Amid the multiple crises faced by the European Union, it seems that this lost interest in the Eastern Partnership (EaP). This perception is not yet shared by Sweden, where the expectations of the relationship between the EU and the countries from the Eastern neighborhood remain very high.
Alongside Poland, Sweden is the initiator and main promoter of the EaP launched in 2009. Unlike Poland, which was absorbed by its internal agenda, Sweden keeps the attention well focused on the Eastern Partnership even if it meets with serious constraints related to the refugee crisis and the flow of asylum seekers (35 369 applications in 2015, as opposed to 7 049 in 2014). Thus, Sweden continues to invest about 1% of its GDP (US$571 billion in 2014) in providing external assistance at regional and international levels. The EaP countries, including Moldova, are among the main recipients of financial support from the Swedish authorities. In 2016-2020 alone, Sweden plans to allocate about €500 million for diverse projects that support the European integration process in the EaP member states.
Sweden’s perception of Moldova
Through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Moldova receives about €13 million a year for initiatives connected with the rapprochement with the EU. In Moldova, Sweden is mainly interested in such areas as strengthening of democracy, human rights and gender equality, improvement of energy efficiency, use of renewable sources of energy and enhancement of competition in the private sector.
Both the Swedish officials and experts say that Moldova is among the priority countries to which Sweden will direct its assistance. For now it’s not clear for how long Moldova will be kept on this list that also includes Georgia and Ukraine, which also signed Association Agreements with the EU. It’s yet certain that the Swedish assistance in the current volume will depend on the performance of the Moldovan authorities.
Stockholm’s position in relation to the recipients of its assistance has always been pragmatic. The refugee crisis and its collateral effects on the sustainability of the public sector and political stability in Sweden impose even sharper pragmatism. Consequently, the situation in Moldova generates nothing but disappointment and distrust in the Swedish officials.
Moldova’s negative image in Europe, including Sweden, makes the Moldovan case to often become the source of harsh criticism aimed at the Moldovan government or to be omitted in the discussions. Georgia and Ukraine were also criticized for corruption and other shortcomings related to the quality of governance. But the attitude to Moldova is more unfavorable. This is mainly due to the frauds committed in the baking system, which set off a combination of destructive factors for the state’s functionality such as very weak institutions, corrupt and influential justice and oligarchic groups that are more powerful than the state.
The most positive perceptions of Moldova derive from the nongovernmental sector in which hope is put as regards the promotion of reforms and values (human rights, gender equality, democracy, etc.) on which Sweden’s external assistance is based.
Sweden and European reality
Currently the EU is exposed to crises that impose permanent changes to the European policies in different areas (migration and asylum, financial and banking sector, security, the energy sector, etc.). The EU’s adjustment to the new realities implies also the continuation of the review of the European Neighborhood Policy initiated in 2015. Thus, the EU undergoes continuous transformations and this fact consumes institutional, financial and political efforts.
Furthermore, the problems faced by the EU have an impact on the national governments of the member states. In many European capitals, supra-nationalism and the delegation of powers to the EU meet with opposition. However, without a deeper integration (‘more UE’) and unity in the member states, none of the existing crises can be solved efficiently.
This context creates difficulties to those countries that support the idea of European integration in the Eastern neighborhood of the EU. Sweden is among the few countries where the attention to the Eastern Partnership is constant. Apparently, Poland distances itself from this group of countries. There are voices saying the Sweden-Poland duo is no longer as powerful as in 2009, when the two countries managed to institutionalize the EaP. Some say this is due to Poland’s movement towards ‘illiberalism’ simultaneously with the monopolization of power, in the executive and Parliament, by the Law and Justice Party (PiS). Others relate the weakening of the duo to the personalities of Carl Bildt and Radoslaw Sikorski, who lost the posts of foreign affairs ministers following the internal political developments in Sweden and Poland.
The reality is yet different. Changes took place not only in Sweden and Poland, but also in the EaP countries. Some of the countries extended the relationship with the EU through Association Agreements (Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine), while others pursue their agendas separately from Brussels (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus). Consequently, the Eastern Partnership exists formally, being reflected in the EU’s neighborhood policy, including the reviewed one. But major efforts, including assistance from the EU, are allotted depending on the fulfillment of the bilateral commitments. All the indicators show that the bilateral relations with the countries from the Eastern neighborhood prevail over the multilateral ones (EaP) in the EU, including in Sweden.
Instead of conclusion…
Sweden continues to see potential in the EaP, though it focuses on the bilateral relations that the EU has with each of the countries of the Eastern Partnership. This thing is evident through the Swedish external assistance, which is designed to complement the existing investments needed by the countries to come closer to the EU.
The current political situation in Moldova causes a cold attitude in Swedish officials. Moldova is in a ‘cone of disgrace’, while the series of problems triggered off by the bank fraud (corrupt justice, unviable institutions, etc.) represent a source of disappointment and concern in Stockholm as in other European capitals.
Contrary to the negative attitude to the Moldovan political class, civil society and its players are perceived as positive and credible elements. So, Brussels and the European capitals have great expectations of the Moldovan NGO sector. The given expectations are accompanied by the commitments assumed by the Moldovan political class through the Association Agreement with the EU and towards each member state apart, including Sweden.
Dionis Cenușa is a politologist, holding an MA degree in interdisciplinary European studies from the College of Europe.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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