Events

The European Union's New Eastern Border

September 12, 2005 // 8:30am4:30pm

The latest wave of EU enlargement has vastly extended the space of peace and prosperity in Europe. This realm of international cooperation was achieved in part by lifting internal borders to allow free movement of goods and services, and it is preserved by a reinforced external border. The new EU member states from Eastern Europe have become the custodians of that new border. To the extent that this hard border has been erected between countries that have shared a long history of cooperation, EU enlargement has raised a series of issues in the relations between several sets of countries, namely: Poland and Ukraine; Estonia and Latvia and Russia; and Lithuania and Belarus. This full-day conference explored the nature of this new border, the EU's attempts at addressing the issues such as migration associated with the new border and the implications of these policies for those who dwell on both sides of the border.

The first panel provided an historical, economic and international relations perspective on the nature of the new EU border. John Czaplicka opened the conference by providing a historical view of the impact political border changes have had on culture. With the ascendancy of the nation state, political borders have increasingly defined ethnically homogenous groups over the course of the last century. This increasing ethnic homogeneity was achieved primarily through the use of force. The EU border, Czaplicka contended, should be understood as not simply as having redrawn of the political map of Europe, but also as having clear cultural implications.

In his presentation, Oleh Havrylyshyn underlined the necessity of measuring the impact of the new border according to well-defined benchmarks. After all, there is little to lament about in the end of the Soviet system, and therefore, comparing the current situation with what was the norm in the Soviet Union is not instructive. Instead, the focus should be on what could be in terms of implementing policies that decrease the new border's negative effects, such as lower foreign direct investment potential of non-EU countries and restrictive visa policies. Havrylyshyn added that the most significant impact of the EU is that it has fundamentally changed the way policies are made in the new member states. The EU's acquis communautaire serves as both and anchor and a goal, which helps new democracies contend with the overwhelming issues involved in governing a country in transition. Certainly, countries such as Ukraine could benefit from that anchor, and therefore should not be discouraged from working towards the goal of EU integration.

Janusz Bugajski reminded participants that the region under consideration has been the focus of a struggle for influence between Europe and Russia for centuries. The EU's inability to create an effective Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) belies the fact that it is difficult to coordinate the variety of economic interests, historical animosities and sentiments in each member state. The addition of Poland and the Baltic States, which generally perceive Russia as a threat, will only make the coordination of CFSP more difficult, since their stance toward Russia differs greatly from that of the EU-15. Anatoly Mikhailov spoke about the need for the West's policy towards Belarus to be based in reality, not wishful thinking. While neighboring countries have all embarked on a course of transition from authoritarian rule, Belarus has moved quietly from an authoritarian to a totalitarian system, and there is seemingly no way to change its course. The West's response has been to continue a dialogue with Aleksandr Lukashenko, through its production of statements and resolutions and by holding conferences and seminars to promote wishful thinking about positive scenarios for Belarus's future. In response, Lukashenko increasingly suppresses domestic voices of dissent and responds to the West with Cold War era hostility. The West's distorted view of reality thus creates ineffective policy towards Belarus and the Post-Soviet space.

The second panel focused on EU policy and its effects on neighboring non-EU countries, with a special focus on migration. Kataryna Wolczuk's overview of EU policy underlined the fact that its objective is to limit migration from the East, rather than to manage it. This objective has an impact on border relations, but because the policies are decided on by the Schengen Group, the countries along that border do not have a voice in developing these policies. Poland and the Baltic States, although members of the EU, have not yet been granted membership in Schengen, and thus cannot influence visa policy, and Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are not even candidates for either organization. Nevertheless, all accession countries had to adopt Schengen policies and standards, since they are part of the acquis communautaire, and the new member states are responsible for protecting the border from illegal migrants while keeping it open to goods. Finally, the objectives of the EU and non-member states conflict, since the EU would like its border to be as hard as possible, while Russia and Ukraine want it to be as soft as possible. These conflicting agendas, coupled with an obvious power imbalance, has meant that the EU has shifted, rather than shared, the burden of managing the border. That is, Ukraine must take full responsibility for keeping irregular migrants out of the EU by containing them within its borders.

Ryszard Cholewinski continued the discussion about the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), by focusing on its impact on visa policies, local border traffic regimes, asylum and refugee policy and the newly established European Borders Agency. To date, it has been relatively difficult within the EU to find consensus on these issues, due to the fact that domestic legislation and local cultures vary widely throughout the EU on immigration and social policy. Moreover, policy continues to be made on the basis of fear of migrants, rather than acknowledging the fact that migrants play important roles in these societies and that European markets would benefit from easing migration restrictions. Moreover, the creation of a robust and feasible policy on legal migration would mitigate the adverse impact of the new EU border by helping economic development in the East and reducing crime associated with illegal migration.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union has brought about unique problems for the border of Russia and the Baltic States. The unresolved issue of Kaliningrad has left an island of Russia surrounded by EU and NATO countries. Even more problematic is that Soviet-era migration to the Baltic States left thousands of people stateless when Estonia and Latvia regained independence and imposed restrictive naturalization procedures. Even after EU accession, many residents remain without citizenship, which Michele Commercio attributed to the fact that neither the EU nor Russia have made this issue a high priority. Although the stateless population does not have political rights, Commercio asserted that most do not face threats to their physical security and many have found their niche in the private sphere, and have thus become vital to the economy. Since the accession of Estonia and Latvia to the EU, EU citizenship (and the promise of free movement) seems to have enticed more stateless residents to apply for citizenship than before.

Zhanna Zaionchkovskaya concluded the panel by offering her views on migration from the perspective of EU outsiders. Migration, she asserted, is an important social barometer that indicates which social groups are experiencing the economic and political shocks that drive migration. The dissolution of the USSR was certainly a huge social shock, but 15 years later, migration flows have continued to be substantial, though their nature has changed. In the early 1990s, migration for education was trumped by ethnic repatriation in response to Soviet-era forced migration policies. But since 1996, ethnic migration has been overtaken by labor migration to urban areas of Russia and the West. The restrictive migration policies in the West have made Russians dissatisfied with their own democratic transition. Zaionchkovskaya explained that for many Russians, democracy was a concept linked with freedom of movement. Therefore, now that the democracy has not brought freedom of movement due to the West's restrictive visa policies, Russians feel betrayed. Echoing earlier speakers, Zaionchkovskaya asserted that closing borders will have a devastating impact on trade and migration networks, which allowed people to benefit from the free market and fostered the exchange of ideas between Russia and Europe.

The final panel focused on the future prospects for negotiating the border between EU and non-EU countries. Ugnius Trumpa characterized the official relationship between Belarus and Lithuania as a zero-sum game: what one side has, the other does not want, and vice-versa. But beneath this official position, the Baltic States have much more in common with the countries of the FSU than with the EU. Despite the flurry of legal and institutional reforms to Lithuania's political and legal culture, much of its infrastructure has not yet been adapted to European standards. For instance railroad transportation between Belarus and Lithuania is seamless, whereas it is much more complicated with much of Western Europe. Moreover, Lithuania has adopted EU standards and regulations that do not match its economic level. These disparities create negative economic incentives. For example, the high excise taxes on cigarettes have meant that smuggling from Belarus and Kaliningrad has been on the rise since EU accession. Thus, border security is strongly dependent upon economic reforms and tax system imposed by the EU. Trumpa advocated that the EU include Poland and the Baltic States in its policy towards Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, since they have both the experience to deal with these countries and direct interests in what happens on their border.

Martha Merritt discussed the changing dynamics of the relationship between the Baltic States and Russia, on the one hand, and between the West and Russia, on the other. Over the course of the last 15 years, western international organizations such as the OSCE and the EU have brokered the relationship between the Baltic States and Russia by offering the Baltic States protection from renewed aggression, in exchange for their compliance with international standards of human rights. Now that the Baltic States are members of the EU, there has been growing resentment in Russia of their success story, which has been fueled by President Vladimir Putin's Soviet nostalgia rhetoric. In terms of helping to avoid possible escalations in the future, Merritt advocated that Estonia and Latvia promote the integration of the stateless resident population as well as their ethnic Russian citizens into mainstream society in order to avoid situations in which residents and citizens identify more strongly with Russia than with Latvia or Estonia.

In summary of the day's discussions, Rodric Braitwaite referred to Czaplicka's presentation when he said that given the chance, all Europeans have tried to oppress their neighbors. It was this reason that the EU was created—to end this oppression. Therefore, it is important to remember that the economic relationships forged by the EU are only instrumental to the higher goal of political unity. To date, the EU's most successful foreign policy has been enlargement. The latest wave of enlargement to include postcommunist countries underlined the success of this policy, since acceding countries overcame huge obstacles very quickly in order to become member states. The problem with having enlargement as its main foreign policy tool is that the EU cannot continue to enlarge without destroying the foundation of European unity. Moreover, a strong Common Foreign and Security Policy would require an effective military capacity, which has implications for national sovereignty. Therefore, the European Neighborhood Policy and the management of the border between EU and non-EU countries depends largely on the EU's ability to overcome its own functional limitations.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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