The EU – Ukraine Association Agreement: Implications for the Slovak-Ukrainian Cross-Border Cooperation

Ten years of the Eastern Partnership: achievements and prospects

Background information

The main aim of the conference (held in 21 – 23 October 2019 in Prešov) was to discuss findings of the research project entitled “Impact of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement on the Slovak-Ukrainian Cross-Border Cooperation” that has been implemented by the Institute of Political Sciences (IPOL – Faculty of Arts, University of Prešov) with the support of the Slovak Research and Development Agency (project no. APVV-15-0369, project period: 2016-2019). The project was aimed at identifying impact of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA) on the Slovak-Ukrainian cross-border cooperation (SK-UA CBC). It looked for opportunities and limits for SK-UA CBC at the level of regional and local actors brought on by, first, changing institutional framework for relations between the EU with Ukraine under the provisions of AA (supranational level); second, governmental policies and relations between Slovakia and Ukraine (national level); and third, existing practices of SK-UA CBC implemented by regional and local actors. Since the Eastern Partnership creates strategic supranational framework for further development of cross-border cooperation on external border of the EU with Eastern neighbours, including on national and regional/local levels, the conference paid special attention to evaluation of the current state of the Eastern Partnership ten years after its launch, including its up-to-date achievements and post-2020 scenarios.

The total number of participants in the conference was 98; mostly they were students and lecturers affiliated with the University of Prešov and the Uzhgorod National University (Ukraine), but also representatives of regional administration of the Prešov Self-Governing Region (PSR) and municipalities located in PSR. Experts from 8 countries contributed to the conference proceedings (Bulgaria, Hungary, Finland, France, Poland, Slovakia, United Kingdom, and Ukraine), including representative of the European Commission. 

Summary of the conference proceedings

The conference was open by welcome words of the representatives of co-organizing institutions – Irina Dudinská, Director of IPOL, and Alexander Duleba, Senior Fellow of the SFPA. 

The first panel on “The tenth anniversary of the Eastern Partnership: the current state and post-2020 scenarios” was moderated by Alexander Duleba. The introductory kick-off presentations were made by Victor Bojkov, Policy Coordinator at the DG NEAR, Directorate C – Neighbourhood East and Institution Building from the European Commission; Laure Delcour, Associate Professor at the University Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle and Visiting Professor at College of Europe; James Scott, Professor at the Karelian Institute, University of Eastern Finland; and Andriy Tyushka from the European Neighbourhood Policy Chair at the College of Europe, Natolin Campus in Warsaw.

Victor Bojkov from the DG NEAR of the European Commission informed participants about the ongoing reflection process of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) launched by the European Commission at the occasion of the ten years of the start of its implementation in 2009. The aim of the reflection process has been to, first, evaluate the achievements of the EaP, and second, bring new ideas concerning its future shape before the EaP summit that is planned to be held during the Croatian Presidency of the EU Council in May/June 2020. The summit should approve an upgraded version of the EaP framework that will guide its implementation within the next decade. He said that the Commission is conducting its own evaluation of the EaP outcomes focusing on the implementation of circa 100 projects in the 6 partnership countries within the 2020 Deliverables program. He pointed out that Commission looks for further differentiation between the three countries that concluded association agreements with the EU (Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine) and the remaining three that are interested in more modest type of relationship with the EU (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus). He also pointed out that even though there are some uncertainties regarding the budget of the EU for next multiannual financial perspective, and first of all due to the Brexit, allocation of sources for the EaP policy and programs should not be reduced, rather on the contrary, it will be expanded. Speaking about the main achievements of the EaP he stressed, first, reforms launched by the three associated countries inspired also by their association agreements with the EU, and second, introduction of the visa-free regime for citizens of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

In her presentation Laure Delcour focused on analysis of the weaknesses of the EaP. She stressed that the persisting problem of the EaP policy framework from its very beginning is its unclear end-goal, which demotivates the governments of the EaP countries in implementing unpopular, but necessary reforms. She argued the EU should give a signal to associated countries that there is an end in the tunnel and once, if they implement association agreements, they might become members of the EU. The next weakest point she highlighted in her presentation is a role of oligarchic groups in the associated countries that are still having powerful status being able to hamper national reforms even at the expense of destabilising political situation in given countries with the aim to promote their particular interests. In the years to come the EU should focus more on strengthening political institutions of the EaP countries, justice and anticorruption measures. She also referred to Russia as an actor and factor, which makes situation in the EU Eastern neighbourhood more complex in terms of achieving the EaP objectives.    

In his presentation Professor James Scott looked at the EaP from the perspective of the EU as an international actor with all its weaknesses and strengths. He pointed of that the EU as a post-Westphalian actor, which aims at achieving win-win solutions in relations with third countries, is confronted in its Eastern neighbourhood with Russia, which behaves as classical Westphalian actor looking at the international relations as an outcome of the zero-sum game. From this perspective, the EU should rethink the way it promotes its interests in relations with third countries learning how to become more assertive visa-vis actors like Russia, nevertheless, maintaining its capacities to behave as a soft power. He pointed out that EaP should pay more attention to supporting cross-border cooperation on Western borders of Ukraine and Moldova while to open more programs of trans-border cooperation for Georgia that would facilitate more robust engagement of regional and local actors from associated countries in cross-border cooperation with their partners from the EU member states. Implementation of EaP should not rely only on the European Commission and the national governments of the partner countries, he pointed out.  

In his intervention Andriy Tyushka stressed that the EU should give more priority to developing bilateral relations with Eastern partner countries than to multilateral framework established within EaP. He said main achievements of the EaP so far might be subscribed to bilateral framework, including reforms implemented by partner countries’ governments, removal of visa regime, etc. Therefore he said the EU should rethink the way it implements EaP, including giving a priority to bilateral framework for its relations with individual EaP countries.

The panel’s debate revolved around issues, e.g. a need to make an audit of the EaP in terms of what programs, including bilateral or multilateral approaches, bring more results in achieving main goals of the EaP, i.e. economic integration and political association of the EaP countries. Another important point discussed at the first panel was a question about prospects for a deepening of association of EaP countries in terms of opening the EU institutions to them, including to the EU legislating process, following the model the EU has established with Norway (EEA agreement) or Switzerland, which do have access to the Comitology Committees of the EU as observers, etc. The main argument for the deepening of association process of the three associated EaP countries through the opening of the EU institutions to them, including providing them with an observatory status at the early stage of the EU legislating process, is a similarity between the EEA agreement with AA/DCFTA under EaP when it comes to size of approximation with the EU acquis. Discussants agreed that the EaP is a coin with two sides, definitely, there is a room for improvement for the EU in providing reform assistance to partner countries, however, the EU cannot implement reforms in partner countries, it shall to be delivered by national governments and societies of the partner countries.      

The second panel on “Cross-border cooperation on the EU’s border with Ukraine – national (and intergovernmental) framework: the case of Slovakia, Hungary and Poland” was chaired by Martin Lačný, Assistant Professor at IPOL. It was addressed by Alexander Duleba, Senior Fellow at RC SFPA; Gyula Ocskay, Secretary General of the Central European Service for Cross-Border Initiatives (CESCI) in Budapest; Andrzej Jakubowski, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Socio-Economic Geography and Spatial Management of the Maria Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin; Michal Cirner, Assistant Professor at IPOL, and Nataliya Maradyk, Docent at IPOL. The aim of the panel was to discuss intergovernmental relations between Slovakia, Hungary and Poland with Ukraine in terms of their impact on cross-border cooperation of regional and local actors on the EU border with Ukraine.

In the first part of his presentation Alexander Duleba introduced briefly the history of the current Slovak-Ukrainian border, which became the international border only after WWII when the present Transcarpathian Region of Ukraine (former Subcarpathian Rus within the first Czechoslovak Republic) was ceded by the Czechoslovak government to the Soviet Union in 1947. Thus, it is one of the youngest international borders in Europe. The positive factor of CBC on regional level in the Slovak-Ukrainian borderland is that Slovak-Ukrainian relations are not burdened by historical problems or animosities. In the second part of his presentation he analysed ups and downs in the development of Slovak-Ukrainian relations on intergovernmental level since early 1990s, when both Ukraine and Slovakia gained their national independence, which correspondingly have been creating more positive or negative conditions for CBC of regional and local actors. He paid special attention to the impact of Slovakia’s EU accession on bilateral relations and border regime with Ukraine. He pointed out that implementation of association agreement of Ukraine with the EU leading towards economic integration of Ukraine is crucial for eliminating dividing nature of the Slovak-Ukrainian border and expanding opportunities for CBC cooperation between regional and local actors.

In his presentation Gyula Ocskay analysed development of bilateral Hungarian-Ukrainian relations on intergovernmental level with the focus on cross-border cooperation. He pointed out that Hungarian government always has been paying priority attention to Transcarpathian Region of Ukraine, which is populated also by a numerous minority of ethnic Hungarians. This is why approach of Budapest always has been supportive towards CBC activities of regional and local actors on Hungarian-Ukrainian border. Hungarian ethnic minority on Ukrainian side of the border eliminates a language barrier for CBC what is a general positive factor for the development of CBC in the borderland. He also referred to recent Hungarian initiative in the field of European Territorial Cooperation, which should lead towards establishment of common planning of regional development by neighbouring Hungarian regions and Transcarpathian Region of Ukraine.   

Andrzej Jakubowski in his presentation offered an analytical overview of bilateral Polish-Ukrainian agreements on intergovernmental level with an impact on CBC on common border, but also agreements achieved on the level of administrations of Polish regions and Ukrainian oblasts. As to him Polish Voyvodships (regional administrations) are main drivers of the development of Polish-Ukrainian CBC. He referred to numerous initiatives on the level of municipalities, cities, and regions, which established regular CBC in various fields of activities starting from education to socioeconomic and business exchanges.

In their joint presentation Nataliya Maradyk and Michal Cirner presented findings from their empirical research they conducted for the IPOL project through the semi-structured interviews with officials representing governmental agencies. In October 2017 they interviewed 10 governmental representatives of Ukraine as well as 10 governmental representatives of Slovakia who in the time of interviews were involved in implementing various fields of the Slovak-Ukrainian relations. Maradyk and Cirner did comparative analysis of both positions and perceptions of Ukrainian and Slovak officials on main aspects of bilateral relations, but also on prospects for European integration of Ukraine. They identified shared perceptions, but also different ones. Among other findings their research shows that Slovak officials are more optimistic when it comes to prospects for European integration of Ukraine than their Ukrainian colleagues. The key finding of their research is that there are no critical differences in the mutual perceptions of Ukrainian and Slovak officials, including in respect of the agenda of the bilateral relations and/or European integration of Ukraine,  which might create obstacles for cross-border cooperation on regional and local level.      

The discussion at the second panel has shown that from a comparative perspective of the three examined national cases (Slovakia, Hungary and Poland) the most developed and most intense CBC between regional and local actors on border with Ukraine can be identified in the case of Polish-Ukrainian border. The worst situation in the course of some last years in terms of impact of intergovernmental relations on CBC, despite efforts of regional and local actors, can be observed on Hungarian-Ukrainian border due to a conflictual approach of the Hungarian government towards Ukraine. Many Ukrainian participants addressed their critical remarks towards unconstructive approach of the Hungarian government on Ukraine due to alleged problems of Hungarian national minority in the Transcarpathian Region of Ukraine.  

The third panel of the conference on “Slovak-Ukrainian cross-border cooperation – regional and local actors: policies, practices and perceptions” was chaired by Myroslava Lendel, Professor and Vice-Rector of the Uzhhorod National University. The main presentations at the panel were made by Jussi Laine, Docent at the Karelian Institute, University of Eastern Finland; Anna Polačková, Assistant Professor at IPOL; Martin Lačný, Assistant Professor at IPOL; and Ondrej Marchevský, Assistant Professor at IPOL.

Jussi Laine presented the methodology of the research into perceptions of regional and local actors of CBC, which the research team at the Karelian Institute has developed and applied at the research on CBC, first, on Finnish-Russian border, and second, on the other national sections of the external border of the EU within the EXLINEA project supported by the Framework Research Program of the EU. Anna Poláčková and Martin Lačný jointly presented findings of the research they conducted for the IPOL research project by applying the same research methodology on the Slovak-Ukrainian border. And finally, Ondrej Marchevský presented research into public opinion of the EU member states regarding the prospects for European integration of Ukraine. The discussion at the third panel of the conference examined perceptions mostly of regional and local actors living in borderlands on opportunities and limitations for CBC on the EU border with Ukraine.


The conference demonstrated the importance of organizing a debate on topics such as the Eastern Partnership in border regions of the member states on the EU external border with Ukraine. Representative of the European Commission Victor Bojkov said he recorded a series of policy recommendations he and his colleagues at the DG NEAR will incorporate into reflection material on Eastern Partnership the Commission is collecting, including specific perspective of regional and local actors and their emphasis on a need to strengthen the role of CBC in further shape of the EaP. The second and third panel of the conference facilitated academic exchange of views of experts from Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Ukraine who do research in the field of CBC on external border of the EU with Ukraine. In addition to testing and discussing respective methodological approaches they apply in their research on CBC, the conference facilitated their networking with colleagues in the field from neighbouring countries.

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