10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership – a good opportunity to know what it is
Wikipedia says that the Eastern Partnership is a joint initiative of the EU, its Member States and six Eastern European Partners, governing its relationship with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
“The EaP is intended to provide an avenue for discussions of trade, economic strategy, travel agreements, and other issues between the EU and its Eastern European neighbours”. But what does this agreement mean in practice? Which are the benefits for ordinary citizens? To answer these questions, the ‘EU NEIGHBOURS east’ project has collected some facts and figures which explain how Georgia is cooperating with the EU, and how this relationship impacts on the life of citizens.
When talking about the EU with friends or colleagues, the most usual topic that might come up is visa free travel, but there is much more than this. The relationship between the EU and Georgia, framed by an already ambitious Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, became even closer in 2018 with the organisation in November of a High-level Meeting between European Commissioners and members of the Government of Georgia. Visa regime liberalisation is of course one of the most prominent results, but there are also impacts on the rule of law, good governance and economic development. Did you know about EU support to 1,600 farmers’ cooperatives, which increased their profits by 20% and employ 50% more people now? The EU is now Georgia's largest trading partner, accounting for more than 27% of its overall trade.
What is the Eastern Partnership about? Does it mean EU membership?
The Eastern Partnership brings together the EU, its member states, and its six Eastern neighbours – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. For the last ten years, the partners have been working together to build a common area of democracy, prosperity and stability. In everyday life, this means a stronger economy, stronger institutions and greater trust, a cleaner environment, safe and sustainable energy supply, opportunities for people across society and especially the young: ultimately, it means a better quality of life for all.
The Eastern Partnership does not mean EU membership, but it does provide the framework for countries to build a closer relationship with the European Union, if they choose to do so.
What is the EU's interest in the partnership? Why should the EU spend taxpayers’ money to help other countries?
The European Union’s interest is very clear: stable, secure and prosperous neighbours are vital for the EU's own stability, security and prosperity – “We must export stability… to avoid importing instability,” in the words of the EU's Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy, Johannes Hahn.
At the same time, the Eastern Partnership opens new markets and consumers for businesses on both sides, especially through free trade agreements like the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area between the EU and Georgia. The partnership also opens new markets for tourism, and the opportunity for young people – from both sides – to exchange, travel and broaden their experience.
So a stronger Georgia also means a stronger European Union.
OK, so the EU invests money, but is there proper control of where the money goes and how it is spent?
EU funds always face rigorous monitoring and reporting procedures – both internal and external – in order to assess the value and impact of actions, and with strict financial auditing to make sure the money spent is properly accounted for. Even when dealing with state budget support, money is only released when agreed targets have been met – and the EU can and does hold back payment until it can see credible action to put objectives back on track.
Fighting corruption is a top priority in European cooperation with its Eastern partners, including Georgia, with many actions supporting the rule of law, transparency, and effective public administration. By ensuring that European funds are properly spent not only contributes to a stronger economy and society in each partner country, it ensures that citizens – both Georgian and from EU member states – can truly enjoy the benefits of closer partnership.
So what are the concrete benefits for Georgia?
Georgia is a priority partner for the European Union, a partnership underlined by the Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, which came into force in 2016.
It means Georgian exports to the European Union are rising – with the EU accounting for 27% of Georgian trade. It means that more than 63,000 SMEs, microenterprises and farmers have received loans as part of the EU’s support for private sector development, that the EU has provided 1,600 farming cooperatives with financial and technical support, and has trained over 250,000 farmers.
The EU has supported the establishment of the Government Legal Aid Service, with over 20 offices across the country, offering free assistance to over 330,000 people so far. It has trained over 5,000 judges, prosecutors, prison and probation staff, police investigators, public defenders, and lawyers to increase their skills and efficiency and further protect Georgians’ rights. It has supported the establishment of 44 Government Community Centres in smaller towns and villages, bringing public and banking services, as well as free Internet and libraries to over 90,000 Georgians in remote areas.
It is also opening travel, study and professional opportunities for Georgians: there have been more than 300,000 visa-free visits to the EU since visa-free travel for Georgians came into force in March 2017, while almost 6,000 Georgian students and education staff have studied and taught in the EU as part of the Erasmus+ exchange programme.
And for me?
It could be you: people from all walks of life have seen a direct impact from EU support – people like Irina Gloveli, whose engineering company received support under the EU’s Women in Business programme – company profits have since increased by 7.5%. Or Natia, who suffered domestic violence at the hands of her husband: an EU programme gave her temporary shelter, psychological services for herself and her children, and helped her to develop skills enabling her to live an independent life.
Beka Beriashvili studied Marketing Analysis and Strategy in Romania, as apart of an Erasmus+ exchange. Now he works as a marketing manager at a private company in Tbilisi – “Here, employers value foreign degrees much more than local ones,” he says. “Studying abroad gave me knowledge in areas I would not get in Georgia.” And the people of Tbilisi benefit from EU support every time they step on one of the city’s fleet of 150 new low-emission buses, bought with EU-backed loans, cutting traffic, emissions and providing a better quality of life for all.
OK, I am interested - how can I track all these opportunities? How can I find something that might be useful to me?
The EU NEIGHBOURS website tracks and publishes all the latest EU opportunities. Whether it's a study visit for youth workers to Finland, a traineeship at the European Parliament, funding for energy efficiency initiatives or for human rights projects, or an export strategy workshop for small businesses, you’ll find all the opportunities in the dedicated section of the EU Neighbours website.
If you are a small business or an entrepreneur, you will also find a wide range of training and funding opportunities on the EU4Business website, while young people interested in exchange and study opportunities should check out the national Erasmus+ office in Georgia.
10 years have passed: what’s next?
2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership. Over the past decade, the efforts of the EU and its partner countries have brought more trade, mobility, economic development and better quality of life.
The partnership does not stop there: the EU and its Eastern partners have set 20 key targets to be achieved by next year – known as the ‘20 Deliverables for 2020’ – and efforts are ongoing to meet those targets across good government, economic development, energy, environment and transport, and stronger society, as well as on gender equality, the media and civil society.