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Approximation vs Convergence - Has the EU Learnt its Lessons in the Eastern Neighborhood?

Aaron Matta

The EU has increasingly used different levels of integration with its neighbourhood to export its own norms, rules and values beyond its borders for the sake of prosperity and security in the region. The third countries involved have accepted them - at times reluctantly - on a voluntary basis being unable to resist the EU's gravitational force. While some have become an integral part of the Union through accession, others remain within its orbit due to either lack of membership ambitions or EU's limited absorption capacity. While the most advanced example of "integration without membership" is that of the European Economic Area (EEA), other EU neighbours have engaged in similar integration objectives with the EU, though with lower intensity or with less success. Integration projects are somewhat ambiguous particularly regarding the 'end result' towards the Eastern European neighbours. This is mainly due to the fact that, they aim at diverse levels of economic integration with the EU while simultaneously having similar pressing needs for reform, but also differing views concerning 'shared' values. The shift from approximation goals of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements to convergence objectives in the new Association Agreements - from a law reform and development mechanism to a deeper economic integration method - hoped for a change of hearts and help delimiting this differentiated integration in the Eastern neighbourhood. This differentiated approach aimed at addressing the particular needs of each country in the respective agreement with the inclusion of a tailor made Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area while retaining a coherent regional approach. In spite of the current predicaments after the Vilnius Summit, this new differentiation and re-conceptualisation may serve as a common ground to pave the way to a more coherent European legal space inclusive of the Eastern partners needs the form of a multispeed Europeanisation process.



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