Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – three Eastern European partners of the European Union – all of whom are participating in the European Partnership, have decided to finalize Association Agreements with the EU, thus often jeopardizing their relations with their most powerful neighbor, Russia. All of these countries are very similar in terms of their levels of democratic development. Within the post-Soviet space, they advocate for relatively high democratic standards including liberties and political pluralism but none of them is considered a consolidated democracy. Many experts describe their political structures as hybrid political regimes that combine features of autocracy and democracy.
The main challenges to these countries’ political systems and aims are problems stemming from ethnic, regional, and cultural conflicts as well as strong and weak features in their constitutional systems. The relations between democratic development and their governments’ ability to produce public goods (including control over the most influential media organizations) are being threatened by powerful oligarchs and endemic corruption, immaturity of political parties and party systems, insufficient trust in governance and institutions of electoral democracy and a resulting propensity to use extra-constitutional means of political struggle.
Moreover, civil society organizations have also failed to penetrate the wider public and the anti-liberal discourse of traditional churches while anti-Western media and civil society groups are often supported by the Kremlin. Despite this dynamic, the commitment to European values demonstrated by societies in these three countries gives hope to other countries in the region that they can eventually consolidate their democracies and institutions on their path towards Europe. Some observers argue that closed ties to the EU are key to explaining their relatively high level of democratic development. Therefore, the consistent and enhanced commitment of the European Union to this region is very important to their continued success in this area.
The Eastern Partnership is a joint initiative involving the EU Member States, EU institutions and six Eastern European Partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. The project aims to build a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, stability and increased cooperation. Moreover, bonds forged through the Eastern Partnership help boost state and societal resilience. This partnership makes both sides stronger and better able to deal with internal and external challenges. The Association Agreement countries think that their region should not be the final destination for relations with the EU. This part of the world insists on their European vocation and believes that Brussels should ultimately recognize its existence by offering a path to membership.
‘Democracy and its Deficits: The Path Towards Becoming European-Style Democracies in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine’ – Working Paper by Ghia Nodia, Denis Cenusa and Mikhail Minakov – Centre for European Policy Studies.