There will be smiles, handshakes, shoulder patting and photo opportunities at the fifth Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels this Friday, but don’t expect miracles.
The EU is not yet ready to do “the big gesture” some of the Eastern Partners countries are hoping for.
Still recovering from the migrant and the economic crises and in the middle of the Brexit divorce, the Union is far from the mood that inspired the Riga summit and confirmed the “European choice” of the Eastern part of Europe.
Today the EU is more down to earth and wishes to be “ambitious but realistic and credible partner” as one senior EU official, involved with the preparation of the summit, has put it.
Brussels Eastern Partnership summit will “take stock of achievements during last 30 months since Riga and look forward to the future cooperation”, the official added.
Some partners wish the EU to be more precise with regard to their aspirations, but this is what the EU member states can offer for now”
Struggling with finding consensus for giving Eastern partners membership perspective, the EU will go no further than “acknowledging European aspirations and welcoming the European choice”, something that already has been confirmed in 2015.
The EU engagement with the possible future EU membership of some Eastern countries as well as the request for stronger political involvement in the international efforts to resolve military conflicts in five of the six partners, have been the most difficult piece of the negotiations around the text of the political declaration expected from the summit.
Conflict resolution involvement is unlikely to go further than the current formula of actively supporting the international efforts in different formats. “The summit is not an instrument for conflict resolution”, the EU official said.
Being unable to offer on partners’ expectations, the EU is hoping to shade disappointment by turning the 20 Deliverables for 2020 concept, published last year, as major tool for the continuation of reforms.
We believe implementing deliverables will bring dynamic to the EaP policy”, the official said, asked how the EU is planning to “keep the fire”.
For this to happen Brussels is planning to pour around 1 billion euro in the “20 deliverables” four priority areas (good governance, economy, civil society, connectivity), pledging to invest more money and widen the range of policies eligible for financial assistance.
Partners can expect assurance to double support for the civil society, major increase in scholarships, opening gender equality and security cooperation as new areas for support. The EU would also offer to help a push in digital economy, make EU money encourage local currency lending and intra-regional trade. Financial assistance will be provided to improve energy efficiency, give access to EU transport and energy Trans-European Transport networks (TENT-T) funding and even contribute to Paris climate agreement goals of the region.
Another new area of cooperation Brussels is strongly committed is developing partnership in the strategic communications. And in particular the support for the independent media, which will be increased, as well as the assistance in the fight against fake news and the promotion of the EU impact in the Eastern neighbourhood.
Apart from the significant financial assistance pledge, Armenia could raise central stage as the long-intended signature of its the comprehensive and enhanced partnership agreement (CEPA) with the EU, agreed at the beginning of the year, is finally scheduled for the Brussels summit.
Hopes that Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka will fly for the summit, having received for the first time invitation, sank when Minsk decided at the last moment to send foreign minister Vladimir Makei. Brussels was carefully preparing a memorandum of understanding with Belarus which will have to be returned in the drawer.
There will be more dignitaries skipping the summit with about a third of the EU leaders, including the French president Emmanuel Macron and possibly the German chancellor Angela Merkel, sending replacements. However, citing the negotiations on the summit declaration’s draft, the senior official insists there is no lack of commitment to the EU Eastern Partnership policy.
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