The European Union is hoping big on the EU – Eastern Partnership summit on 24 November, but warns progress towards EU integration will depend on how much the partners will be able to deliver on reforms.
While the EU member states, the European Union diplomatic service (EEAS) and the six Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine), are still polishing the final document of the summit, the European Parliament (EP) has already raised the stakes. The MEPs have agreed on a recommendation for the future of EaP to be presented to the EU and the Eastern partners during the Brussels summit.
Unlike the national parliaments, the European representatives do not have extensive powers on foreign policy (wth the exception of international treaties). That’s way the European Parliament rarely drafts declarations on forthcoming events. But the bi-annual EaP Summit generated political energy among the MEPs that turned out to be quite ambitious. The text of the EP resolution is ready and agreed among the main political groups and is expected to be adopted without significant changes on November 15.
The European Parliament’s recommendation is for a far-reaching and visionary summit that will pencil the EU’s Eastern partnership policy for decades. The resolution is co-drafted by Lithuanian Christian-democrat Laima Andrikiené and the German Social-democrat Knut Fleckenstein and was adopted by 40 to 6 votes in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the EP in October.
We should not be afraid of being ambitious because EaP policy is a long-term one and we already have certain achievements, we are proud of. We should go forward and not simply be happy with what we managed to achieve”, Andrikiené said in an interview to the Open Media Hub.
A successful summit in her vision would be one that provides the partner countries with
a very clear perspective, not in 5 but may be in 10 or 15 years, for the integration of the EaP countries into the Schengen area, their membership in the EU Customs Union, in our common energy union, digital union”’.
The recommendation, which will be deposited to the summit as EP’s political stance, advocates for a special trust fund for Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova to strengthen financial support and investment; and suggests an “EaP+” model allowing partner countries to enter the EU energy and customs unions and even the Schengen zone, reserved now only to EU member states. In addition, the Parliament calls on the EU governments to collectively pressure Russia to resolve the frozen conflicts in the EU Eastern neighborhood.
Asked if the Parliament doesn’t enter waters, which the EU states would like to keep under their control Andrikiené said:
All these steps are possible and depend not only on our political will but on the homework done by the EaP countries. It is a two-way street and both sides need to go forward.
However bold the deputies they do not go for the “nuclear option” – the EU membership, a dream some EaPs’ are still hoping for. Andrikiené admits:.
We are not in a position to provide membership to our Eastern partners, never the less we have to make concrete steps in this direction and make the processes irreversible.
To cement the EU track of the Eastern partners European Parliament is suggesting more financial resources and political support in exchange of agenda for reforms based on European values. Some of the ideas are going further than the offer the EU governments and the EEAS are ready to provide for, struggling to assure the unanimity required for daring the enlargement question.
The European parliament’s approach is taking into account the significant differences between the six countries of the Eastern Partnership:
The six EaP countries are not equal. They are very different, and their interests differ. In our recommendation we point out to this fact and even call it “key”, Andrikiené explains.
Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova are the front-runners, while the other three – Armenia, Belarus and Azerbaijan still must make their clear choice.
According to the co-author of the EP’s position the EU should act on the principle “more for more and less for less”, rewarding successful reforms and slowing down assistance to governments with incoherent policies.
Because of its limited resources EU should focus more on countries that are interested in integration further and faster with us”, the Lithuanian Member of EP says.
The EP’s position is more elaborated on the frontrunners, and only vaguely mentions perspectives for the countries tailing off.
The Parliament position is endorsing a two-speed model of EaP policy that will formally divide the partner countries. The recommendation suggests creation of an “EaP plus model” for the leading eastern neighbours which are promised more financial aid and privileges reserved for the EU citizens and businesses like free movement in the EU, roaming free communications, lower or no-tariff export of goods and services and energy independence from Russia.
For the rest of the group the promises are more limited. Armenia is offered a visa liberalisation dialog while their historic rival Georgia enjoys already free travel to the EU. Azerbaijan is expected to relaunch talks with neighbouring Armenia on Nagorno-Karabakh and to adopt major reforms before advancing further on the European path. Belarus is virtually absent of the EP’s EaP plan, however Andrikiené is supportive of the invitation send by the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini to president Alexander Lukashenka. “Any step forward should be welcomed”, the EP’s rapporteur says. The MEPs hope Lukashenka will come to Brussels and will engage with the EU EaP’s policy.