This six-year project, which started in April 2015 for three years and was followed by a second edition of another three years, aimed at clarifying the legal, political and economic implications of three Association Agreements (AAs) and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTAs). The agreements are long and technical legal texts, which cannot be ‘read like a book’. While some simplified information documents are being produced by the EU, the project had two major objectives:
- The first objective was to produce a comprehensive but compact Handbook for each of the three country cases. The Handbooks, which were published (online and in soft cover format) in English and in the languages of the three states, explain in readily understandable and concrete terms what the legal commitments undertaken amount to, and also describe the challenges of implementation for the public and private sectors.
- The second objective was to analyse selected ‘hot topics’ related to the agreements that are of priority concern to the three states. The outputs ranged in scale between short commentaries on topical questions through to in-depth studies on sectors where the agreements are particularly complex or most challenging for their implementation.
The project is conducted in close cooperation with the three governments, the EU institutions and the funding organisation (Sida). Although the project had its three country pillars, the content of the agreements is very similar and often identical, which means that the work programme was an integrated whole, with the intention of sharing the learning experiences of the three states.
The rationale for an extension of the project is to support the sustainability and resilience of the ‘AA’ process, anchored firmly on the knowledge investments made in Stage I. While Stage I was initially a matter of ‘explaining and understanding’ the AAs with the three Handbooks, Stage II would seek to build on these investments to get enhanced impacts under the broad headings of ‘deepening, widening and communicating’. This is done through the following Work Packages:
- Deepening the evaluation of the AA process: we developed towards the end of Stage I a system of quantitative as well as qualitative indicators for evaluating performance in relation to the political and economic governance objectives. This has established systematic benchmarks, with which results over the course of the Stage II are compared.
- Stakeholders consultations: Fresh outputs will include evaluations from key stakeholders, going beyond relevant officials to include business interests and different branches of civil society. This should contribute to enriching feedback for the EU and the partner governments to adjust policies to try and overcome weaknesses and risks in the process.
- Gender issues: this topic will be addressed in a specific work package, and also in each other work package where gender is relevant, as for example in reviewing the results of forthcoming elections.
- Advancing connections of the AA process in the three countries with the wider neighbouring regions: first with other Eastern Partnership states, and possibly to the Eurasian Economic Union, then the Balkans and Turkey; feeding into ideas for rethinking the EU’s neighbourhood policy.
- Developing a more comprehensive communications strategy: building on but going way beyond the existing project website and publications, targeting not only the professional elites but also increasingly the general public and youth (use of social media, active placing of materials with mass media, etc.)
- Developing future policy options: to sustain political momentum for reform and integration, given demands in the AA states for ‘what next?’ by way of strategic incentives, and the risks of political reversal with domestic populism1 erosion of democratic practice and Russian influence. The EU’s strategic concept of resilience comes into play.
As regards overarching impact, the project should contribute to building up the quality, speed and reputation of the AA process as a positive and substantial feature of the wider European political and economic landscape, thus contributing to its sustainability for the states concerned and also standing out as a success for the foreign policy of the EU and its member states.