Policy briefing ‘The challenges for the EU’s communication strategy in Moldova’

EU-STRAT’s first policy briefing in Moldova was held on 22 November 2016 and was organized by the local partner, IDIS, in Chisinau.

The briefing was broadly attended by local media and journalists, academics, think tank representatives and policy experts from a variety of organizations, as well as representatives of the EU. IDIS Chairman Igor Munteanu presented the objectives and structure of EU-STRAT and discussed the relevance of the main concepts and ideas of the project, such as limited access orders and political economy approaches, for analysing developments in Moldova. Munteanu stressed that the EU’s projected normative power would also have an impact on the EU’s success or failure in its Eastern neighborhood.

Insights on whether the EU communicates as a soft, normative or transformative power were presented by Antoaneta Dimitrova, EU-STRAT team member and co-coordinator (Leiden University). Dimitrova presented the results of a multiple team quantitative analysis of EU official communications as presented on the EU delegations websites  in Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. She stressed that there has been quite some differentiation in official communications towards Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine: the EU emphatically addressed Belarus as a normative power and Ukraine and Moldova with an emphasis on reforms, i.e. as a transformative power.

Suzanne Kiefer, Senior Specialist of the EU’s East StratCom Task Force highlighted the changing character of EU communications and the shift from impersonal to personal stories and narratives, from official to social media sites. She presented the example of the new type campaign, ‘Red card to corruption’, involving Moldovan football players and sport personalities, able to reach a broader audience domestically. In the same vein, the presentation by Ruxandra Stanciu, Press and Information Officer of the EU Delegation, discussed the new trend in EU communications. Stanciu stressed that a major goal of the EU Delegation in Moldova, exemplified in the recent creation of her post as a press officer, is to change the technocratic and clumsy language to a direct and engaging discourse towards the citizens, based on clear benefits and mutual respect. She noted that the polarization of media outlets and their ownership has created imbalances in the ability of different external actors – especially the EU- to send their messages and of citizens to receive them. She suggested the EU may persuade its audiences through success stories and honest reporting, but the media channels through which these messages arrive are few.

Three speakers were asked to comment on what citizens want to know about EU and on how they assess the effectiveness or resonance of the policy information from EU Delegation. Can the EU overcome its tendency to address elites and experts and define a narrative to appeal to citizens more directly? Journalists’ views were presented by panel members Vasile Botnaru, Country Director of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Ludmila Barba, Senior Editor of the TV Programme ‘European Vector’ at the National Public TV Teleradio Moldova. Vasile Botnaru warned the audience that journalists themselves need to be active and not take uncritically on board the ‘free lunch’ information provided by various outlets without digging deeper themselves. He was critical of the changes in the communication discourse of the EU in Moldova, saying that it is as if the EU ‘sells a car, being less interested to interact with the real feelings of the population’. Barba suggested the EU’s own communications and actions are not internally coherent, noting the mixed reactions of different EU actors towards the presidential elections in Moldova and relations with the President elect.


Last but not least, the previous government’s strategy for EU communication and the most serious challenges were discussed by Iulian Groza, Director of IPRE, Former Deputy Minister of the MFA. Groza argued that Moldovan audience needs to receive less geopolitical messages, and more specific points related to the real agenda of the population. The panel discussion turned into a heated exchange of views on what not only the European Union, but also politicians and journalists in Moldova may want to communicate about Moldova’s chosen path towards closer relations with the EU and the implementation of the DCFTA.

The event was attended by 46 participants, 6 TV teams, providing on-line streaming TV live from the event. MFA officials, diplomats from the EU delegation and other embassies attended as well. The policy briefing attracted a lot of attention in the local mass media.Opening a lively, rich and critical debate, with a discussion of some of the real challenges of communicating the EU actions by a variety of participants was the event’s greatest contribution, first and hopefully, not the last EU-STRAT contribution to public debates in Moldova.

Policy briefing in Kyiv

The EU-STRAT Kyiv Policy Briefing took place on November 14, 2016, in Hotel Kyiv. The event was organized by the Ukrainian Institute for Public Policy with the participation of other partners of the project consortium, the University of Birmingham and ESTEP. The purpose of the briefing was to present the EU-STRAT project and discuss how the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA), and the Deep and Comprehensive Trade Agreement (DCFTA) in particular, is shaping Ukraine’s economy.

The panelists and keynote speakers represented the Ukrainian government and the research and expert communities: Kataryna Wolczuk and Rilka Drageva-Lewers from the University of Birmingham, Algirdas Šemeta, the Business Ombudsman, Igor Burakovskiy from the Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting, Andriy Nikitov from Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Anna Artemenko from the Antimonopoly Committee, Darius Žeruolis from ESTEP, and Ildar Gazizullin from the Ukrainian Institute for Public Policy (UIPP).


Maxim Boroda and Ildar Gazizullin from UIPP opened the briefing by presenting the EU-STRAT motivation and objectives. Andriy Nikitov from the MFA suggested that the EU should take a differentiated approach to the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries but not lower the targets because of different speeds of integration. Rilka Dragneva-Lewers from the University of Birmingham presented some of the internal and external challenges for the EU-Ukraine cooperation, stemming from the complexity of the Association Agreement itself (which makes its implementation a difficult task prolonged in time), Brexit, strong opposition to EU expansion in Italy and France, anti-liberal sentiments in Poland and Hungary, and finally, the the Ukraine-Russia conflict.


During the Q&A session the participants discussed a number of issues, for example, the importance of establishing DCFTA dialogue platforms between the government and businesses and the role of the AA as a transformational instrument.

Overall, the briefing participants concluded that DCFTA could become a foundation for long-term political and economic transformation of Ukraine. It was recommended to establish clear links of the many and currently unknown Europeanization activities with specific positive impacts. Such information should be communicated regularly to the key stakeholders to ensure that there is continuing support on the implementation path.


Policy briefing on scientific cooperation in Minsk

EU-STRAT held a policy briefing on scientific cooperation on 24 November in Minsk, Belarus. The event was organized by SYMPA, EU-STRAT’s partner institution in the country.

The briefing focused on the challenges and accomplishments of scientific cooperation and academic mobility in the the Eastern Partnership countries.

The briefing was attended by representatives of numerous Belorussian universities and higher education institutions (Belorussian State University, Belorussian State Pedagogical University, Salharov’s Institute of BSU, Belorussian State Economic University, Public Administration Academy, National scientific and practical centre of maternal and newborn heath and the Instutite for Training of Court Experts) and research institutions (Institute of Economy of the National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Food of the National Academy of Sciences). Also present were representatives from NGOs (Independent Bologna Committee, Union of Belarusian Students, Human rights centre „Viasna”), think tanks (BISS, Liberal Club), the National contact point of Horizon 2020, and members of the diplomatic corps residing in Minsk.




The event was opened by the representative of the EU Delegation in Minsk, the Director of Operations Dr. Frederik Coene. He spoke of the importance of bringing together academic research and practical experience for economic and political development in Belarus. Ina Ramasheuskaya and Tatsiana Chulitskaya from SYMPA presented EU-STRAT and its significance for Belarus, and highlighted the need to engage with target audiences in Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine.

The keynote speech was delivered by Dr. Aleksa Bjelis, a representative of Magna Charta Observatory and former rector of Zagreb University in Croatia. His speech set the context for the discussion of scientific cooperation and academic principles that followed. Dr Bjelis drew from his experience of serving in various EU councils and associations dealing with higher education, research and innovation reform to highlight the main challenges and opportunities for transition countries that want to utilize available EU research funding in the most efficient way.




Dr. Dimiter Toshkov from Leiden University presented first results from EU-STRAT’s Work Package 7. He outlined how the study of the research cooperation and academic mobility fits into the context of studying broader societal transformations and showcased some findings from the study of the institutional framework of cooperation between the EU and Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine.

These presentations were first discussed by Olga Meerovskaya, National contact point on Horizon 2020 in Minsk, and Dr. Vladimir Dounaev, Independent Bologna Committee. This was followed by an engaging and lively open discussion during which the participants raised a lot of interesting and important points related to the problems and challenges of international scientific cooperation in Belarus and other former Soviet countries, as well as the role of the EU in supporting this process.





Workshop 13 October 2016, Berlin

EU-STRAT’s second workshop took place in October 13, 2016 and was hosted by the team at Freie Universität Berlin (FUB). The workshop’s goal was to bring together EU-STRAT partners to agree on the overall conceptual framework for understanding varieties of social orders in the EaP countries, a key objective of the project’s Work Package (WP) 2. In order to do so, EU-STRAT researchers will seek to determine the degree of political and economic openness prevailing in EaP countries, as well as the distribution of power among important economic and political actors that qualify as members of so-called dominant coalitions.

EU-STRAT researchers present at the workshop were from Leiden University, University of Birmingham, the School of Young Managers in Public Administration (SYMPA), the Ukrainian Institute for Public Policy (UIPP), the Institute for Development and Social Initiatives (IDIS), Vilnius University (VU), the Lithuanian consultancy ESTEP, and the Foundation Maison des Sciences d l’Homme (FMSH).

Partners debated how to best identify dominant elites and power networks, as well as organizations and informal institutions that structure political and economic openness in the EaP countries. They focused inter alia on the potential role of military and secret service organizations, as well as on the need to differentiate between political and bureaucratic actors. The workshop participants also used the opportunity to discuss ways that allow analysing social orders in breadth and depth in the EaP region. WP2 will start with mapping varieties of social orders in the EaP countries, which should help to identify instances of ruptures or stabilization. In a second step, partners in WP2 will zoom in on these cases and investigate the mechanisms and factors that drove these changes, in order to eventually explain alterations to otherwise relatively stable equilibria of social orders.

First working paper published

We are excited to share EU-STRAT’s first working paper ‘Soft, Normative or Transformative Power: What do the EU’s communications with Eastern partners reveal about its influence?‘.

The working paper has been now published on EU-STRAT’s website and can be accessed here.

This is joint work by EU-STRAT members Antoaneta Dimitrova, Maxim Boroda, Tatsiana Chulitskaya, Veaceslav Berbeca and Tatiana Parvan.

Here is the abstract:

‘In 2014-2015, the European Union revised its neighbourhood policy (ENP), aiming to introduce more differentiation and a more pragmatic approach to the varying levels of ambition for cooperation or integration of neighbouring countries. The Eastern Partnership, a policy explicitly targeting the EU’s eastern neighbours, has encountered serious setbacks in the face of Russia’s increasingly aggressive stance. Communication about what the EU does with and for neighbouring states is an essential component for the success of the revised ENP, especially given rising concerns about Russia’s use of media to promote its own view of developments in the region and the choices of neighbouring countries as a zero sum game.

This paper seeks to establish what the EU’s communications reveal about its status as soft, normative or transformative power in the region. The paper analyses the EU’s communications towards Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine for a two-month period in 2015, after the adoption of the revised ENP. To guide the analysis, the paper revisits the concepts of soft, normative and transformative power. Comparing the scope and elements of these concepts, we suggest that transformative power approaches stress a broad spectrum of reform targeting future members, while soft and normative power address any third states. Soft power includes economic aspects contributing to the EU’s (or other powers) attractiveness, while as a normative power the EU focuses primarily on norms. Using this framework, the paper finds that the EU’s official communications to Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine represented a different mix of elements.

Communications to Belarus were different from the communications to the other two states, stressing normative and rights issues. The range of concepts addressed in communications to Moldova and Ukraine has been broader and more varied. The main emphasis in communications to Ukraine and Moldova were democratic governance (Ukraine) and economic reforms (Moldova). Therefore, it is possible to distinguish normative and transformative power elements in the EU’s communications to the three Eastern Partnership countries. Last but not least, there is still a substantial share of messages that are event driven, that is, focus on specific events rather than on the benefits of cooperation with the EU as a whole.’

Workshop discussing the analytical framework for comparing approaches and strategies in Vilnius

On 14 July 2016 EU-STRAT held a workshop discussing the analytical framework for comparing approaches and strategies of selected external actors at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University.  Participants from four EU-STRAT partner institutions attended the workshop: Ramūnas Vilpišauskas, Dovilė Jakniūnaitė, Laurynas Jonavičius, Margarita Šešelgytė from Vilnius university, Kataryna Wolczuk and Rilka Dragneva-Lewers from the University of Birmingham, Dirk Lehmkuhl from the University of St.Gallen and Valentin Lozovanu from the Institute for Development and Social Initiatives. The aim of the workshop was to explore and discuss the analytical framework for comparing approaches and strategies of the EU and other selected external actors vis-à-vis EaP countries in key sectors, namely energy, trade, security, and migration. Five presentations of scholarship in five areas (Geopolitics/geo-economics, IR approaches; Regionalism and international organizations approaches; Alliance building and regional cooperation/transformative power; Democracy promotion; Political economy of reforms) were discussed during the workshop to provide an overview of existing literature, its gaps and potentially useful insights from the view of the EU-STRAT project. The workshop participants also took decisions regarding the sectoral scope of the analysis, the target countries, the time frame and the external players and their composition.

The workshop was part of EU-STRAT’s Work Package (WP) 4.  The overall goal of WP4 is to investigate and assess the policies and strategies of external actors in order to better understand their impact on EaP countries.

First newsletter published!

The first newsletter of EU-STRAT is now published. You can find it here and read about the opening conference and consult a special policy comment by Rafal Sadowski (OSW) on the prospects for the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement after the Dutch referendum.

Photos from the Kick-Off Conference in Berlin (June 2016)

The Kick-Off conference of EU-STRAT is history. Here are some photos from the event:

Round Table ‘Looking Inside-Out: Strategies for Transforming the Neighbourhood’


EU-STRAT held its first public event on 8 June 2016 – a round table entitled ‘Looking Inside-Out: Strategies for Transforming the Neighbourhood‘. The round table featured Elena Belokurova (EU-Russia Civil Society Forum and EU-STRAT Advisory Board Member), Antoaneta Dimitrova  (Leiden University, co-coordinator of EU-STRAT), Andrius Kubilius (former Prime Minister of Lithuania, Member of the Seimas, Member of the International Advisory Panel on Ukraine, EUSTRAT Advisory Board Member), Igor Munteanu (former Ambassador of Moldova to the US and Canada, Institute for Development and Social Initiatives, Moldova, EU-STRAT partner), and Emma Udwin (Deputy Head of Cabinet, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, European Commission) and was moderated by Tanja A. Börzel (Freie Universität Berlin, EU-STRAT coordinator). The event was hosted by the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in Germany.


The discussion focused on several themes related to the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries, and EU’s foreign policy more generally. The panelists discussed the strategic and socio-political differences between the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the big-bang enlargement of the EU to the East occurred, and the current situation that the EU and the EaP countries face. The participants also analyzed the roles of values and interests as drivers of EU’s foreign policy and EU’s relationships with its neighborhood and the challenges of promoting democracy, peace, and prosperity in the region. Policy-makers, experts, and EU-STRAT project members agreed that there is a great need for further academic research shedding light on these questions, setting the scene for the exciting next three years of EU-STRAT.