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The Eastern Partnership: Soft Power or Policy Failure?

Kristian L. Nielsen, Maili Vilson

When the European Union launched its new Eastern Partnership in May 2009, it did so with much rhetoric aboutprojecting its soft power into Eastern Europe. The new policy framework was supposed to be a step change fromthe European Neighbourhood Policy, at once meant to underline the EU's commitment to the region, and at thesame time tie the partner states closer to the EU.Yet two short years later, the EU's soft power project seems to have stalled, with developments in the region,particularly in Ukraine, being less than favourable. Such outcomes, though, were fully predictable from the outset.By being another bureaucratic process, not including even a long-term prospect of membership, the EaPessentially replicated the main weakness of the ENP, of offering too little incentive and support to the partners. Insuch circumstances conditionality was a much less effective tool for milieu shaping, while the soft power appealwas equally reduced. In short, the EaP always had too little to offer.In promoting the EaP as a policy of soft power, the EU has once again forgotten that soft power can never beseparated from the 'harder' policies that would meet the expectations of those wishing to align with it. This failureof policy continues to undermine whatever gains could have been hoped for from the Union's actuallyconsiderable reservoir of soft power.

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