The failure to stabilize or democratize the EU’s surroundings was partly due to forces beyond Brussels’ control: Russian resentment over the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as political and sectarian strife in the Middle East.

Five of the six Eastern Partnership countries – Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – are weakened by unresolved “frozen conflicts” in which Moscow has a hand. The sixth, Belarus, is so authoritarian that it is subject to EU sanctions and has eschewed the offer of a free trade deal.

EU officials now acknowledge that the framework designed to engage and transform the bloc’s neighbors was flawed from the outset due to a mixture of arrogance and naivety.

“The idea was to have a ring of friends who would integrate with us but not become EU members. That was rather patronizing, with the European Union telling everyone what to do because we believed they wanted to be like us,” said Christian Danielsson, head of the European Commission department for neighborhood policy and enlargement.