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The Eastern Partnership leaders of the European People’s Party (EPP),  met last week in Chisinau, Moldova, in order to adopt a key declaration which aims to enhance strategic cooperation between the European Union and the Eastern Partnership countries. Present at the meeting were EPP President Wilfried Martens, President of the Moldovan Liberal Democratic Party Vlad Filat, Prime Minister of Moldova Iurie Leanca, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili. It was a strong representation by major political players in a display of solidarity with the Eastern Partnership project, in spite of escalating criticisms that the Eastern Partnership is facing serious tests, with greater tests still lying ahead, as investigates…

Vilnius, Lithuania--hosts of the next EaP Summit. author: Flavijus. source: Flickr

Vilnius, Lithuania–hosts of the next EaP Summit. author: Flavijus. source: Flickr

The meeting in Chisinau comes simultaneous with concerns over rising tensions between Moldova and Transnistria and Armenia and Azerbaijan–which some have speculated may pose a threat to the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit.

1st #EPP #EaP Summit session with President of Georgia&Armenia & PM of Moldova- sincere review of the situation before Vilnus: mixed picture

— Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (@JSaryuszWolski) July 11, 2013

Meanwhile, the Eastern Partnership itself is receiving criticisms, as analysts argue that the Partnership, as a tool, may not be able to engage its Partners’ attention for long.

The question of how to keep the Partnership countries looking westward was debated during the European Commission’s “Debate on the Future of Europe event in Warsaw, Poland, on 11 of July. With representation from the EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Vice-President Viviane Reding, a critical question was asked: If EU membership is a distant prospect for countries like Ukraine, how can we keep them “in our orbit of interest”?

As one contributor explained:

“The key to the Eastern Partnership is Ukraine… Should [definite steps towards closer EU-Ukraine relations] fail to materialize… the EU will lose its geopolitical battle due to its sensibilities over the Ukrainian opposition being subjected to judicial opaqueness and eventual incarceration.”

A sentiment echoed by Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, explains:

“The EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP) is facing a serious test. By the time the leaders of the union and the six partner countries—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine—meet in Vilnius for their summit in November, they will have made important decisions on the future of what can be called the ‘new Eastern Europe’. For the EU, the main issue is about its willingness and ability, in principle, to welcome its Eastern neighbors as potential future members. For the partners, the key question is what they want to be, and which direction they want to take.”

Trenin elucidates the implications of the Eastern Partnership on EU-Russian relations, as the 2009 launch of the EaP and Eurasian Union coincided, and some have argued, have since played off each other in a game of who the Neighbours favour more.

“They will need to make a choice between east and west, taking a number of factors into account. Some, like Georgia, will reaffirm their European vocation. Others, like Belarus and possibly Armenia, will move even closer to Russia. Oil-rich Azerbaijan can afford to remain an outlier, while Moldova will face the choice between being a “second Romanian state” and a hard-to-implement vision of a multicultural crossroads. As for Ukraine, decision time will come not in November 2013 in Vilnius, but in 2015, when the country’s next presidential elections will be held. To go east, an elite decision may suffice. To go west, the public needs to be engaged.”

However, the Chisinau gathering brought a new burst of hope, as President of the EPP, Wilfried Martens took care to highlight the promise offered by the EaP:

“The EPP Eastern Partnership cooperation is a successful ongoing process to create synergies and close ties among the Eastern partners and with the European Union. At the core of our discussions yesterday in Chisinau were issues relevant to the citizens such as fundamental freedoms, mobility and security and how to ensure them.”

Martens continued:

“This EPP Summit also constituted an important step towards the 2013 Eastern Partnership Vilnius Summit by providing further strategic guidance and setting a timetable for concrete steps.”

All eyes are therefore placed expectantly on Lithuania, as the merely week-old President of the EU Council, and the host of the all-important Vilnius Summit. Many analysts are arguing that the expectations  placed upon Lithuania’s presidency are far too vast to be achieved, an argument well summarised by analyst Ramunas Vilpisauskas, director of the politics department at the University of Vilnius, who explains why Lithuania could struggle with the complex tasks ahead:

“Our success depends a lot on the situation in those countries and their leaders: will they introduce reforms or not? Lithuania’s chance of having an essential influence is very limited.”

#EPP leaders in #Moldova: a new step in reinforcing cooperation; leaders adopt Eastern Partnership declaration:

— EPP (@EPP) July 12, 2013

Sources: Carnegie Europe , Debating Europe , OSW

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Graduated in International Relations and Russian. Resident of Estonia, but a citizen of the world. Most interested in contributing to the progress and education of mankind--as the primary tool of achieving global unity.

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