Does the EU conditionality work in practice in the EaP countries? How to make it more effective in the next decade?

Comments by Iulian Groza, Executive Director, IPRE during the Online Discussion “Next decade for an ambitious eastern partnership policy: expectations of partner countries” co-organized by Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI, Brussels) and Petras Auštrevičius, Member of European Parliament (10 June 2020, 14.00 – 15.00 CET)

The short answer is yes. EU conditionality works. However, the impact in the EaP region is uneven. It works much better in countries where the pro-reform governments exist and effectively show a clear track-record in implementing systemic reforms.

Nevertheless, the conditionality does not produce a similar short-term and consistent impact on the reform agenda in the countries governed by elites that lack genuine political will to consolidate the democratic institutions. They are not interested in real systemic reforms, which would include an independent justice system and effective application of the rule of law. It is unlikely that conditionality will generate the necessary political will from this type of governments ever. In particular in those cases where an increased political control over independent institutions is ensured by them and vested interests behind. The impact in these cases is rather on the medium to long run. It puts an effective and constant pressure on the respective governments to get back on the reform agenda and apply in practice the rule of law and good governance policies. It also helps to strengthen the voice of other actors of change from the society i.e. civil society, media, local authorities, SMEs. This is in particular as the strict conditionality approach also implies the possibility to reorient and diversify the support to other actors willing and able to push reform agenda and increase the accountability of the authorities and political elites.

For the conditionality to be more effective, it has indeed to be smarter, more targeted and tailored. It has to aim at changing crucial pieces of the system that need to be reformed. Justice sector reform is one of the examples. Instead of being general in terms of ensuring independence of the judiciary, the conditionality should really seek to addressing real challenges of the system, ensuring for instance an effective representation in self-governing bodies of the judiciary system (Supreme Council of Magistrates and of Superior Council Prosecutors) by integer and reform-oriented members of the society, judges and prosecutors at all levels, as a result of a competitive and merit-based election, selection and appointment process. These bodies should be free from any political control, while increasing their transparency and accountability to the general public and civil society.

More EU support should also be directed to key independent institutions that show signs of change, independence, or are indeed able to make the check and balance system work. For example, in Moldova, such institutions could be the Constitutional Court, Prosecutor General office or Central Electoral Committee.

At the same time, effective policies to address rent-seeking systems from which vested interests benefit needs to be put in place and effectively work. For instance, regulating the participation of entities from offshore jurisdictions in public contracts, further reforming the financial and banking sector and implementation of effective anti-fraud policies should be a among the priorities. These reforms should be linked with rewards from which the citizens will benefit. Such a reward for the EU Associated countries (Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine) could be joining Single Euro Payment Area (SEPA) or full access to EU’s Single Market.

Further support in implementing Association Agreements/DCFTAs and sustainable development goals, focusing in particular on public administration, judiciary, anti-corruption policies is really important. Prioritizing education, reform of the health system and ensure sustainable economic development is also crucial. Supporting concrete efforts in addressing hybrid security threats is instrumental to strengthen the resilience of the EaP societies.

Finally, while applying smarter, more target and tailored conditionality, EU should encourage an inclusive, transparent, meaningful and structured policy dialogue with EaP Governments with an active participation of civil society, think-tanks and other interested actors.