European integration in the EU's neighbourhood: With or without "de-geopoliticization”?, Op-Ed



De-geopoliticization" of the European integration is a difficult task because it offers no alternative solutions than ensuring a functional rule of law, which the EU increasingly demands as an indivisible element of its geopolitical identity...


Dionis Cenuşa, Senior Contributor

The exponents of the ruling party in Chisinau have recently condemned the idea of ​​adopting a legislative declaration that would "reiterate" the irreversibility of the European vector, as pushed by the opposition. The Moldovan president suggested that this is how he wants to re-bring the geopolitical dilemma on the external agenda and affect the otherwise dubious prospects of "balanced foreign policy" (Agora, February 18, 2020). Several hundred kilometres to the East, during his visit to Kyiv, the first in the Eastern Partnership, the European Commissioner for Enlargement, Oliver Varhelyi drew a parallel, at first sight irrelevant, between the "geopolitical" nature of the new European Commission, its objectives Neighborhood geopolitics and respectively the transposition of the Association Agreement in Ukraine (European Commission, February 11, 2020). This remark is indicative of continuing and deepening the discussions concerning the geopolitical essence of the transformations that began in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia since the negotiation of the Association Agreements, which are in the sixth year of implementation.

The cross-border effects of European integration and the pro-EU geopolitical orientation of the countries in the eastern neighbourhood constitute a whole. When Moldova, but also Ukraine and Georgia, were drafting with the EU the Association Agreements, the sovereign right of the countries to choose their model of development formed the core of the political discourse. The public opinion in these countries understood that the decision to sign those agreements had a geopolitical significance and repercussions too, first and foremost. All still in the active phase, the aggression against Ukraine and the commercial embargoes instrumented by Russia have proved that the latter shows a high geopolitical sensitivity to the advancement of European integration within the CIS space. However, in the period 2010-2014, the EU was avoiding admitting that the geopolitical motivations were a driving factor of the negotiation of the Association Agreements. The deterring of any escalation of the animosities with Russia was prevailing. The EU's precautiousness has motivated the Moldovan, Ukrainian and Georgian governments to demand an express legitimacy of European aspirations and even to recognize the prospect of accession.

Varhelyi's remark on the geopolitical substance of EU-Ukraine association relations and the fears of Moldovan governing elite about the geopoliticalization of foreign policy hint at two dominant perceptions about European integration in Eastern Europe. So, firstly, the geopolitical preferences are an inherent part of European integration. Furthermore, the latter can be "de-geopoliticized" both hypothetically, and in practice.

Geopolitics "at heart"

On the one hand, the EU cannot deny or trivialize the geopolitical composition of European integration in countries beyond the Western Balkans.  In the East - Ukraine, and in the South - Georgia - represent the net contributors to the formation of powerful European political and state aspirations in the region. So far, neither the failures of good governance nor the Russian pressures can bring down the supremacy of the predilection for the European-Atlantic geopolitical vector. On the contrary, the latter has become a constitutional provision in both countries.

The political parties of pro-European orientation are majoritarian (Ukraine) or the European agenda has large support from both the power and opposition parties (Georgia). Moreover, the pro-European parties, who speak in a geopolitical language when sending messages to Brussels, will dominate the next few electoral cycles.

Both countries - Ukraine and Georgia - find in the European integration the solutions to the existential threats generated by Russia and its agents of influence, among the most dangerous being the separatist entities. Therefore, the implementation of the Association Agreements implies a crucial meaning, regardless the persistent internal resistance to reforms.

"Yes" to reforms, "no" to geopolitics

The delimitation of European integration by its geopolitical identity is part of a meticulous political experiment, carried out by the pro-Russian forces in Moldova. They prioritize the technical and financial character of European integration and do not tolerate the exclusivity of the European orientation of the country in terms of external positioning.

Therefore, the perceptions towards the EU are similar to those expressed towards development actors, such as the World Bank. In other words, the contractual relations with the EU will be respected, but the symbolism is wiped out, and the technical approach predominates. That is confirmed by Moldova's government participation in a trilateral request to the EU, together with Ukraine and Georgia. The three demands from the EU sufficient financial resources (, February 15, 2020), earmarked for the associated countries as part of the future European budget that is severely incapacitated by Brexit.

At the same time, simulating the previous opposition expressed against the attempt to "constitutionalize" the European vector (IPN, October 22, 2018), the Socialists want to neutralize the vote for a pro-European declaration, equalized to sort of geopolitical oath. In addition to the desire not to indemnify his natural partners in Moscow, President Igor Dodon favors European integration for technical reasons, rather than the geopolitical ones. This would mean approximation to European standards, but preferably with the European money and with no subsequent EU accession.

For this reason, the annulment of the Association Agreement disappears as a necessity, and its use can become even beneficial - for purely technical and image-related needs (Euronews, February 20, 2019). Moreover, the European states, such as Hungary or member countries of the Eurasian Economic Union such as Armenia, serve as an inspiration to understand how material benefits can be drawn from EU relations without pursuing geopolitical goals.

Instead of conclusions ...

The "de-geopoliticization" of European integration proliferates as a useful concept in the political instrumentation of the ruling elites in the EU's Eastern neighborhood. The modernization of the economy and physical infrastructure with the European money does not seem an ethical issue for some national governments.

The significant risk with constraining effect for some Machiavellian governments in the Eastern Partnership towards the EU is political survival. It becomes inevitable if, on the one hand, there are legal conditions that allow the rapprochement with the EU. On the other, the opposition with pro-European geopolitical beliefs is robust.

Finally, the "de-geopoliticization" of European integration is a difficult task, as it offers no alternative solutions than to ensure a functional rule of law, which the EU increasingly demands as an indivisible element of its geopolitical identity.

Dionis Cenuşa, Senior Contributor
Dionis Cenușa is a political scientist, researcher at the Institute of Political Sciences at Liebig-Justus University in Giessen, Germany, MA degree in Interdisciplinary European Studies from the College of Europe in Warsaw.
Areas of research: European Neighborhood Policy, EU-Moldova relationship, EU's foreign policy and Russia, migration and energy security.
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IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

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