7 November 2020

Can More Open Government Build Citizens' Trust in the Western Balkans?

All the countries of the Western Balkans, except Kosovo (essentially owing to non-recognition of the territory), have joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP), and in total they have made more than 350 commitments to implement open government reforms. "Yet ongoing institutional and political challenges have reduced the impact of, and have even weakened, democratic progress made over the years," write Jeff Lovitt and Andreas Pavlou in a new OGP blog. "Continuing open government reforms and restoring civic space will help to ensure these countries continue their path towards being stronger democracies."

Given the ongoing political divisions in the countries, and of course in some cases between countries in the region (especially Serbia and Kosovo), progress towards more open government, let alone EU membership, remains a thorny question. Boycotting of parliament by the opposition has become the norm in Serbia and Albania, and a frequent occurrence in Montenegro and North Macedonia, while corruption is rife and an independent judiciary a distant aspiration in nearly all the countries. Even in Croatia, the EU member in the region, only 24% of the public perceive the judiciary to be independent, the lowest in the EU. 

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has strained the region’s engagement with open government principles, note Lovitt and Pavlou. "Constitutional courts, investigative journalists and civil society monitors have highlighted and challenged the use of state of emergency powers to severely limit fundamental freedoms and human rights, the concentration of power in the executive over parliaments, and questionable public procurement decisions."

Based on data gathered by the OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM), the most recent Western Balkan action plans submitted in 2018 and 2019 contain 70 open government commitments, including some relevant to EU membership. As the authors note, "of these 70 commitments, 51% could lead to significant progress in areas like access to information, citizen engagement, and fiscal transparency. However, there is a wide difference between governments in the region in the number of ambitious open government commitments. For example, some countries have no such commitments, while 26% of the commitments in Croatia’s 2018-20 action plan are potentially transformative."

Potentially transformative commitments from the region "stretch from improving implementation of proactive transparency measures in Serbia’s freedom of information legislation, to fiscal openness in Croatia and North Macedonia by publishing detailed budget and spending data at all levels of government. Additional steps, such as raising awareness among data users of new proactively published information and working closely with civil society to improve the relevance and quality of this information, could further enhance the commitments’ impacts. Other such commitments introduce access to justice measures in North Macedonia, as well as whistleblower protections, a centralised online government portal, and political and election campaign financing transparency in Croatia."

The authors identify three policy areas where OGP commitments could be important: public procurement; civic space and engagement in policy-making; and open justice. Moving forward, all Western Balkan countries should ensure that multi-stakeholder forums exist to co-create OGP action plans: "They must engage with a broad cross-section of citizens, and provide reasoned responses to civil society and citizen input. The OGP co-creation process provides a space to build up greater trust between civil society and government, draw up an agenda for greater openness in government decision-making and increase confidence in the rule of law. Improvements in access to justice, countering corruption in procurement, and enhancing civic space make an important contribution in moving closer to EU membership and, crucially, in building citizens’ trust in government."

1 November 2020

Can a Ceasefire and More Impartial Mediators Succeed Where Diplomacy Has Failed to Date in Nagorno Karabakh?

by Jeff Lovitt, Chair, New Diplomacy

Concerns are mounting that a humanitarian tragedy could develop in and around Nagorno Karabakh as a wide-ranging war has erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a situation that already carries with it echoes of the displacement of more than 1 million people (the majority Azerbaijanis) during the conflict in the early 1990s. 

Two weeks into the new war that broke out on 27 September, a Russia-brokered ceasefire, then two weeks later a US-mediated one, were broken almost immediately. The attacks on civilian areas – for instance those to date on Stepanakert, the largest city in Nagorno Karabakh, and on Ganja, the second largest city in Azerbaijan – "may be mistakes or efforts by combatants to deter further escalation by the other side", notes the International Crisis Group. "If intentional or with insufficient care for protecting the civilian population, they violate international law. Even if not, they are causing tremendous suffering. They are counterproductive to an eventual peace, hardening hostility and rendering a sustainable settlement more remote." 

Both sides "must eschew cluster bombs, stop targeting population centres and provide corridors for the evacuation of the wounded and dead and the delivery of humanitarian aid," argues ICG. "International actors, including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, which has overseen negotiations since the end of hostilities in 1994, and its co-chairs France, Russia and the US, other capitals worldwide and international organisations should speak in one voice and specifically call for such measures." 


Nagorno-Karabakh: A Defining Feature of Both National Identities

The 1991-1994 war (initial clashes in 1988 escalated into a full-blown war) broke out over the status of what was an autonomous region of Azerbaijan in the Soviet Union with a multi-ethnic population, the majority of which were ethnic Armenians. The war resulted in the displacement of not only more than 700,000 Azerbaijanis, but also more than 300,000 Armenians (just as Azerbaijanis were displaced by Armenian forces in Nagorno Karabakh and around, so ethnic Armenians were expelled from different parts of Azerbaijan, including a substantial community in the capital, Baku, and likewise ethnic Azerbaijanis were displaced from Armenia).

Ever since, the conflict has been – rather than a frozen conflict – a low-level conflict, with intermittent flare-ups over the past two-and-a-half decades. Yet now it has the makings of a full-blown war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno Karabakh region, internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, controlled by Armenia (with self-government by the region's ethnic Armenian population) since the war of 1991-1994, after which not only Nagorno Karabakh itself, but also seven surrounding provinces of Azerbaijan and a channel of land linking Nagorno Karabakh to Armenia have been held by Armenia.

The failure to make any forward-looking diplomatic progress in settlement of the decades-long dispute has entrenched both sides in their determination that the territory is a defining part of their respective national identities – not least as the 1991-1994 conflict coincided with the emergence from the USSR of the respective independent republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1991.


Frozen Diplomacy Rather than Frozen Conflict

According to Leila Alieva, writing for the Vienna-based International Institute for Peace, the Minsk Group (comprising the US, France, Russia, Belarus and Turkey, as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan) failed to broker a solution to the conflict. "The possible solution within the Minsk process did not seem realistic. First, it brought 'normative uncertainty', equalising principles of territorial integrity and right of self- determination. While one international body – the UN Security Council (UNSC) – adopted four resolutions demanding the unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces, further actions to implement those demands did not follow. The Minsk process, on the contrary, 'legitimised' application of force by turning military gains into a bargaining tool. In the negotiations process, the withdrawal of forces is tied to the determination of the status of [Nagorno] Karabakh. This message could be read by the parties to the conflict in the following way: international law can be evaded with the use of force, and the greater one’s military gains are, the more they will receive as a result of a deal."

This approach froze diplomacy rather than the conflict, argues Alieva, an Affiliate at the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, University of Oxford, and one of New Diplomacy's co-founders. "The unresolved conflict was used by the parties to consolidate political control or distract attention from the increasing social problems or governance failure. The absence of real pressure on either party made the win-lose situation predominant and parties resistant to compromises." Alieva argues that "the domestic dynamic in Azerbaijan, complicated by the 'resource curse', resulted in the strengthening of autocratic rule, which made a balancing act with Russia easier. Most importantly, the conflicts remained the tool of the Northern neighbour to preserve its influence in all of the Eastern neighbourhood. This role of Russia was not even neutralised by the revolution in Armenia in 2018, as it simply separated the political and security fields, retaining the role of Russia in the latter."

In Armenia, argues Alieva, "the democratically elected charismatic [Prime Minister Nikol] Pashinyan faced the necessity to accommodate the nationalist stance of influential and economically powerful institutions – the loyal-to-Russia Karabakh clan and Armenian diaspora in the West. The popular, rather than economic, basis of [Pashinyan's] power, forced him to become increasingly nationalistic, to the level of an openly provocative policy. The change of the military doctrine and weapons from the defensive to offensive, frequent visits to Karabakh, especially to Shusha, previously populated by Azerbaijanis, support for the decision to move there the Nagorno-Karabakh 'parliament', a statement that 'Karabakh is Armenia', which made the peace negotiations meaningless – all this contributed to the escalation."

If the parties return to the Minsk process, argues Alieva, as well as "a clear timetable" for negotiations, "the military gains should be delegitimised in the bargaining process – this is needed not only to prevent possible military adventures, but also to reach long-lasting peace, which cannot be built under military pressure". In addition, "the format of co-chairmen should include non-partisan states" as perceived by the two parties, or one co-chair party chosen by each of the two parties. In the case of bilateral talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, she adds, "all the conditions should be created for the parties to look for the acceptable and mutually beneficial solution with active participation of experts, civil society and other independent institutions."


Does One Injustice Remedy Another?


The ineffectiveness of diplomacy over the conflict is reiterated by Thomas de Waal. Writing for Foreign Affairs, he argues that the Minsk process "achieved little and did not even begin to tackle the democratic deficit at the heart of the conflict by engaging civil society, talking to marginalised communities, or tackling the toxic hate speech that fuels the conflict. Russia eventually assumed the leading role in determining the region’s fate, much as it did the century before."

As de Waal – a Senior Fellow at Carnegie Europe and author of Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War – notes, Azerbaijan's military offensive has "given thousands of displaced Azerbaijanis hope of returning to the lands they still consider home", but "in reversing one injustice, Azerbaijan is bloodily creating a new one: the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh are under attack and may soon be encircled, facing potentially devastating humanitarian consequences".  



Insecurity and the Democratic Deficit

"The devilish intractability of this conflict stems from two factors," notes de Waal. "A century-old security dilemma, in which each side has sought to achieve a sense of safety and control at the expense of the other, thereby undermining the security of both; and a democratic deficit, a total absence of societal trust and real dialogue, that makes compromise between the two sides almost impossible." 

According to de Waal, "the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh in both its old and new iterations offers a lesson in the impossibility of an ultimate victory. A victim quickly becomes a perpetrator and vice-versa. In the current fighting, the pendulum has now swung strongly in favour of Azerbaijan on the battlefield." Yet, he continues, "the Azerbaijanis should heed their own experience of 1994, when the Armenians believed they had achieved 'absolute security'. If they face the prospect of losing their much-loved territory of Karabakh, the Armenians may resort to desperate measures and continue the war by other means, perhaps even attacking Azerbaijani targets outside the region."

Noting that the current Azerbaijani advance could be "slowed by winter or highland geography" or "a latter-day Russian-Turkish great-power deal", de Waal concludes that "even if this round of fighting ends in Azerbaijan’s favour, Armenians will not give up. The dispute over Nagorno Karabakh will likely remain unresolved for another generation to come."



19 August 2020

All Options on the Table in Belarus After Popular Protests Catch Lukashenka and Putin by Surprise – New Diplomacy co-Founder Jan Piekło

In Belarus, everything is possible, both roundtable talks and the use of force by Russia, "and everything is decided by Moscow," said the former Polish ambassador to Ukraine, Jan Piekło, in an interview on Polish Radio 24 on 17 August. 


Piekło, one of the co-founders of New Diplomacy, served as Poland's Ambassador to Ukraine from 2016-2019. According to Piekło, Russian President Vladimir Putin was caught by surprise by the events in Belarus since the presidential election on 9 August, after which the authorities claimed that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka won with 80% of the vote – a figure believed by nobody. 

According to Piekło, the events in Belarus bear a closer similarity to events in Poland in 1989 than to the Orange Revolution or Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine in 2004 and 2014 respectively.

Lukashenka would be willing, of course after consultations with Moscow, to agree to roundtable talks, said Piekło, but it would be a delaying tactic, "not a breakthrough".

The full interview is available here.

29 May 2019

Does the EU Want What its Neighbours Need?

"In the Western Balkans and, more recently, in Moldova, we have seen EU-oriented political parties become increasingly dominated by corrupt oligarchs and a false choice posed to citizens of a pro-EU government versus a pro-Russia regime, when all people really want is an honest government that puts in place economic policies that promote sustained prosperity. That priority overrides citizens’ preferences for particular foreign policy orientations. The attraction of closer integration with the EU should be obvious – from access to markets to the freedom to travel, study, and even work in EU countries – but the benefits of democratisation, strengthening of the rule of law, and justice for all are valid even without the perspective of EU membership."

This is an excerpt from "Does the EU Want What Its Neighbours Need", the concluding essay in a publication launched today by the Open Government Partnership at the OGP Global Summit in Ottawa, Canada. The essay in the book, Do We Trust Democracy? A Future Agenda for Europe, is written by New Diplomacy Chair, Jeff Lovitt. The essay concludes a volume where 28 authors from EU member states write about the level of trust in their respective countries from a variety of angles, from media freedoms to participatory democracy, and democracy and immigration.

The final essay looks at trust towards their own governments and towards the EU in the EU's eastern and southern neighbours and in the Western Balkans and Turkey. Jeff Lovitt, who is a member of OGP's International Experts Panel, continues: "Sticks and carrots run the risk of sparking countermovements channelling frustration with protracted EU membership efforts into a more nationalist, inward-looking politics. This phenomenon is partially evident in the politics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and of Milorad Dodik in the Serb-majority entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Indeed, the confidence to combine an embrace of democracy with preservation of traditions, such as religion, can avert what Ivan Krastev has called the 'return to tradition' following the disappointment of the quest for, or imitation of, the 'normality' that the EU was perceived to embody."

The EU "enjoys the highest levels of trust in Georgia (73%) and Armenia (70%). Around two-thirds of Moldovans and Ukrainians also trust the EU. In contrast, two-thirds of citizens are not satisfied with the way democracy works in their country. Moldovans are the most dissatisfied (81%)."

To rebuild trust, Jeff argues, "citizens must above all be confident that the justice system is not marred by corruption and political manipulation. Effective anti-corruption agencies, supported by independent prosecutors and judges, are a top EU priority, which in turn makes it a priority where the local needs and donor priorities converge. A more hard-hitting approach from the EU should put open government and transparent justice at the heart of the agenda. Local experts should be trained and empowered to develop solutions that will work in the local context. International support could take the form of secondment of experts who have taken centre-stage in turning around justice systems in other countries, but the principal outcome must be solutions that inspire trust because they are tailored to the local context and local priorities."

The other authors include OGP Chief of Country Support Paul Maassen, EU Commissioner Věra Jourová, Maltese investigative journalist Matthew Caruana Galizia, Head of Advocacy at CNVOS, Slovenia, Tina Divjak, Latvian MP Maria Golubeva, and President of the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe, Anna Rurka.

Download the publication here: Do We Trust Democracy? A Future Agenda for Europe

22 March 2019

Time for A Decade of Rule of Law and Independent Justice

The Eastern Partnership approaches its tenth anniversary in May 2019. On 26 February, in Brussels, the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum launched the latest Eastern Partnership Index, edited by New Diplomacy Chair Jeff Lovitt.

In the introduction to the Index, Jeff Lovitt set out some of the big policy challenges facing the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries in 2019 and beyond, noting that the Association Agreement signatory countries are now implementing Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area agreements with the EU, and have all secured visa-free short-term travel to the Schengen countries, but that "their aspirations of closer alignment with the EU are far from assured".


The following encapsulates some of the main points of the introduction to the Index. Although the Index data covers 2017, the narrative also covers developments to the very end of 2018, and the recommendations (see the Top Challenges for 2019 below) look forward to 2019.

The parliamentary elections in Moldova on 24 February 2019 resulted in a stalemate, and there is evident concern that the ruling Democratic Party (PDM) will connive to continue in power, and to perpetuate its leader's stranglehold over the economy and the judiciary. We now face first presidential, then parliamentary, elections in Ukraine, a country where substantial reforms have been implemented (not least local government reform), but where the fight against corruption continues to face entrenched interests of powerful business interests. On the other hand, the Velvet Revolution in Armenia has raised hopes that civil society and new political forces can turn the tide against entrenched interests.

Below, after the Top Challenges for 2019 listed in the Index, some of the introduction's main points on justice reform and conflict de-escalation are shared in abridged form.


From the Eastern Partnership Index 2017:


TOP CHALLENGES FOR 2019
  • The governments of the Eastern Partnership countries must focus on the professionalisation and independence of the justice system, and the EU should make financial support to the respective governments strictly conditional on prompt and comprehensive reforms of the judiciary and prosecution service, and genuinely independent anti-corruption agencies. The freezing of EU assistance to the government of Moldova should continue until a government emerges that shows a commitment to tackling this challenge with integrity.
  • Where financial assistance to government is frozen, support to civil society should continue, indeed be strengthened, in the EU’s new multi-annual financial framework. There is an urgent need for strong EU support for civil society and independent media in all six countries, including Belarus and Azerbaijan, where the media are least free.
  • The EU and NATO should build on the decisions of the Warsaw NATO 2016 Summit to restore confidence in Europe’s security architecture. The EU can also take a lead on easing tensions and launching dialogue to resolve the territorial disputes in the region and the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
  • The democratic progress made in Georgia and Ukraine is far from complete, and the energy of the Velvet Revolution in Armenia must be sustained. The EU and international donors can empower civil society to not only monitor the implementation of policies, including the spending of EU financial support, but to become an active partner in shaping EU programme assistance priorities. EU support is also essential to enable civil society to undertake comprehensive, country-wide monitoring of elections to ensure that there is no democratic slippage.


Justice Reforms and Conditionality of Financial Support

All six EaP countries face challenges in addressing corruption and political cronyism, not least the “state capture” that has become entrenched in Moldova. The lack of progressin forging an independent judiciary and prosecution service has also stood in the way of effective anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine. The urgency of effective anti-corruption agencies, backed up by independent prosecutors and judges of the highest integrity, must be embraced by the EU as the top priority in the region. The absence of comprehensive justice reform undermines democratic development and entrenches corrupt elites (there is nothing pro-EU about the abuse of power for the private gain of political leaders, whether they are in office or steering those in office from behind the scenes)....

... Until the respective governments embark on credible, comprehensive reforms that will inspire citizens with confidence that they will experience a fair trial in the justice system, where bribes are not extracted for acquittals, and where the rule of law is not applied arbitrarily to serve the interests of
powerful groups, the EU should apply strict conditionality and freeze all financial support to those governments.

Hard choices must be made, but in the end strict conditionality will be necessary, and it is unacceptable for both EU taxpayers and for the citizens of the EaP countries if EU financial support goes to governments where the state has been “captured” by corrupt business groups.

Different models of support might include long-term engagement of experts who have directly turned around justice systems in other countries rather than secondment of experts to review the existing or planned legislation and processes.

The EU and other donors need to recognise that such reforms need to be hard-hitting. Where there is political resistance from entrenched interests, the money would be better spent on supporting democratic actors working to hold the authorities to account rather than supporting reforms where the political will is lacking.


EU Can Lead on Dialogue to De-Escalate Regional Tensions

The conflict in Ukraine needs a comprehensive approach, including the stabilisation of economic and democratic development, and a pre-emptive approach to guarding Ukraine against external economic risks, primarily from Russia. The EU can help in these security areas, just as it can in Georgia to equip the government to resist the Russian military’s constant extensions of the territory of the secessionist-held Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) region further into Georgia-controlled territory. Diplomatic efforts should be intensified to enable the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia to be given access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The increase in contacts between the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan, including a communications hotline that has been accompanied by a reduction of the number of incidents around Nagorno-Karabakh, are an important development. While this progress emerged after the emergence of the new government in Yerevan, the democratic changes in Armenia do not mean a solution to the conflict with Azerbaijan will be found quickly.

The resolution of the competing rights and demands of the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities that both lived in the autonomous territory before the war of 1988-1994 will require an ambitious, sustained mediation effort to open up dialogue and facilitate reconciliation. However, the scope for a de-escalation of tensions is now a realistic objective, and the window of opportunity should be embraced.

The EU is well placed to take a lead on launching such a dialogue, with a view to at least de-escalation of tensions in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh and the other territorial disputes in the region. With France as one of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (the others are Russia and the US), the EU already has a place at the table, and should maximise its diplomatic engagement to build on the recently improved communications between the two countries.

The EU should strengthen its presence in the region and improve its in-country intelligence-gathering so that it is better prepared when both internal and external shocks materialise. Better staffed delegations should be combined with more resources and mandates for EU Special Representatives, such as the Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia.

The EU Global Strategy needs to be complemented by clear objectives and a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) strategy that intensifies co-operation with partners in the EaP countries and builds adequately resourced early warning systems.


18 May 2018

Placing Strategic Thinking and Security at the Heart of International Relations


Keeping you informed, and sharing our news... 


Since its launch at the end of 2015, the founders of NEW DIPLOMACY have engaged with national governments, local authorities, intergovernmental organisations and private foundations to promote more participatory democracy and a strengthened role for civil society and independent media.

In 2016-17, with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), New Diplomacy ran a highly successful Eastern Partnership Journalism Fellowship scheme. Five fellows – three journalists from Ukraine, two from Georgia – were selected for the first fellowship round. The host organisations were internationally recognised media institutions, namely Hamburger AbendblattSpiegel Online, and ZDF public television in Germany, DELFI/Lithuania Tribune in Lithuania, and Eastbook.eu in Poland.

The founders 


Leila Alieva is an Academic Visitor at St Anthony’s College, Oxford University, and continues to provide analysis on political and security developments in the South Caucasus for a variety of think-tanks, publications and media, including as co-author of EU Relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan, a recent study for the European Parliament.


Jan Piekło has been serving as the Ambassador of Poland to Ukraine since September 2016, working to advance the role of civil society and to support Ukraine's democratic reforms and Euro-Atlantic integration at a crucial stage in the country's history following the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, and the entry into force of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union.


Krzysztof Bobiński is the co-Chair of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in 2018, where he is working to engage with the EU and its member governments to ensure that civil society has a seat at the table when key policies are debated in intergovernmental fora. He is pressing the European Commission, the European External Action Service and national governments in both the EU and Eastern Partnership countries to prioritise key reforms across the region, including free and fair elections, independent media, and an independent judiciary.


Jeff Lovitt conceived, and served as lead author and editor of, two Council of Europe studies on Civil Participation in Political Decision-Making in the Six Eastern Partnership Countries – Part One. Laws and Policies, published in 2016; Part Two: Practice and Implementation in 2017. Since September 2016, he has been a member of the International Experts Panel (IEP) of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). In 2017-18, he is launching a new participatory democracy academy, first piloted with the Council of Europe at the municipal level in Kyiv, Ukraine.

If you want to read more about the founders of New Diplomacy, click here.

New Diplomacy partnered with the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD), Georgia, in 2016 on the project, Security Alert on the EU's Doorstep, and in 2017 with the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum on the publication, Eastern Partnership Index 2015-2016. Charting Progress in European Integration, Democratic Reforms, and Sustainable Development.

Diverse channels of influence


New Diplomacy will continue to engage through both formal and informal channels with governments, foundations, and civil society in strengthening participatory democracy, and in putting strategic thinking and security at the heart of international relations. We will continue to share with you our news – and analysis of important news from other sources.

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About New Diplomacy


NEW DIPLOMACY was launched in 2015 to address the policy challenges facing global and regional policymakers in the eastern and southern neighbourhoods of the European Union, not least the insecurity in the post-Soviet space and the crises of democracy and instability in the Middle East. The founders are a group of policy analysts and media professionals, each with several decades’ experience leading projects in promoting EU integration and closer Euro-Atlantic relations, and in strengthening civil society in the post-Soviet space.

 NEW DIPLOMACY, z.s. is a non-profit association registered in Prague, Czech Republic.

28 February 2018

Will Moldova – in an Election Year – Lose Its Crown as Pace-Setter in the Eastern Partnership?

'Moldova is the frontrunner in both dimensions of the Eastern Partnership Index 2015-2016, but is closely followed in Linkage by Georgia and in Approximation by Ukraine.' - Eastern Partnership Index 2015-2016, published by the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum



Parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in Moldova in November 2018, not long after the next Eastern Partnership Index is due to be published. Between now and then, the current tug of war in Moldova is likely to intensify – not just between President Igor Dodon's tilt towards Russia and the stated pro-EU policies of the current government, but also between those who value an active civil society and those who would rather independent civic actors kept out of politics, between those who cherish a diverse and independent media and those who want a media that backs their political and business interests, and between those who want an independent judiciary and prosecution service versus those who would prefer to continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the public purse.

This is not a split based on geopolitical orientation (there is even collusion between the so-called pro-Russia and pro-EU forces, for instance on pushing through the change to a mixed electoral system, strengthening the hands of business interests in the new single-member seats), and the future democratic trajectory depends on new political actors emerging, either to form government or to work intensely with civil society and independent media to hold the government to account.

Sound familiar? Yes, it could be said of other Eastern Partnership countries too (we all know that Ukraine and Georgia have their own problems with the nexus of political power, media, and business).

The latest edition of the Eastern Partnership Index covered the first year of the Association Agreements between three EaP countries (Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine), and saw Moldova retain its leading position, but a more comprehensive picture will be available in the next edition of the Index, due to be published in September/October 2018. Just as Ukraine had a later start with the new trade arrangements (the bilateral Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area agreements with the EU), so the forthcoming index will also reflect the fact that Georgia and Ukraine have caught up with Moldova in securing visa-free travel to the Schengen zone.

After a pause to refine the methodology, not least to reflect the increased importance of sustainable development, human rights, and security in the region, the new Index rests on two dimensions: Approximation and Linkage. What was formerly known as the Eastern Partnership European Integration Index (last edition 2014, published in 2015) has been transformed into the Eastern Partnership Index. The new Eastern Partnership Index (the 2015-2016 edition – Editor in Chief: Jeff Lovitt) is now published and online, events were held in Brussels and Kyiv recently, and more will follow.

The results show that the entry into force of the Association Agreements brought about considerable headway in integration with the EU in the case of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine within the period covered (the data takes in developments until the end of December 2016, although the narrative shows the full picture until the end of 2017).

Moldova emerged as the frontrunner in the 2015-2016 Index, albeit with only a slight advantage over Georgia in Linkage and over Ukraine in Approximation. Moldova may not maintain that leading position in the Index, due later this year. Indeed, already the 2015-2016 Index shows that Moldova lags behind Ukraine and Georgia when it comes to International Security, Political Dialogue and Co-operation. While Ukraine had by far the most intense political dialogue with the EU, it also enjoyed the highest position in International Security, Political Dialogue and Co-operation, and held the lead in Sectoral Co-operation and Trade Flows.

Moreover, the three Association Agreement signatories are not so far ahead of at least one of the other Eastern Partnership countries. The three were joined by Armenia as the leaders in Approximation to EU standards and international norms, a reflection of the progress that has continued in Armenia in spite of its government’s U-turn from signing an Association Agreement in 2014.

Most tellingly, the Index reflects the need to fight state capture and to strengthen oversight (including by civil society and other independent experts) in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. In Belarus and Azerbaijan, the EU must work for a place at the table for civil society, and apply diplomatic efforts to free political prisoners and foster an independent media. In Armenia, civil society has been vocal in its orientation towards the EU, and strengthened support from the side of the EU is key to the country's longer-term direction.

A few other snippets from the results:

  • The three South Caucasus countries and Belarus all have a significantly more favourable business environment than Moldova and Ukraine.
  • Armenia leads in Sustainable Development, and had put in place a sustainable development policy co-ordination structure, although concerns persisted on deforestation, ineffective management of water resources, and weak pollution controls. 
  • Azerbaijan is placed fourth for Sectoral Co-operation and Trade Flows, ahead of Belarus and Armenia, a reflection of Azerbaijan's stronger trade ties with the EU since Azerbaijan is not a member of the Russia-led trading bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union. 
  • Belarus has the worst record among the EaP in Deep and Sustainable Democracy, including sixth place for independent media, and – along with Azerbaijan – for freedom of speech and assembly. Azerbaijan has the worst record in democratic rights and elections, including political  pluralism.
With the new methodology in place, together with the publisher, the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, and the wealth of experts who work with us on the Index, we are planning the launch of the 2017 Index in September/October 2018. True, by then we will have had presidential elections in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and in October also Georgia, but key parliamentary elections in November in Moldova and parliamentary and presidential elections will follow in 2019 in Ukraine (of course, in either country, the elections might be brought forward).

Eastern Partnership Index 2015-2016. Charting Progress in European Integration, Democratic Reforms, and Sustainable Development 
Editor in Chief: Jeff Lovitt
Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, December 2017, ISBN 978-2-930970-00-4