Is it a frontier space, a buffer area, a window into the east… or west, a tinderbox, or something else entirely? Since last November, more people have joined the conversation on how to understand Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Like any region, it cannot be simply summarized. Understanding the various threads of the CEE tapestry is part of how I am spending my summer internship.
The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) is the only think tank in Washington, DC that exclusively focuses on CEE countries. Its mission is to provide analysis on the region in security, energy, economic, and governance issues.
When I first arrived, the European Parliamentary (EP) elections were about to take place and my first assignment was to produce an internal memo on the significance of the EP elections and how the outcome could affect both CEE countries and US relations. Experts, analysts, and journalists presented a couple of different stories, but interpretations of the election implications were basically the same. The EU continues to go through growing pains. Its elected members now have a responsibility to respond to the lack of voter participation and the notable presence of non-mainstream parties, such as Le Pen’s National Front party.
While this is partially true, the fact remains that the majority parties in the EP are still rather centralized. Their strong numbers and well-established platforms mean that the policies inside the EU will not likely shift dramatically. Still, growing non-mainstream representation means the EP might just have to listen to a few more perspectives.
How does this relate to CEE countries? The EU’s institutional integrity and relative economic power will become increasingly more important as decisions regarding Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, and regional neighbors unfold.
Decisions like the EU Association Agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), hydraulic fracturing, and the future of the South Stream pipeline will provide opportunities to see how our world and diplomatic relations evolve (or devolve).
Already, the South Stream project has shown divisions among EU member states. It also provides a glimpse into the vast power of the Russian energy giant Gazprom.
Such relations and their impact on diplomatic relations are parts of what I am researching this summer. I could not have constructed a better time to be involved in Central and Eastern European political studies. The region has suffered great costs – both monetary and humanitarian losses – and for that, my heart aches. But because of these losses, people in DC, Brussels, and elsewhere are paying closer attention. We have seen CEE move from being a place only associated with archaic Cold War generalizations to being a region where pivotal decisions are being made.
More about that next time!