Over the course of the last few days, Georgia Foreign Affairs Minister Maya Panjikidze and Economy Minister Giorgi Kbirikashvili hosted an informal dialogue session within the Eastern Partnership. With delegates representing from each of the EaP countries and Štefan Füle, European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, representing along with two other representatives from the European Union, including Siim Kallas, European Commissioner for Transport. The aim of the session was to discuss the further development of the Eastern Partnership, and serving as a preparatory dialogue in the lead-up to the Vilnius Summit in November.
“This second meeting of the Informal Eastern Partnership Dialogue is about shaping the expectation of the upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius when we hope to sign the Association Agreement with Ukraine and conclude the negotiations with Georgia, Moldova and Armenia and also advance in our negotiations with Azerbaijan”, Commissioner Füle explained.
During his two-day visit in Tbilisi Commissioner Füle also held bi-lateral relation talks with Georgian President Saakashvili and Prime Minister Ivanishvili, as well as signing a €20 million financial agreement aimed at supporting the reform process in Georgia. Speaking to the Georgian partners, Füle emphasized the significance of the period before the November Summit for Georgia, saying:
“The road between now and the Eastern Partnership Vilnius Summit in November is a historic moment for Georgia to deliver on the major challenges of cohabitation. Politicians are expected to find the channels of communication for successfully tackling the most important interests Georgia – and I believe the EU agenda is one of them. Pragmatic and value based cohabitation are needed to successfully deliver on Georgia’s EU aspirations at the Vilnius Summit.’’
The informal gathering in Tbilisi this week came days after Lithuania expressed concerns over the forming Eurasian Union, and the possible threat it poses to the EU’s Eastern Partnership relations. Professor Ramunas Vilpisauskas, director of Vilnius University’s International Relations and Political Science Institute, spoke at the Lithuanian Parliament last week, presenting the results of a co-authored study entitled “The Eurasian Union: Challenge to the European Union and Countries of Eastern Partnership”. Vilpisauskas explained that the Eurasian Union is largely led and governed by Russia, and thus according to Russian rules. He expounded last week, saying:
“The Eurasian Customs Union is probably the first serious step in the integration of countries of the CIS. The countries participating in the Customs Union are committed to a common external trade policy. Powers are delegated to the Eurasian economic commission to decide on foreign trade matters. Russia will be the true author of decisions. It is the rules that exist in Russia that will facilitate further harmonization. That is how the customs unification took place. Customs in effect in Russia were transferred to Kazakhstan and Belarus.”
Similar integration projects have been attempted among the Independent States in the past, each ending in failure. However, experts have argued that the newly proposed Eurasian Union could be a force to be reckoned with–and has the potential influence to render EU influence obsolete. Laurynas Kasciunas, co-author of the study elucidated on this issue:
“We see that the Eurasian Customs Union could have a massive effect upon the EU Eastern Partnership. Imagine Ukraine and Moldova joining the customs Union. This would badly affect one of the cores of Eastern Partnership – economic integration.”
Speaking on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed critics of the Eurasian Union, saying:
“We’ve heard some recent nervous and outspoken remarks regarding integration in the post-Soviet space. Let’s put them down to the emotional rhetoric of these politicians. Close integration is an intrinsic global process.”
Putin added that the integration of the Post-Soviet countries was an unstoppable process, and would not be deterred by outside interference. However, it is uncertain which direction the former republics will take in the future, and where their greatest alliances will be.