EU visa liberalization, Eastern Partnership countries and Russia: challenges and outcomes


In recent years, the massive inflow of refugees to the European Union has conspicuously exposed the crucial role of neighbouring countries in migration flows to the EU, either as countries of origin (as has been the case for Syria over the past few years) or transit for migrants on their way to Europe. Therefore, while the EU pursues its migration policy worldwide, it places a particular emphasis on its eastern and southern fringes.

The EU seeks to act as a driver of change in its vicinity to prevent the emergence of ‘new dividing lines’ across the continent and simultaneously ‘reinforcing stability and security’ in adjacent areas (European Neighbourhood Policy created in 2004). For post-Soviet countries, a visa-free regime is the biggest incentive that the EU can offer in the short-term. Therefore, it constitutes a powerful EU leverage over the reform process in countries like Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova or Armenia. Visa liberalization has also emerged as a prominent issue in the agenda of cooperation with Russia. Until cooperation was frozen in response to the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine, EU actors shared the view that the visa dialogue is a long-term process and an opportunity per se to raise issues related to human rights and democracy with their Russian counterparts.

While visa liberalization is a major expectation of Eastern neighbours, the EU’s visa policy is fraught with tensions between two potentially competing objectives: on the one hand, the transformation of the partner countries through the promotion of core values (such as the rule of law, democracy and human rights) and people-to-people contacts; and on the other hand, the pursuance of the EU’s security interests in its neighbourhood, that has emerged as a buffer zone playing a crucial role in keeping the irregular migrants outside the EU’s borders.

In essence, the EU’s policy mirrors a (potentially swinging) pendulum between normative and security drivers. Intra-EU dynamics (in particular, EU actors’ preferences and bargaining among them) frame the initial balance between normative and security objectives in the formulation of the visa liberalization agenda. Whereas for the European Parliament and eastern EU member states this agenda should be used to transform Eastern partners and to scrutinize human rights compliance, some other EU member states (e.g. France and the Netherlands) prioritize security issues. In light of the differences between other EU actors (especially within the Council), the technical and monitoring role of the Commission is pivotal, especially at key stages of the visa liberalization.

However, while the substance of EU demands predominantly mirrors security concerns, interaction with the partner countries and adjustments to the regional context have significantly altered the balance between normative and security objectives by triggering a shift towards the former. Since 2014, the EU has indeed used the visa liberalization process as a major instrument to sanction Russia’s actions in Ukraine in violation of international law. With Eastern Partnership countries like Georgia and Ukraine, the EU (whatever the security concerns raised by its member states) has been cautious about not delaying further the visa liberalization process, as this would entail huge political costs for the elites and may undermine support for European integration in the partner countries. This interplay calls for analysing EU external policies as dynamic processes that are shaped through shifting interactions between EU actors and third countries.


Sandra Fernandes is Assistant Professor at the University of Minho in the Department of International Relations and Public Administration (School of Economics and Management). She is Deputy-Director of the Department, Head of the BA in International Relations and Head of the MA in International Relations. She is also a full member of the Research Center of Political Science [CICP] at UMinho. Her research interests are in the field of international relations with a focus on European Studies, Post-Soviet Studies, EU-Russia relations, Foreign Policy Analysis and Security Studies. She is a specialist on Europe-Russia political and security relations.

Laure Delcour is scientific coordinator and research fellow of the EU FP7 CASCADE project at the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme. Her research interests focus on the diffusion and reception of EU norms, policy and institutional templates in the Eastern neighbourhood and on region-building in the post-Soviet area. She is currently a Principal investigator under a French-UK (ANR-ESRC) research project analysing the EU’s influence on domestic change in the Eastern neighbourhood. She is also a Visiting Professor at the College of Europe (EU International Relations Department).

Their recent article ‘Visa liberalization processes in the EU’s Eastern neighbourhood: understanding policy outcomes’ was published online by CRIA here

Continue Reading

The Maidan Revolution: A view from the ‘West’

Molly Krasnodębska

One year has now passed since the night of November  21, 2013 when the first protests began on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev. The mass demonstrations, which by December 1 reached an estimated 700, 000 protesters[1] were a response to Ukrainian president Yanukovych’s sudden withdrawal from the signing of an association agreement with the European Union.

In the West, the association agreement, which was intended to enhance political and economic relations between the EU and Ukraine, was seen as a vehicle for the promotion of good governance and democracy. Its initial failure, however, showed (to the disappointment of Western leaders) that the EU’s power of attraction failed to coopt Ukraine’s ruling elites. The Yanukovych government had been playing a double game between the EU and Russia.

It would be wrong to conclude, however, that the EU had no impact in Ukraine.

Continue Reading

The EU, Ukraine and the Limits of Normative Power

Molly Krasnodębska

It is hard to imagine events of greater significance to the EU’s foreign policy than those of the Euromaidan: a crisis in the EU’s direct neighborhood, that began with large-scale pro-EU, pro-democracy protests. Sadly, even when the crisis escalated and death tolls rose, the EU remained reluctant to take any clear actions in response to the Ukrainian government’s violence against the protesters.

This reluctance is reflective of the EU’s uncertainty about its identity as an international actor, i.e. its self-conception of the role it should play in the international environment and how it should represent its values and norms externally. During the Cold War, ‘European’ identity rested on protection of freedom and democracy in Europe against totalitarianism represented by the Soviet bloc. With the downfall of Communism in Europe and disappearance of clear distinctions between “good’ and “evil”, the EU’s role shifted to promotion of its norms and institution outward. Its self-identification as a “normative power” shapes an international policy based on soft power and dissemination of the European model of democracy, particularly visible in its enlargement policy.

Recently, in light of the Eurozone crisis, rising Euro-skepticisms and enlargement fatigue, the EU seems to have lost some of its soft power appeal. It is therefore even more remarkable to see thousands of Ukrainians waving EU flags, as they risk their lives in the anti-government protests.

Continue Reading

Alcuin Lecture 2013

The Department of Politics and International Studies’ annual Alcuin lecture was delivered on October 17, 2013, by Loukas Tsoukalis, Professor of European Integration at the University of Athens, President of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), and Visiting Professor at King’s College in London and the College of Europe in Bruges. A transcript of the lecture, entitled, “Is There a Future for the European Union – and with Britain in It?” follows.

It is a privilege to be invited to deliver the Alcuin Lecture of 2013 on Britain and Europe, and I should like to thank in particular the Master of Clare College for hosting this event and Professor Christopher Hill for the invitation. I am deeply honoured, even more so having looked at the list of very distinguished speakers who have preceded me in the Alcuin Lectures sponsored by Lord Brittan.

I spent a good part of my academic life in this country and I am grateful for the things I learned and the opportunities I was given. I was elected to a Fellowship in European Studies – I have to admit it was in ‘The Other Place’ – only a few years after Britain joined the European Community, as it was then known, and some years before my own country also joined. I have devoted most of my working life to the study of Europe, and European integration in particular, often crossing rather timidly, the boundary between academia and policy. These are my qualifications for today’s event, modest though they may be.

In the 2011 Annual Review Lecture of the Journal of Common Market Studies, I said that European integration had been for a long time like a car moving uphill. The French usually provided the driver, the Commission the map, the Germans paid for the petrol and the British oiled the brakes. And in the second half of the previous decade, it began to look like a car without a driver, the map being replaced by a GPS that went on and off, while the Poles insisted on taking an insurance policy with God, nobody wanted to pay for the petrol, some clearly cheated, and those inside disagreed loudly on how many more could fit into the car.

The road has become much rougher and dangerous in recent years. Many people believe we now have a driver and she is German, although there are still doubts about whether she, or anybody else, has the skills required for driving in such adverse conditions or whether anybody inside the car has a clear sense of direction. Meanwhile, the British have begun to wonder whether the time has come for them to get out.

Continue Reading