The Eastern Partnership (hereinafter “EaP”) Prague Summit in May 2009 launched a strategic and ambitious EaP Programme as a specific dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy. In 2013, the European Union evaluated the achievements of its European Neighbourhood Policy and, more specifically, the level of cooperation with its Eastern neighbours.
Within the last 4-5 years, most participating countries in the EaP Programme (includes – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) have successfully implemented a number of required reforms at home and abroad (i.e. improvements to domestic democratic processes, international economic cooperation agreements, and thoroughly negotiated and signed Association Agreements).() To that end, the EaP Programme has introduced a new kind of Association Agreement that encompasses the following key elements: Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements with countries willing and able to enter into such an engagement, gradual integration in the European Union (EU) economy, easier travel to the EU through visa liberalization, and sophisticated measures to tackle illegal immigration.
The negotiated Association Agreements for EaP countries (Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine) have addressed numerous issues including political close association with the EU, political reforms, dialogue and cooperation on foreign and security policy issues, and economic cooperation and trade. As a consequence, these agreements have encouraged cooperation in the fields of migration, rule of law, human rights, fight against crime and corruption, protection of personal data, and cooperation against trafficking and terrorism. However, they do not guarantee nor envision EU membership for EaP countries. Nevertheless, the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (hereinafter “DCFTA”) is a part of the negotiated agreements that affords EaP countries the opportunity to develop European-oriented functioning national economies, which would enable them to overcome considerable financial difficulties (insofar as they are focused on market competition, technical barriers for implementation of free trade, intellectual property rights, export duties and restrictions, and sanitary and/or phytosanitary measures).
The EU-EaP Vilnius Summit was a landmark event in the context of the EaP Programme, insofar as it dispelled any myths that Association Agreements and DCFTAs are secret documents that are unavailable and withheld from the public. Ultimately, the Vilnius Summit had mixed results: while Georgia and Moldova initialed and signed Association Agreements and DCFTAs with the EU, Ukraine and Armenia did not sign or initial agreements of their own due to political reasons and newly undertaken international commitments towards the third parties. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan signed the Visa Facilitation Agreement with the EU, thus breathing new life into the visa dialogue between the two sides. However, the EU gained better knowledge and experience about how to approach each partner country after the Vilnius Summit.
The EaP Programme is a policy that seeks to create opportunities for everyone. In terms of the principle of conditionality (i.e. “More for more – and less for less”), we can reasonably argue that Eastern partners take into consideration the progress which the respective partner countries have achieved, thus: the more they are reforming – the more assistance they will receive from available European institutions. In this sense, the EaP Programme is grounded in political association based on the notion of shared European values and principles, not to mention the commitment of the Eastern neighbours to enroot those values in their own domestic political affairs and act in the spirit of the principle “more for more.”
AEGEE-EUROPE AND THE EASTERN PARTNERSHIP PROGRAMME
Through our experience in a large European students’ network, we have seen how unequally educational/work /social opportunities are distributed among young people in the eastern and western parts of European continent. AEGEE-Europe is deeply convinced that ensuring equal opportunities for young people all over Europe will be beneficial for the continent at large. In support of the ongoing EaP Programme, AEGEE-Europe established the AEGEE EaP Project in 2011, as a mean of improving the knowledge of EU Member States and the EaP Programme States citizens about the existing challenges and visions of further European integration.
The AEGEE EaP project takes into account the principles of the EaP Programme and adds a youth perspective to it. We perceive a huge need for intercultural youth exchange in order to develop active citizenship and democratic participation in an integrated and developing Europe. When trying to establish a partnership of equal states and equal peoples, as it is the goal of the European Union and the EaP Programme, one significant need is to learn about each other’s perspectives for a shared future, to define common values on which this future can be built, and, at base, to get to know each other and become familiar with the political and social landscape in neighbouring countries.
As a pan-European organisation, the members of the AEGEE EaP Project stand in solidarity from a multitude of perspectives, building and strengthening a common European identity. This diversity of perspective has allowed us to develop the AEGEE EaP Project in a way that meets the needs of young people from all over Europe.
AEGEE-EUROPE RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE EASTERN PARTNERSHIP PROGRAMME
EU Should Ensure the Sustainability of Ongoing Reforms in EaP Countries:
Within the last four years, various reforms and EU funded projects have been launched and implemented in all EaP Countries. However, the sustainability of all implemented programs and reforms should be considered as a high priority for the EU in a long term strategy. The sustainable and visible results of these projects may eventually encourage greater multilateral dialogue and integration of EaP countries with the EU. Taking into account the variety of ongoing EU funded programmes in all EaP countries, AEGEE-Europe recommends that the European Commission ensures the sustainability of the reforms, calls upon the European Council and EU Member States to take further actions in this direction.
EU and EaP Individual Partners Should Boost Visa Liberalization Talks:
AEGEE-Europe stands for a democratic, diverse and borderless Europe that is socially, economically and politically integrated, and values the participation of young people in its construction and development. The young people and youth workers are increasingly mobile across Europe. Most of the EaP countries have already successfully finalized and begun to implement provisions of the Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements with the EU. However, even in “facilitated conditions,” the existing visa regimes are a huge obstacle to the mobility of young people. In this regard, AEGEE-Europe once again strongly encourages the European Commission and the Schengen Area Countries Authorities to develop certain and unified successful, tested model of online visa application schemes, and to establish shared one-window mechanisms for registering, applying, submitting and receiving Schengen visas, thus avoiding any possible situation in which young people’s, students, volunteers and/or workers’ right to mobility may be threatened.
As it has been mentioned in the Final Joint Declaration of the Eastern Partnership Youth Forum in Kaunas (October 22nd -25th, 2013), the support for young people’s mobility needs to happen at every level as well as continued negotiations on the abolishment of visa requirements for young people, especially from EaP countries.()
In accordance with Focus Area 3 of Strategic Plan 2014-2017 of AEGEE-Europe (), Visa liberalisation remains a shared objective of individual EaP partner countries and the EU alike in furtherance of “people to people” contacts.
AEGEE-Europe strongly recommends that the national authorities of individual EaP partner countries take constructive and feasible steps to provide grounds for well-managed, organised and secure mobility, thus advancing the ambitious Visa Liberalisations Action Plans with the EU.
EaP Individual Partner Countries Should Undertake Individual Reforms in the Judiciary:
AEGEE-Europe strongly encourages and calls on all EaP individual partner countries to make further steps in strengthening democracy, and guaranteeing respect for human rights and rule of law. We suggest that they take these steps by reforming their judiciaries and strengthening just law enforcement at home, thus excluding any possibility of prosecution based on political views, religion, and gender. We deeply regret any arrest or acquisition based on the political activities of EaP partner countries’ citizens, even if their views contradict to the respective government’s official platform.
These views are reinforced by the Joint Declaration of the Third Eastern Partnership Summit (organised in Vilnius on November 28th-29th, 2013), which highlights the continued need for human rights work in Eastern Partnership countries.()
Enhanced Focus on the Role of Civil Society and Youth
The participants of the Vilnius Summit recognize the valuable role of civil society within the Eastern Partnership Programme, insofar as civil society constitutes an integral element of a well-functioning democracy. As a full member of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (hereinafter EaP CSF) since 2011, AEGEE-Europe would like to highlight the contribution and impact of the EaP CSF in the promotion of democracy, protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and guarantee of cross-border cooperation throughout the Eastern Partnership region. The establishment of the permanent secretariat of the EaP Civil Society Forum () and support provided within the framework of the Neighbourhood Civil Society Facility () are other welcome steps towards more structural engagement of the civil society in the process of the European integration of the Eastern neighbours. AEGEE-Europe deeply believes in the further strengthening of the EaP CSF National Platforms (). In this regard, AEGEE-Europe deeply encourages the EU Delegations in all EaP countries to set up and intensively promote special tools, such as the Civil Society Dialogue website of the EU Delegation in Armenia (), aimed at providing civil society actors with the opportunity to exchange their views on a number of issues relevant to the future development of EU-EaP relations.
AEGEE-Europe deeply encourages further involvement of representatives of youth organisations in the Civil Society Forum (CSF) Multilateral Platform meetings. We gladly welcome the launch of the Eastern Partnership Youth Forum which took place in Kaunas on October 22nd-25th in 2013. We intend to support the further EU-EaP youth side events. We recommend that the EU and the EaP individual partners increase dialogue with youth organisations and make the Eastern Partnership Youth Forum an annual event. In so doing, they would give participating individuals and organisations space to share alternative views of the work, direction and goals of the Eastern Partnership. A strong and consolidated youth presence will powerfully promote civic activism and “Europtimism” in the EaP region.
EaP Individual Partner Countries Should Promote the Recognition of Youth Work:
As it has been mentioned in the Final Joint Declaration of the Eastern Partnership Youth Forum in Kaunas, “the further development of youth worker competencies are needed in order to reach out to and involve minority groups in ways that other sectors can not. More specifically, youth workers need support and training in inclusion, diversity, participatory approaches, citizenship, democratic processes and human rights education. They should be empowered to identify and react to the needs of young people and the communities they work in. Training courses, competency recognition and qualification processes need to be developed and implemented. Quality inclusion youth work practices contribute to the recognition of youth work.”() Accordingly, we recommend that EaP individual partner countries’ national authorities adopt long term strategies that will be responsive to the needs of young people and youth workers of the specific EaP country.
Further EU-EaP Cooperation in the Field of Education:
In the fields of higher education and non-formal education, AEGEE-Europe encourages the EU to support and/or implement well-based promotional campaign in the EaP partner countries on promote the new “Erasmus+” programme, thus giving young people and students the opportunity to get acquainted with new procedures and possibilities affiliated with the programme. It is our belief that the opportunities afforded by “Erasmus+” will enable EaP individual partner countries to tackle issues such as youth employability and active participation in democratic life.
Greater Focus on the Civic Education of the EaP Countries
In compliance with the Focus Area 4 of Strategic Plan 2014-2017 of AEGEE-Europe (), we encourage all relevant stakeholders of the EaP individual partner countries national authorities to pay special attention to the matters related to the civic education of students and young people. Civic education addresses knowledge, skills and attitudes in fields such as human rights, democratic participation, intercultural communication and sustainability. AEGEE-Europe contributes to the development of responsible citizens through non-formal educational programming, but we need to include such competences in the educational curricula of all European countries in order to have a lasting and meaningful impact.
AEGEE-EUROPE: ABOUT US
AEGEE-Europe was established 29 years ago with the vision of creating a unified Europe, grounded in democracy and respect for human rights, by bringing together students with diverse cultural backgrounds. Today, AEGEE-Europe is Europe’s largest interdisciplinary youth organisation, which includes 40 countries, 200 cities and more than 13,000 members. AEGEE-Europe enjoys participatory status in the activities of the Council of Europe, consultative status at the United Nations, operational status at UNESCO and membership in the European Youth Forum. On various occasions, Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, Mr. Jose Manuel Barroso, Mr. Martin Schulz, Mr. Stefan Fuele and Baroness Catherine Ashton have expressed their support of AEGEE-Europe activities and have given their patronage to several pan-European initiatives of the Association in the Eastern Partnership region.
 Since mid-2011 EaP Civil Society National Platforms have been established in all six Partner countries. National Platforms are valuable tools that facilitate the achievement of the goals of the Eastern Partnership in each of the respective EaP countries. They were created for the purpose of ensuring active involvement of each partner-country’s civil society in cooperation with national authorities, offering recommendations for successful implementation of EaP projects, establishing stable relations with European civil society organisations, and facilitation of communication with EU institutions at the central and local level.