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EU Unlikely To Offer More To Eastern Partners At Upcoming Summit

March 20, 2015
by Rikard Jozwiak

BRUSSELS -- The draft of a document being prepared for an Eastern Partnership summit in May suggests a number of the European Union's eastern neighbors will be disappointed with a lack of progress in key areas.

EU leaders at the upcoming Riga gathering are unlikely to offer a closer relationship between Brussels and some of its eastern neighbors, outside of the already negotiated association agreements, according to a copy of the text seen by RFE/RL.

The final formulation will be agreed at the summit, but the early wording suggests that very few, if any, concrete decisions will have been taken.

The gathering will bring together leaders from the European Union member states plus Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Each of those countries, to varying degrees, has come under pressure from Moscow to spurn tighter cooperation with the EU and, more broadly, the West.

Kyiv, Chisinau, and Tbilisi, in particular, had been hoping that something beyond the Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) each country signed with Brussels in 2014 would be on the table.

The draft, however, only states that "the summit participants stress that implementation of AA/DCFTA will be a top priority of the EU an the partners concerned for the years ahead."

Regarding Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus -- which have not signed such agreements with the EU -- the draft only talks about increased cooperation without specifying what that may include.

On Armenia, it simply states that both sides 'welcome the common understanding reached on the scope for a future agreement between the EU and Armenia.'

On Azerbaijan, the draft cites 'progress made in defining a new basis for relations' between Brussels and Baku.

Regarding Belarus, the draft welcome 'steps' taken in relations between Brussels and Minsk, 'including a modernization roadmap identifying reform priorities and EU support."

While Russia looms large over the text, that country is not mentioned by name.

A key paragraph in the text states that "the participants of the summit stress that the Eastern Partnership aims at building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, stability and increased cooperation and is not directed at anyone." It adds: "In this context, the summit participants express their readiness to help overcome the worst political rift in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Our citizens expect us to prevent further negative repercussions for the stability of our continent and we are committed to do so."

It also says that "events in Ukraine since the 2013 Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius have been a tragic reminder that the fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity cannot be taken for granted in our region. The EU remains committed in its support to the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of all its partners."

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's surprise decision to abandon talks on an association agreement with the EU at the Vilnius summit provided the spark for pro-Western demonstrations and unrest that eventually forced him into Russian exile in February 2014.

Ukraine has remained divided since, with Russia stoking separatism and providing troops, weapons, and other support for anti-Kyiv fighters in eastern Ukraine. The conflict there has killed at least 6,000 people, though a shaky cease-fire remains in place.

Progress had been expected to be announced at the Riga summit on visa-free travel for citizens of Ukraine and Georgia within the EU's Schengen Zone, something which Moldovan citizens have enjoyed since 2014.

However, the draft declaration offers few specifics on this issue.

"Summit participants look forward to completion by Ukraine and Georgia of the implementation of the 2nd phase of their visa liberalization action plans once all required reforms are implemented and all benchmarks are fulfilled."

According to EU sources, Ukraine won't get visa liberalization in Riga whereas the chances for Georgia are deemed to be 50/50.

The text does, however, mention the possibility of starting a visa dialogue with Armenia that eventually might lead to visa liberalization.

Finally, the text also includes a cryptic reference on the possibility of countering Russian propaganda by going "towards more strategic communication on the basis of the shared values and benefits which Eastern Partnership cooperation brings."

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/eu-neighborhood- policy-leaked-document/26911124.html

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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