Fredrik Wesslau is Director of the Wider Europe Program and senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations – a pan-European think-tank which provides analysis on the Europe’s role in the world.
He has previously worked for the EU, OSCE, and UN on conflicts and crisis management in the Balkans, South Caucasus, and Africa. Wesslau served as political adviser to the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus with a particular focus on the Russia-Georgia conflict between 2008 and 2011. Prior to that he spent several years in Kosovo where he worked for the OSCE and UN, including as Special Adviser to the UN SRSG.
He’s the author of the ECFR Policy Brief The Great Unravelling: Four Doomsday Scenarios for Europe’s Russia Policy.
Fredrik has previously worked as a journalist, writing mainly for the International Herald Tribune.
He has Master’s degrees from Columbia University (SIPA) and Sciences Po Paris and an Bachelour’s degree in international relations from the London School of Economics.
The OPEN Media Hub spoke to him in the eve of the Eastern Partnership Summit on November 24, 2017.
We are only a few days away from the Eastern Partnership Summit but there isn’t much “noise” about it, neither at the EU nor in the media. Why are expectations being kept so low?
This summit is an important one. It has been two years since the last EaP summit. And this summit is needed to reaffirm the European commitment to the EaP and to the countries of the neighbourhood. But at the same time, there low expectations because we won’t be seeing any new big deliverables being agreed at the summit.
The focus will rather be on the implementation on what already has been agreed. There is the association agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, we and also the DCFTA’s and visa liberalisation. One big thing at the summit will be signing the new agreement with Armenia. This will signify the EU’s commitment not only to the frontrunners but also to countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Belarus.
An important aspect will be the EU recommitting to the European aspirations of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. There has been a lot of discussion on this as the frontrunners have been insisting on their European aspirations being recognised. There has been some push-back from certain EU member states, such as the Netherlands and Germany. There is now agreement that the EU will recommit to acknowledging these countries’ European inspirations.
We won’t see any new big deliverables. There are many ideas out there like extending the customs union to cover at least some of the countries from the Eastern neighbourhood, but we won’t be seeing this now. What I do hope is that we’ll start a reflection process on what the new deliverables could be. And then there will be some modest deliverables, but these are still quite important such as projects to increase people to people contacts.
Do you think the European Union could be in good terms with Russia and at the same time integrate more the countries from the Eastern Partnership family?
It is no secret that the relations between the EU and Russia are in a poor state after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Eastern Ukraine. The Eastern neighborhood is a region where our interests clash. Part of the reason why Russia intervened in Ukraine was because Yanukovich fled the country and there was a move to sign the association agreement and to move towards the EU. Moscow felt like they were losing Ukraine. Their strategic objective is still for Ukraine to be firmly in its sphere of influence. They see the Eastern Partnership in contradiction with this objective.
The case with Armenia now is quite interesting with this new agreement. Armenia, of course, joined the Eurasian Economic Union and is now entering into this new type of agreement with the EU. This agreement doesn’t go as far as an association agreement but is more than the previous agreement that Armenia had with the EU.
The six countries participating in the Eastern Partnership are so different in terms of their integration, development and even in their goals towards Europe. Do you perceive this as a problem or as an advantage?
Their difference is not really a problem. There are two aspects with the policy. The policy is built on the principle of what the countries of the Eastern Partnership actually want in terms of their relationship with the EU. Do they want to have deep political association like Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova or do they want a much looser association like Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Secondly, the policy is built on differentiation. It allows for differences between the countries. So, I think the policy very much caters for the different attitudes and the different levels of development of these countries.
I wouldn’t say the six countries are going on different paths. You have the three front runners who now have association agreements, DCFTA’s, visa liberalisation, so they are going along on the same trajectory.
In terms of measuring success, this is very much about these countries actual reform and whether they do their homework. This is all about what this policy is actually about – bringing these countries closer to the EU as well as reforming and modernising them.
The European Council on Foreign Relations has published a special paper ahead of the Summit, but you are not suggesting radical changes in the Eastern Partnership policy. How do you see its future given the different needs and expectations of the Partnership countries, and the different willingness of the European member states to further integrate them?
I think it is a very important policy for the EU and especially for the member states who are closer to the Eastern Neighbourhood: the Nordics, the Baltic states, Poland and so on. For them this policy is an absolute priority. Looking ahead, how this policy develop is difficult to say. In the next few years we’ll see a lot emphasis on implementation. I hope there will be a reflection on what the next big deliverables will be. Obviously, relations with Russia will also, to some extend, affect how the EU relates to the Eastern Neighbourhood. It’s clear that the EU-Russia relations very much depend on what happens in Ukraine and in Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine. The conditionality on lifting sanctions very much depends on Russia implementing its obligations under the Minsk agreement.
Do you think the European Union should engage more actively in the efforts to resolve the conflict between Russia and Ukraine or Brussels should keep relying mainly on sanctions to do the job?
I think the EU definitely have a bigger role on peace making and stabilisation in Eastern Ukraine. The EU has been solid when it comes to sanctions on Russia. The EU has been very good when it comes to supporting reform in Ukraine. But the EU as such has been completely absent from the diplomatic process. It’s not part of Normandy format, its not really part of the Minsk process, there is no EU envoy for the crises. France and Germany have taken the lead on the diplomatic track in terms of engagement between the Ukrainians and the Russians and are trying to solve the crisis in Eastern Ukraine, but in the same time the EU as such is nowhere to be found.