Eastern Partnership: Risk of over-extension for the EU ?

Europe - overextension

The European Union is going through an unprecedented crisis of its own foundations, with the Brexit, the migratory crisis, the euro crisis, and the new crisis emerging about Catalonia.

The export of its model to its geographical neighborhood is nevertheless the pillar of its foreign policy.  Exporting a system in crisis, instead of tackling the transformation of this same system, resembles a headlong rush forward. This makes it possible to avoid dealing with substantive geopolitical issues.

Recent news about the negotiations between the European Union and the Eastern Partnership countries exemplifies this inability to consider systemic changes  and  paradigm shift in today's world. 

The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement was finally adopted by the Dutch Senate on 31 May 2017, despite its rejection by Dutch citizens in 2016.

To disregard public opinion, Premier Mark Rutte relied on the European Council which clarified the interpretation of the treaty negotiated in December 2016 without modifying it. In response to Dutch concerns, the text ensured that the Association Agreement did not give Ukraine the status of candidate for accession to the European Union, did not give  access to the European labor market, and did not provide for defense protection. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, declared that the ratification of the Netherlands sent an important message: "the future of Ukraine is in Europe", creating ambiguity on the frontiers of the European Union

Forcing Ukraine to choose between a geopolitical orientation towards the European Union or the Russian-backed Eurasian Economic Union has been a factor of destabilization of the country which has led to a civil war. This approach in the proximity of the EU is likely to degrade its own security.

However, this strategic error is about to be renewed in Armenia even if the situation is different. A new "Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement " is under preparation between Armenia and the European Union and is expected to be signed by November.

Armenia seeks to maintain relations with both the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union for its own security and stability. Negotiations on an association agreement between Armenia and the European Union, such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, were suspended when Armenia decided to join the Eurasian Economic Union. Negotiations finally resumed. However, there is no longer-term guarantee that Armenia can carry out this policy,  and be able to be "sitting between two chairs".

In Ukraine, as in Armenia, Georgia and Moldova, the European Union is increasingly engaged beyond its borders in the countries of the former USSR. EU is at risk of becoming involved in geopolitical discontinuities originating in the geo-historical borders that mark the Eurasian continent: past EU enlargements in Central and Eastern Europe  proved that these processes weakened the coherence and the identity of the European Union and increased the risks of dilution because of the dividing lines this induces within the European Union.

Armenia thus is involved a territorial conflict with Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. This "frozen" conflict has recently worsened to the point that the International Crisis Group (ICG) wrote in a report that the two steps had never been so close to the war for 20 years [i].

The second risk is the European Union's insistence on exporting its model based on Western values, such as ideological liberalism that advocates individualism at the expense of the national community, multiculturalism that leads to multiple conflicts, and the promotion of sexual minorities, which do not correspond to Armenian historical, spiritual and cultural traditions.

Finally, the low economic benefits expected from such an agreement have to be assessed while also taking into account the risk of destabilization of Armenia by importing a model from outside.

An over-enlarged European Union

The objective for the European Union to project its method of governance beyond its borders has also coincided, since the election of Donald Trump, with  greater caution of the United States in former USSR countries. The new approach of the US government is increasingly unilateral, without synergy with the member states of the European Union.

The European Union risks over-extension by becoming more involved in its geopolitical neighborhood, but without the means to really influence the course of the different crisis.

This risk of over-extension is aggravated by the geopolitical regression process initiated with the Brexit and which is aggravated by the unresolved multiple crises of the European Union.


Without first reforming and consolidating the European project, the choice for the European Union to project itself without limits in order to advance its normative ideology and Westernize its geographical proximity will  not resolve its own existential crisis.

It is the strategy of "geographic tightening" principle that would be more appropriate so as not to import all external crises, and  avoid to cross the red lines of other powers.

"Realpolitik" taken in its noble sense could  be a more usefully guide for action and become the new European compass. The term Realpolik must be demystified: Realpolitik is based on geographical and historical realities, but also lucidity and caution. It requires combining cunning and knowledge. It is useful and effective only in the service of a political project.

There is no effective foreign policy without a strategy of territorial control in a historical and temporal perspective, and supported by popular legitimacy.

The current challenge for the European Union and its Member States is twofold:

-rethink the foreign and external policies of the European Union and its member states and to rethink the European model of society. Crises in the European Union and crises in its neighborhood can be resolved simultaneously, but a European Union in crisis can not serve as a crutch to other countries in crisis!

-The Euro-Atlantic scenario of further intrusion by the European Union into the former USSR space would be counterproductive: it would lead to friction with Russia and would become an obstacle to the principle of economy of means.

In a multicentric world, the adjustment between competing geopolitical projects and the stabilization of area of friction between poles of power oscillating between latent rivalry and cooperation will be difficult to achieve other than on the balance of forces principle. It is a prerequisite for a negotiation between poles of power to sustain stability and promote the development of common values. With the increasing reduction of resources, the principle of geographic tightening around its immediate geopolitical environment is also a response to the problem of over-extension, according to a strategy of concentration of actions and economy of means.

In the name of political realism, the European Union should concentrate on its southern flank, where lies the main threat to its security. Radical Islam and the migratory crisis threatens its own internal cohesion. EU increasing  weakness in the face of global challenges will undoubtedly lead to drastic choices. The current geopolitical challenges suggest a two-way strategic maneuver, combining a major reorientation of stabilization efforts towards the Mediterranean and the Euro-African depth, and a rapid rapprochement with Russia to jointly manage the challenges of European security in the East, and face together their common southern arc of crisis (Morocco to Afghanistan). 

[i] http://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/news/report-armenia-and-azerbaijan-closer-to-war-over-nagorno-karabakh/