The first day of the Eastern Partnership Summit that this time takes place in the capital of Latvia, has thus far left us with more questions than answers.
Political decisions have been made. Now it is up to the governments that strive for visa liberalisation to accomplish the criteria and stay devoted to the European standards. Georgian and Ukrainian leaders seem to be positive about a deeper integration in the nearest future and believe in achieving the long-awaited visa-free regime by the end of this year. However, is there anything else that the European Union and its eastern partners will try to achieve at this year’s Summit?
Since the very beginning of the EU programme aimed at eastern neighbours, the EU has clearly pointed out that the Eastern Partnership is not a policy initiative about enlargement of the Union as such.
Words of former President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker – “The Riga Summit is not about the EU membership, however there is a clear European perspective for all democratic European countries” – were echoed by the current leader of the Council, Donald Tusk, and affirmed: “Even though the EU is committed to its Eastern partners and the cooperation remains our shared priority across Europe, we still need to exercise our strategic patience. The Riga Summit is not about announcing giant steps forward. We will do it gradually”.
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A strong message was sent to disprove Kremlin’s earlier accusation that the gathering in Riga this year carried an explicit anti-Russian connotation. President Tusk firmly stated: “The Eastern Partnership is not directed against Russia”, yet added that if Russia was “a bit softer, more charming and attractive, perhaps it would not have to compensate its shortcomings by destructive and aggressive tactics against the neighbours”. It went along with an earlier statement of German Chancellor Angela Merkel announcing that Russia will not be welcomed to rejoin the G7 group in the upcoming meetings as long as it does not comply with basic common values.
Meanwhile, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine still believe that the homework well done can bring stronger incentives from Brussels and ultimately lead the integration process to the membership perspective. At the business part of the Summit, EU officials announced that the three EaP countries will receive 2 billion EUR of aid in order to develop small and medium businesses locally.
…and polite demands
Georgia and Ukraine requested more focus on progress of visa liberalisation negotiations and amends regarding several sentences on territorial conflicts included in the official Summit declaration. Together with Moldova, they called EU leaders not to stop at the Association Agreements, but to accept future EU membership aspirations of these countries according to the Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union.
Will it be easy to find a compromise among all EaP countries? Armenia and Belarus have already expressed their dissatisfaction over the wording in the draft of the declaration that stresses Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
The questions are still out there: will the EU set an exact date of signing visa-free agreement with Georgia and Ukraine? Will the associated Eastern Partners keep a song motivation for reforming and moving towards the West? The Riga Summit is another opportunity – and hope – for a new order in Eastern Europe.
20-22 May 2015 #RigaSummit | #EaPmedia | #EaPCSC
Read: Welcoming Neighbours: How Effective Is the European Union? | Pre-Riga Summit: Ukraine on Its Road to Europe
featured image: EPP EaP Leaders’ Meeting – 21 May, Riga, Latvia; source: Flickr