MPE Chair – AUS Conf Panel

AACaPS Conference “30 Years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall. How Communism and Post-communism are tracking”
Griffith University, Gold Coast Australia
31 January – 1 February, 2019

Panel: The Troublesome post-Communist Transition of Wider Europe – can the EU (still) assist?

Chair: Dr Milenko Petrovic

University of Canterbury, New Zealand



While the countries of East Central Europe (ECE) and the three Baltic states relatively successfully achieved the main goals of post-communist democratisation and economic reform by the early 2000s, not least thank to massive assistance received through the process of their accession to the EU which they also accomplished by 2004, their counterparts from other parts of former communist eastern Europe still struggle to cope with their post-communist reality. Regardless of recent negative democratic trends in some ECE states, particularly in Hungary and Poland, problems related to corruption, respect for the rule of law, freedom of the media and people’s living standards in general are significantly bigger in the post-communist Balkan states (including Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia which became EU members in 2007 and 2013, respectively) and in the six east European post-Soviet states included in the EU’s ‘Eastern Partnership’ than in any of their ex-communist counterparts which joined the EU in 2004. Feeling ‘sick’ of enlargement fatigue after its ‘mega enlargement’ in 2004/07 and then preoccupied with the (almost simultaneous) emergence of the Global Financial and Eurozone crises the EU has not been able to assist much. Its assistance to dealing with the challenges of post-communism in these two group of states has become more conditional and has often come in the form of additional requirements and/or restrictions. While it has denied the ‘fast(er) track to accession’ but continued to tighten the conditions and postpone the opening of accession negotiations for the official and potential candidates for EU membership from the Western Balkans, it has continued to declin to offer the accession opportunity to the countries of the Eastern Partnership.
This panel comprises four papers that look at the main challenges of the troublesome post-communist transition in the two regions of ‘wider EUrope’ and the scope and shortcomings of the EU’s approach to the main political and socio-economic problems which the countries of these regions face. The interference and role of two other competing regional powers, Russia and China will also be tackled.



M. Petrovic, The EU and the post-communist Western Balkans: democratisation with a very small enlargement carrot
N. Smith, Does Russia promote autocracy in its near abroad? Insights from Georgia and Armenia
I. Sabatovych, ‘A door neither closed nor open’: Investigating the underlying factors of the EU’s rhetorical entrapment in post-Maidan Ukraine
X. Wang, China’s relations with the V4 and the EU in the context of the 16+1 cooperation framework





The EU and the post-communist Western Balkans: democratisation with a very small enlargement carrot

Dr Milenko Petrovic

National Centre for Research on Europe
Department of Global, Cultural and Language Studies
University of Canterbury
Christchurch, NZ

While there is a wide academic and political consensus that democratisation of the post-communist countries from East Central Europe (ECE) and the Baltics has been more or less successfully accomplished primarily thanks to the process of EU enlargement, the level of democratisation in the post-communist Balkans, and particularly Western-Balkan states is still significantly behind. Such different outcomes of post-communist democratisation in these two regions would be easier to explain if the Western Balkan states had been deprived of the possibility to anchor their post-communist reforms to the EU accession process. However, that was not the case as the latter received the EU’s offer for accession and a potential “EU future” in the Thessaloniki Agenda of 2003, ‘only’ ten years after their post-communist counterparts in ECE and the Baltics. Not denying the strong impacts of some domestic factors, particularly the often unwillingness by political elites in the region to further consolidate initiated reforms and the functioning of democratic institutions in their respective countries, this paper argues that the main reasons for the slow progress in post-communist democratization of the Western Balkan states are primarily related to a lack of appropriate EU assistance for post-communist reform. This is especially obvious with respect to the received assistance for democratic institution building throughout the process of EU enlargement and accession negotiations. While the EU in this respect was fairly generous to the ECE and Baltic states which needed less than ten years to fulfil the accession conditions defined in 1993 and receive an official invitation (in December 2002) to join the EU on 1 May 2004, the 2003 EU offer to the Western Balkan states was more conditional from the very beginning. Not only did the EU tightened the 1993 Copenhagen conditions for these states already in 2006 but it has (in order to ‘avoid mistakes’ from the 2004/07 enlargement round) continued to the present day to make these conditions even tougher and to introduce ‘new/special’ accession conditions for the Western Balkan membership candidates, only one of which (Croatia) has so far been able to complete them and join the EU in 2013.



Russia promote autocracy in its near abroad? Insights from Armenia

Dr Nicholas Ross Smith

School of Politics and International Relations
University of Nottingham
Ningbo, China

There is a growing body of literature that argues that Russia, under the stewardship of Vladimir Putin, has emerged as something of an autocracy promoter in the international arena in recent years. The premise of these argument is that after experiencing significant internal vulnerability in the wake of the colour revolutions that occurred in Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), and Kyrgyzstan (2005), Russia took concrete steps to promote autocracy in its near abroad as a way of insulating itself from the assumed subversiveness of the external democratic promotion strategies of Western actors (especially the EU and the United States). Armenia never really threatened to join the colour revolution wave and due to significant Russian leverage, abandoned an EU-pathway for a clearly Russian one, which culminated in accession into the Eurasian Economic Union. However, somewhat unexpectedly, Armenia had a “revolution” in 2018 and the ostensibly pro-Russian president Serzh Sargsyan was removed from power. Perhaps this offers a new opportunity for the EU to re-invigorate its democracy promotion in Armenia. However, Russia’s penchant for attempting to influence its near abroad will continue to create challenges to the EU’s promotion of democracy. Although Russia cannot present as attractive a model of governance as the EU (for ordinary citizens), it is able to compete with the EU (and other Western donors) over securing the loyalty of elites, which, in the post-Soviet context, is arguably the most important variable as to whether successful or unsuccessful democratization occurs.



‘A door neither closed nor open’: Investigating the underlying factors of the EU’s rhetorical entrapment in post-Maidan Ukraine

Iana Sabatovych

PhD Candidate, National Centre for Research on Europe,
University of Canterbury, New Zealand

The EU’s ‘rhetorical entrapment’ in Ukraine describes the reasons behind the EU’s failed attempts at Ukraine’s democratisation in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy and Eastern Partnership. From a geopolitical perspective, the EU has not been able to exercise its normative pressure in Ukraine extensively, because Russia emerged as an alternative integration power during the 2000s and both Russia and the EU have since encouraged Ukraine to join their integration projects. The attendant geopolitical constraint has found reflection in the EU’s ‘rhetorical’ trap. On one hand, the EU has rhetorically supported democracy promotion in Ukraine, but, on the other hand, it has neither sanctioned the Ukrainian government for violation of EU norms nor provided a membership incentive which could have pushed for democratisation. The solution to the problem seemed to appear with Ukraine’s Orange revolution that was viewed as an opportunity to release the EU from its ‘trap’. Yet, when the initial stage of this de-entrapment had passed, the EU returned to its ‘enlargement fatigue’. This paper discusses the similarities and differences between the EU’s policies towards Ukraine after the Orange revolution and after the Maidan revolution respectively and it also sheds light on the EU’s rhetorical entrapment as an under-studied aspect of EU-Ukraine relations.



China’s relations with the V4 and the EU in the context of the 16+1 cooperation framework

Xiwen Wang

PhD candidate, National Centre for Research on Europe
University of Canterbury

China’s 16+1 cooperation framework and Belt and Road initiative has significantly increased its economic presence in the region of East Central Europe over the last several years. They also connect East Central European countries, the Baltic States and the Western Balkans with China closer than they have ever been before. Among these, the Visegrad group (V4) countries of Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia have showed great interest in cooperating with China on economic, cultural and some political affairs. In addition to regular political talks, China’s economic relations with the V4 have increased exponentially in comparison to their previous bilateral economic ties. The China – V4 relationship has however started to raise suspicion among EU officials and the political elite and wider public in western EU member states. There is an increasing number of claims that China’s strategy is to ‘divide and conquer’. This paper aims to examine China’s political and economic relations with the V4 countries in the context of the 16+1 cooperation framework from 2012 to 2018. In addition to providing an overview of the evolution of China-V4 relations, the paper discusses the reasons why the V4 countries seek cooperation with China and in what way the EU fails to meet the countries’ needs, which indirectly impacts on China-V4 relations.




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