German Council on Foreign Relations: coronavirus in EaP, why Brussels need to scale up its support

  • The study says that the European Commission’s offer of immediate assistance is good news. However, much more will be needed to help the EU’s eastern partners mitigate the socioeconomic impact of this crisis. Photo:

Review by Gvantsa Gabekhadze

Political Editor, 8 Apr 2020, Tbilisi,Georgia

The German Council on Foreign Relations  (DGAP) has released a study by Cristina Gherasimov which reads that Eastern Europe may face major threats sparked by the coronavirus. 

The study says that the countries of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership (EaP) – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine – are underprepared to face the approaching peak of the Covid-19 pandemic and will likely be severely affected.

Against the background of chronically weak institutions and healthcare systems, political crises, upcoming elections, and installed states of emergency in four of the six states, many things can go wrong. Meanwhile the EU does not have the capacity to focus solely on Eastern Partnership countries.” 

The study says that as of April 6, 2020, Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine reported the highest total number of Covid-19 cases in the six partner countries of the EaP while Georgia reported the lowest.

Although the numbers throughout the EU’s eastern neighborhood are generally still low compared to its member states, the magnitude of infections is not yet known.

According to the study responses by the governments of the six EaP countries to the early warning signs of the approaching pandemic differed widely but were equally dramatic. 

While Georgia decided to immediately introduce drastic measures and is generally considered to have been able to keep its number of coronavirus cases low as a result, the remaining five countries reacted much more slowly.

The study says that crisis management throughout the region is seriously undermined by a lack of action plans, poor coordination across different government agencies, and the scarcity of professionals in related ministries and national crisis units. 

Georgia is a laudable exception; the government there put three health professionals in the driver’s seat of its national response to the crisis.

To respond to the crisis and the help the EaP states the research offers as follows:

  •  The EU’s eastern neighbors need support in developing and implementing coherent epidemic strategies. This should be the EU’s priority for the region.
  • Brussels needs to monitor EaP governments so that they do not misuse their extended powers for antidemocratic measures. Preserving the fragile tenets of democracy during and after this crisis is an important challenge for the EU, especially if it wishes to affirm its legitimacy as a geopolitical player in its neighborhood in the long term.
  • The EU should coordinate its assistance with the WHO and international financial institutions to mitigate the impacts of the restrictions already imposed. It should guide EaP countries in developing sustainable national action plans for economic recovery.
  • The EU needs to use the EaP Summit in June 2020 to amend its  new strategy, coordinate crisis management efforts across the region, and increase European solidarity with the partner countries.

Read the full study here.