreover, the Joint staff working document ‘Eastern Partnership – 20 Deliverables for 2020’, put forward, as priority areas, the following objectives for building up cyber capacity:

– fighting cybercrime,
– protecting critical infrastructure,
– setting up fully operational computer security incident response teams that cooperate with the EU,
– developing actionable cybersecurity strategies,
– establishing public-private partnerships and international cooperation, and
– developing the capacity to respond to cybersecurity incidents.


  • Which of EU’s instruments of strengthening cybersecurity could inspire partner countries, and could be possibly extended to them?
  • Should the EU, EU Member States, and partner countries develop further joint capabilities to facilitate information sharing about cyber-security, and involve private and public organisations using their digital space, in order to foster a common cyber-security culture amongst them?
  1. Reaching a peaceful settlement of regional conflicts

Protracted conflicts affecting Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and an on-going military conflict in Eastern Ukraine remain a challenge to democratic development and security of the region.

These conflicts continue to prevent development and create hardships in partner countries. Russia maintains and intensifies military bases in Armenia, the occupied territories and separatist region of Georgia and Moldova respectively, as part of its strategy of playing a predominant regional role in Eastern Europe as well as of using military presence as a leverage to exert pressure on partner countries in contradiction with its international commitments to uphold the international legal order. On the diplomatic scene, it is a party of the current negotiating formats aimed to resolve the conflicts in the region, except for Georgia where it appears as a party to the conflict. Belarus is the only partner country, which is not involved in actual conflicts, although the territory of Belarus is used for joint military drills with Russia on a regular basis. In the last two decades, Russia has resorted to the use of economic pressure or military force against its neighbours.

In contrast, the EU, in line with the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, peaceful settlement of disputes, and inviolability of borders, has supported the territorial integrity of partner countries and refused to recognise breakaway regions as independent states. It has engaged in political dialogue and mediation on all the conflicts with the aim of reaching peaceful solutions.  It supports the full and genuine implementation of the Minsk arrangements in Eastern Ukraine, of the 1999 Istanbul OSCE decision as regards the Republic of Moldova, and OSCE Minsk Group and its Co-Chairs in their efforts to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and avoid any new eruption of violence and military fighting. The EU co-chairs the Geneva International Discussions on the consequences of Russia-Georgia conflict and constantly calls on full implementation by Russia of the 12 August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement  and is an active observer in the 5+2 format for the settlement process of the Transnistrian conflict.

Despite the fact that all parties support mediation efforts and peaceful settlement of these conflicts, so far, diplomatic and mediation efforts have turned out to be insufficient to set positive prospects on conflicts. The EU should increase its efforts in order to reach a peaceful resolution of all ongoing conflicts in its neighbourhood that threaten European security as a whole and commit to sustaining the unity of action among EU Member States in maintaining collective pressure on Russia.

It is worth noting that since January 2016, the EU-Moldova DCFTA has applied to the breakaway region of Transnistria, allowing companies and farmers of this region to enjoy trade opportunities resulting from its implementation, and so establishing new economic bridges with all regions of Moldova and the EU countries. In this regard, the EU might use conflict-related conditionality while negotiating new economic and trade agreements with other partner countries that are involved in frozen conflicts, namely Armenia and Azerbaijan. As far as associated countries are concerned, the advantages resulting from DCFTAs could be used as an impetus towards breakaway regions in order to weave new economic ties with them.


  • Should the EU and partner countries develop new instruments for building confidence between populations affected by conflicts and for conflict prevention?
  • Should the EU and partner countries resort to joint coordinated effort stemming from their political association and economic integration process to strengthen the prospects of peaceful conflict settlement?
  • What economic leverage can the EU use in the region to lead de facto authorities of breakaway regions to engage more positively in peace talks?