Resilience in the Eastern Partnership — the NATO version vs. the EU approach

11 min readAug 3, 2020

By Dionis Cenuşa

“ Ultimately, the real degree of resilience in the Eastern Partnership depends on the state of critical infrastructure and how the EU prioritizes it in its relations with its eastern neighbors …”

Moldova, Transnistria (Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic): A man waits for a bus on the local market of Tiraspol, the capital city of the Russia-backed unrecognized Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic. © Pierre Crom

In the post-2020 period, the eastern neighbourhood of the European Union (EU) will be subjected to generate state resilience. This is extremely necessary for its eastern neighbors, but equally useful for European geopolitical interests. The European institutions envisage vertical transformations in the Eastern Partnership that concern the political, economic, environmental and societal arteries. These are essential for the functioning of any state. They are even more imperative for the states that are former subjects of tsarist-Soviet colonialism, the remnants of which still determine the Russian influence on the area. Over almost three decades since the collapse of the USSR, categorized by Taras Kuzio as the moment of “decolonization of the last empire in the world”, the EU uses the state resilience paradigm with which it implements a kind of “Eastern Partnership 2.0”. In essence, it renews the ambitions associated with the determination to make the transition to democracies with effective governance, albeit using old rather than new instruments. Besides, the development of internal resilience in the region offers more encouraging prospects for post-Soviet “decolonization”, which would also include overcoming separatist issues and ensuring effective peace (Donbas, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh or Transnistria).

Thanks to the idea of resilience, the EU keeps the temptations of liberal state-building interventionism at bay. And instead, priority is given to restoring and modernizing the states in the EU’s eastern neighborhood, combining local capacity and European assistance. Within the theoretical argument proposed by David Chandler in 2013, the EU would have realized that “it” cannot solve “their” problems. At the same time, they cannot be expected to break out of the reproduction of these problems or ‘traps’ without external assistance.” The EU seems to reiterate Chandler’s position that “behavior change or adaptation must come from within […]” because resilience cannot be ‘given’ or ‘produced’ by outside actors.

The core of the European approach is to create a predictable neighborhood, which is as autonomous as possible in countering internal and external risks, mainly of Eastern origin. But the EU does not hide the fact that increasing the resilience of Eastern European states serves its own geopolitical interest in “building a stronger Europe in the world”. In other words, as a result of the transformations in the region, the beneficiaries will sit on both sides of the initiative — the investor in Eastern European resilience (the EU) and the recipient of the resilience prescription (the Eastern Partnership states). As a result, the supranational and national level officials in the EU perceive resilience not as an instrument of isolation and withdrawal from the region, but rather as a way of taking on the role of co-participant and source of inspiration for institutional strengthening and reshaping public affairs in the countries of the neighbouring East.

The European format of state resilience for Eastern Europe

Broadly speaking, the EU has established the depth of the concept of resilience for Eastern Partnership countries following several aspects — the ongoing actions within the EU, the measures designed and already in place in the region, and the initiatives that European actors envisage for themselves in the next European multiannual budget cycle (2021–2027). Therefore, the final vision of resilience that Brussels has outlined comprises its own available resources, as well as its very strategic wishes. At the same time, the expectations for regional resilience coincide with or substantially reflect the views collected from local actors in Eastern Europe via a massive consultation exercise throughout 2019. But these views are by no means an agenda that the region dictates to the EU in order to target the long string of local problems. In reality, the EU-resilience-approach materializes a “menu” that balances between the actual possibilities of the EU and the urgent, sometimes existential, needs of the states in the eastern neighborhood.

Moldova, Transnistria (Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic), Tiraspol: A fisher on the Dniester, the river separating the Russia-backed unrecognized republic with Moldova.
© Pierre Crom

The first direction of actions paves the path to economic resilience. New EU investment in this area is meagre, as trade relations depend on free trade principles, local productivity capacity and European market demand. The EU openly acknowledges that economic measures are based on the implementation of the Association Agreements (Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine), which are in the implementation phase, and the possible expansion of trade cooperation with other countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus). Furthermore, the EU is open to attracting the European Green Deal or the Digital Strategy to greening and innovating neighboring economies. At the same time, as it did in the past, the European side promises to use macro-financial assistance to help during economic crises. Moreover, the EU confirms that it is going to maintain the financing instruments for SMEs. A new aspect becomes the EU proposal to facilitate the accession of its eastern neighbors to the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA — 36 countries, including the 27 EU countries). This would simplify, speed up and drop the costs of low-value electronic payments and banking transactions (loans, invoices, salaries) to all SEPA countries. The interconnection of roads, energy infrastructure and geospatial are also in the category of economic resilience. At social level, youth programs for interaction with European education or volunteer networks (Erasmus +, European Solidarity Corps) are maintained. An added value idea consists of protecting young people on the local labor market and training them through professional exchanges within the Eastern Partnership region. Despite the many benefits attached to the EU’s proposed economic resilience, this comes at the cost of growing dependency and vulnerability of the region to shocks within the EU.

The second dimension of the European resilience package for the Eastern Partnership is to bring democratic and security governance to order. This goal comes second, regardless of the fact that the EU recognizes these elements — democratic institutions, anti-corruption policies, human rights, etc. — as “preconditions” for the functioning of the market economy. In the legal sub-field, the European approach lies in the generalized support for the transfer of European standards (training, international experts), omitting, though, any concrete initiatives. From the perspective of anti-corruption policies, the EU is ready to support the application of transparency instruments in the public sector. On the security side, the EU resilience offer includes several tangible issues — enhanced cooperation with EU justice and home affairs agencies and the European Civil Protection Mechanism. To deal with the territorial conflicts in the region, the EU articulates a careful and quite shallow commitment of backing peaceful solutions. In fact, the issues of governance and security, which embody the “democratic resilience”, are very much at the discretion of local political will. Consequently, the EU sets ambitious goals, without indicating how it can achieve them.

The third compartment of European resilience tailored to serve the eastern neighbors relates to environmental protection. This area is second only to economic resilience in terms of the volume of proposals made by the EU. This would underpin the “green resilience” of the Eastern Partnership, which includes the fulfillment of the Green Deal and Paris Agreement, both aimed at reducing the coal footprint. It is in this area that the EU is very explicit in its determination to help its neighbors to “adapt” to climate change. In other words, the adoption of European standards alone does not produce resilience in the environment sector, as it is the case for the economy or democratic resiliences. Therefore, an adjustment is needed for the new external realities caused by the anthropogenic factor. The increase of financial assistance (loans and grants) for energy efficiency and green initiatives and transport is among the steps proposed by the EU. In the same sense, the cooperation will be extended to the dimension of the circular economy, biodiversity, sustainability of natural resources exploitation, etc. The EU considers it is vital to include the Partnership countries in European environmental monitoring and in the exchange of information in the nuclear sector. Although more relevant to security, especially in the public sector, for unspecified reasons, the EU places anti-COVID-19 solutions of strengthening the healthcare sector on the shoulders of the “green resilience”.

Actions in the digital field make up the fourth category of resilience. In this direction, EU action includes legal assistance, but also a major technical support component, including through the EU4Digital program. In the context of “digital resilience”, the EU announces its readiness to contribute to the further digital transformation in the region. Although the EU’s offer includes various areas eligible for support — broadband Internet infrastructure, roaming services, e-services. No specific tools or platforms to support them are proposed. An exception is the proposal of ​​extending funding opportunities under the “Digital Innovation and Scale-up Initiative” (DISC) to the Eastern Partnership start-ups, thereby filling the funding gap for forging the driving force of the IT industry.

The fifth and the last category of resilience that the EU dedicates to the eastern neighborhood is the “societal resilience”. It refers to free elections, the power of civil society, media pluralism and the application of human rights. All together, they are meant to create not only fair but also inclusive societies. The School of Public Administration for the Eastern Partnership, which increases the professionalism of the public administration, is part of the list of specific tools suggested by the EU. Supporting civil society remains a priority as well, and the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum — a key partner. The aid is extended to channels that attract young people. Furthermore, adherence to visa liberalization and mobility management is confirmed. Although brain and labor drain are recognized as problems, there are no solutions to counteract the adverse effects of migration and mobility. The involvement of Eastern European media institutions in the fight against ongoing disinformation does not concentrate on combating internal and external misinformation, in a uniform and non-politicized manner. The emphasis is strictly on the information war waged by Russia. Although the EU is a proponent of the non-discrimination agenda, it does not specify clear initiatives for inter-ethnic dialogue issues, not even those coordinated by the Council of Europe or the OSCE (visible in the Western Balkans). Though incoherently, the intercultural dialogue is embedded in “economic resilience”. Finally, the EU openly admits that it will support strategic communication on the positive impact of EU policies. Positive propaganda in favor of the EU should be balanced with the expression of open interest in promoting critical thinking in society, including vis-à-vis the EU. Correct information about the EU, as part of “soft power”, should in no way be confused with the deliberate one-sided persuasion of societies in the region.

Moldova, Transnistria (Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic), Hristovaia: Local men wait for a bus. All of their friends left the village to find work abroad. © Pierre Crom

Euro-Atlantic resilience versus European resilience

The EU’s approach to the “Eastern Partnership 2.0” articulates resilience in the light of existing or future sectoral reforms. Most of the proposed instruments provide for enhanced European integration of the eastern neighborhood. The version of resilience invoked by NATO has a content focused on hard security. Article 3 of the NATO Treaty mentions that the Member States should “separately or together, through continuous self-help and mutual support, will maintain and develop their individual and collective resilience in the face of an armed attack”. The Alliance currently interprets this article as the predecessor of the principle of resilience, placing the responsibility for ensuring resilience on national governments.

However, the identification of resilience as a current strategic NATO objective happened more recently, at the Warsaw summit in 2016. On that occasion, Member States signed the Declaration “on the commitment to increase resilience”, which states that investing in resilience contributes to deterrence against the enemies and defence against threats. For the most part, the Alliance’s commitment combines military considerations. There are 7 types of Euro-Atlantic resilience actions, which the Member States must take on in plenary. Some issues are more neutral and can even be found on the European agenda.

First, NATO considers it essential to ensure the continuity of governance and critical governmental services in times of crisis (“government resilience”). Second, backup plans for energy supply, involving internal and cross-border capacities have to be prepared (“energy resilience”). In this area, the energy resilience promoted by the EU for its eastern neighbors calls for increased cross-border energy interconnections and streamlined domestic energy production. Third, efficient management of the uncontrolled flow of people is another skill of resilience.

Fourth, another valuable dimension is to ensure the unlimited supply of water and food (“food resilience”). Fifth, Euro-Atlantic resilience also consists in the ability to manage a higher number of victims, by ensuring sufficient and safe medication stockpiling (“medical resilience”). This type of strength, in the current pandemic, demonstrates a problematic level of preparedness in practically 1/3 of NATO members (in particular, in the USA, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Turkey, etc.). Sixth, it is highly important to ensure that the population has access to reliable communication networks, including access to 5G generation. Seventh, the resilience also measures looking at the transportation systems, which must provide the rapid movement opportunity for both NATO military forces and the deployment of civilian services.

Four out of 7 characteristics of Euro-Atlantic resilience correspond to the existence of a functional critical infrastructure — in the field of energy, food, communications and transport. In the EU approach to the Eastern Neighborhood, the reference to critical infrastructure is ubiquitous, but indirect and bypasses the military. In the case of very diverse Eastern Partnership states, from the perspective of geopolitical orientation, the neutrality of the connotations of resilience offers the EU the opportunity to interact with the whole region. At the same time, states such as Georgia and Ukraine can supplement European integration as a mean to building state resilience with cooperation on the military dimension of NATO resilience.

In lieu of conclusion…

The state resilience that the EU proposes to the Eastern Partnership states summarizes the current reform efforts and possible strategic transformation objectives. Their effects on the geopolitical realm are inevitable. By co-participating in the internal change in the Eastern Neighborhood, European actors actually neglect the ideology of state-building.

The European approach towards resilience excludes the military thinking, highlighted in the Euro-Atlantic version of the same goal. The geopolitical and security sensitivities of the region impose certain restraints on the concept of resilience. The EU treats the latter with neutrality. Compared to this, NATO has a militarized interpretation, which can gain broader support in countries with Euro-Atlantic aspirations, such as Ukraine and Georgia. Finally, the real degree of resilience in the Eastern Partnership depends on the state of critical infrastructure and how the EU prioritises it in the relations with its eastern neighbors.

Dionis Cenușa

Resilience in the Eastern Partnership — the NATO version vs. the EU approach by Dionis Cenușa has been originally published by IPN

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.




Subjectio examines influences exercised by the West and Russia in Southeast and Eastern Europe.