The fifth European Union Eastern Partnership Summit will be held on Friday. While in recent years there have been breakthroughs in implementing this programme, no particular decisions or declarations are expected in Brussels this time because Europe is consumed with its own concerns, Lietuvos Žinios writes.
The EU Eastern Partnership Programme was started in 2009 with the aim to strengthen the political association and economic integration of six Eastern European and South Caucasus partner states – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. However not all the partnership states are integrating with Europe equally. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine seek closer ties and have signed association agreements with the EU. Belarus and Armenia remain closer to Russia and also belong to the Eurasian Economic Union. Azerbaijan has not chosen a clear single direction. The leaders of EU and partner states gather every two years to evaluate achievements and outline the prospects for further work.
The programme has a future
Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius stated that just the fact that an Eastern Partnership summit will be held is already significant. “There certainly are many difficulties. There is war in Ukraine. Five of the six Eastern Partnership states have frozen or active conflicts. Thus it is very important that the meetings happen as agreed on, every two years,” he said.
L. Linkevičius believes that this meeting will mark achieved results. Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia signed association and free trade agreements with the EU, they have also entered visa-free regimes. The summit should also feature a repetition of the union’s position over the European choice of the associated partners, preparation to support them in implementing reform. There should also be a clearer highlight of the trio of countries which seek closer ties with the EU.
Meanwhile the relation of Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan with the EU is different. For example this year negotiations concluded over changes to the EU-Armenian partnership and cooperation agreement. According to L. Linkevičius, negotiations over a similar document were also started with Azerbaijan. “There are no such ambitions in Belarus to have some sort of special agreement, but we created momentum in discussions on eased visa regime during our European Council chairmanship because they had not been ongoing up to then. At the same time I wish to stress that we have one very serious complaint regarding Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant and hope that not only we, but also others will also clearly express it to the Belarussians. I have no doubt that the documents will contain requirements for third states to adhere to standards,” the minister explained.
L. Linkevičius is optimistic over the Eastern Partnership Programme. According to him, as long as there are states that desire to cooperate with the EU in various aspects, the Baltic States will remain unwavering over it and the programme has a future.
Seimas Vice Speaker, head of the European Affairs Committee Gediminas Kirkilas expressed hope that during this meeting the plan to aid Ukraine initiated by Lithuanian politicians (dubbed the Marshall Plan for Ukraine), which was agreed to by the European Parliament will “one way or another” be agreed to. “At this time the wording is being coordinated, we hope that the question will be presented during this meeting,” he told Lietuvos Žinios. According to the politician, during the eight years of Eastern Partnership, much has been achieved – association agreements were signed, free trade is ongoing, visa free regimes established.
“There is only a lack of progress over EU expansion. But this is something the EU itself has not made up its mind about. I believe that nothing will change up to the next European Parliament elections,” G. Kirkilas said. He had no doubt that the programme has good prospects. “The countries participating in it are important to us in all aspects. God forbid if the EU would forget them, they would then undoubtedly return to the other zone of influence. Currently they, particularly Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova are engaged with EU integration, though of course there is no clear prospect for it yet. However if the countries continue with reforms, I believe it will appear,” the MP said. In G. Kirkilas’ belief, Lithuania is one of the most active participants of the programme and has specific ideas. “What could be more specific than the Marshal Plan? And this is not just financial support for Ukraine, it is primarily associating it with reforms. If such a plan is agreed on, I believe Ukraine would definitely continue reforms in all areas,” he stated.
Historical opportunity for expansion
Member of the Seimas Foreign Affairs Committee Žygimantas Pavilionis said that he expects little from this Eastern Partnership summit. Primarily this is due to the difficult political situation in Germany, which is struggling to form a new cabinet. “Realistically it will be a confirmation of current policy because it is proceeding under politically fairly difficult circumstances, when it is unclear whether Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet will be formed once more. It was essentially the chief figure in uniting the EU in these questions, would always support us,” the MP said.
According to Ž. Pavilionis, eventually the west will return to the expansion of the EU and NATO toward the East. However this requires strong political allies in Germany and other European countries. Nevertheless this Eastern Partnership Summit will identify a number of smaller goals which, the politician believes are more on the operational level. “A long term strategic vision has not been formulated. Speaking specifically there is no clear prospect for EU membership for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. So far it will not be granted in Brussels. I hope that the countries which have association agreements will be highlighted as the most developed, closest to Europe group,” Ž. Pavilionis said.
He observed that it is fairly realistic that the aforementioned three countries could become a part of the EU family in the future. The MP reminded that there were many doubts about even Lithuania‘s membership in the union, but we managed to overcome the hurdles and reach the goal. “Now a historical window is opening for both EU and NATO expansion because a person appeared in Washington, who stated that he would not allow autocracies to overstep the West‘s red lines. During the time of Barack Obama we essentially lost all our red lines in eight years,“ the politician accented.
Ž. Pavilionis feels a certain disappointment that the other three Eastern Partnership states chose to support less close relations with the EU.
MEP Petras Auštrevičius believes that the Eastern Partnership Programme has not lost its relevance, much has been achieved. “Could anyone in Brussels have imagined that the visa free regime will be established so quickly for those states? Knowing how careful the EU is, how many negative things have happened recently – terrorism returned, migration flows increased, one could say that the permission for visa free entry is a huge victory. And then also the free trade agreements and the agreement on sector reform. I believe that it will be specifically now that everything will gain momentum, we will see the real potential of our partnership,” P. Auštrevičius said.
According to him, Lithuania could be seen as one of the partnership programme’s “optimists and activists.” We are bound by our history and neighbourhood to be this way, the politician believes. “We are acting correctly. Though in my opinion we are not making use of the opportunity to prepare a special declaration over the Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant threat. The matter will not receive adequate attention without such a document,” P. Auštrevičius spoke.
He points out that the future of Eastern Partnership should be associated with the situation in Ukraine. “The strategic line of the programme crosses Ukraine. As such we are acting correctly by investing into it so much, dedicating attention. However at the same time we have to tell Ukraine what it has not done. And the list of such tasks is long,” the MEP stressed.
According to the Kaunas Technology University European Institute head, former diplomat Vygaudas Ušackas, currently when implementing the Eastern Partnership Programme, a certain fatigue, inertia and lack of ambition is felt. “Indeed much has been achieved – free trade agreements signed, liberalised visa regimes. However Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova want to see another intermediary point, other tangible integration goals – gradual integration into the EU digital, energy and customs markets. Our, primarily Lithuania’s, which is very interested in the programme’s development, duty is to support the aims of these countries,” the former EU ambassador to Russia told Lietuvos Žinios.
Nevertheless he notes that we cannot do it alone – team play is needed. “We must gather our strength, state leaders so that the programme would gain new momentum, new ambitions which could motivate for the necessary reforms,” V. Ušackas stated. Though as the former diplomat notes, currently EU membership for these states is currently not on the table for various reasons.
Unfavourable political climate
According to the director of the Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science Ramūnas Vilpišauskas, expectations for this Eastern Partnership summit are limited. Few expect that there will be mentions of EU membership prospects for the partner states. “Most likely it will be limited to mentioning positive things in terms of the reforms in Ukraine and Georgia, about implementing the visa free regime, about what will be envisaged in financial and technical support resources which the EU plans to continue providing,” the political scientist mused.
The Eastern Partnership Programme is how the EU can contribute to changes which the societies of its Eastern neighbours seek. R. Vilpišauskas observes that it is important to the same extent as the union’s countries care about what happens in the Eastern neighbourhood. For countries such as Lithuania and Poland it is especially important.
However the expert stresses that the current political climate in Europe is not favourable for firm commitments over Eastern expansion. “There are discussions whether this summit’s conclusions can refer to the results of the referendum in Holland over the association agreement with Ukraine. It is most likely the most expressive sign of unfavourable public moods regarding expansion and firmer commitments to expansion. Also there is little enthusiasm to speak of expansion to the East among other EU countries such as Germany and France. Overall the agenda contains many other questions – negotiations with the UK over its departure from the EU, the political situation in Germany is currently completely unclear. All the factors I mentioned decrease the EU and at least a large part of its countries’ will to make firmer commitments. On the other hand there are concerns whether the Eastern partners, particularly their politicians, are dedicating enough efforts to implement reforms, which, for example in Ukraine were expected by the participants of the Maidan,” he noted.
EU Eastern Partnership Programme
Security, stability and prosperity, democracy and rule of law in Eastern Europe and the southern Caucasus are a priority for the EU.
In June 2008, the European Council invited the Commission to prepare a proposal for an Eastern Partnership (EaP) to support regional cooperation and reinforce EU relations with its eastern neighbours.
Following the conflict in Georgia and its repercussions on the regional stability, the extraordinary European Council of 1st September 2008 asked for this work to be accelerated.
The establishment of a single, coherent policy framework towards countries that became the new EU eastern neighbourhood became a necessity.
The Eastern Partnership was launched in 2009, as a joint initiative between: the EU, EU member states, six Eastern European and South Caucasus partner countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan,
Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine
Georgia, republic of Moldova and Ukraine: the AA/DCFTA agreements concluded in 2014 are already provisionally applied and have brought the relations between these partners and the EU to a new level
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus: the EU will follow a more differentiated and tailored approach to relations with these countries
Source: European Council