Februar 22, 2013

The Eastern Partnership and Its 14 "Buddies"

EaP Countries and supporters among the EU; EU21Global
Everyone needs friends. At times of important decisions - this applies even more. The eastern neighbours of the European Union have experienced that there are comparable difficulties on the way of European integration. However, there are some supporters among the EU member states. Various meetings at the national and regional level were hold for the purpose of demonstration of additional support for the Eastern partnership countries. The three Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, Poland, Sweden and Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, the Nordic countries Denmark, Finland and Sweden, as well as Bulgaria and Romania and even Great Britain increasingly showed their support to further develop the Eastern Partnership and manage the European integration of the Eastern neighbours of the European Union. Additionally they send a clear signal to the EaP countries that there were indeed serious obstacles in the path of reforms in order to get closer to the European Union.

Support on the national level: Poland-Sweden-Lithuania Triangle plus Germany

Foto: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Republic of Poland
Sweden, together with Poland, initiated the Eastern Partnership. Lithuania will chair the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2013 and prepare the Eastern Partnership Vilnius summit, scheduled for November. A common view on the further development of the Eastern Partnership among the three EU member states Poland, Sweden and Lithuania is emerging: a supportive triangle for the Eastern neighbours of the European Union. This step had attracted the attention of other EU member states: the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia and even Great Britain. Germany has always been a constructive supporter of the Eastern Partnership. 

Foto: Martina Huber/Government Offices

Recently, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt made a Statement of (Swedish) Government Policy in the Parliamentary Debate on Foreign Affairs, where he highlighted Sweden's role in the Eastern Partnership: "Europe does not end at what is today the outer border of the European Union. Sweden, together with Poland, initiated the Eastern Partnership and we continue to be a driving force in this work. Developments in the region have not been unequivocally positive. Moldova is making progress, while Ukraine is standing still and Belarus is choosing to isolate itself. Reform policies in Georgia must continue, and we are concerned about growing strains between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In 2013, the EU is contributing just over SEK 5 billion to support the Eastern Partnership countries, and Sweden is contributing a further SEK 600 million. We will also appoint a special ambassador tasked with advancing this work, both in the EU and in the region. Our hope is that as many of our partner countries as possible will be ready for association agreements and comprehensive free trade agreements with the EU when we meet for the Summit in Vilnius in the autumn."

Foto: Lukasz Kaminski

Polish Foreign policy has always been pro Eastern Partnership. All political levels in Poland have been involved in promoting the idea of the Eastern Partnership and not closing the door for the Eastern neighbours. Polish Foreign policy has also plaid a very attractive role to other EU member states - Slovakia, Latvia, the Czech Republic and even Great Britain. On 21 February 2013 the presidents of Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine met in Wisla, southern Poland, to discuss the upcoming EU-Ukraine summit. Poland "want(s) to help Ukraine in achieving the final, important, effect in the form of the signing of an EU-Ukraine association agreement during the November Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius", Polish President Bronisław Komorowski told a press conference. President Komorowski also expressed his "conviction and optimism regarding a series of gestures and decisions which President Yanukovic had envisaged, important from the point of view of rebuilding Ukraine's image in EU countries and linked with two names - Yulia Tymoshenko as well as Yuri Lutsenko." Poland finds equally clear and unambiguous words in this connection.   

The British Foreign Minister, William Hague, the Foreign Minister of Poland, Radosław Sikorski, and the Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, had a two-day long visit to Moldova on February 18-19 2013. They sent a clear message to Moldova: "Moldova embarked on the path towards the European Union later than Ukraine, but it is catching up fast and in 2013 we may see final decisions about the conditions of Moldova’s association with the EU. We shall complete negotiations and begin a process that leads to ratification," said Minister Radosław Sikorski. In the same manner, British Foreign Minister William Hague stated: "This joint visit shows our shared commitment to supporting Moldova’s European integration aspirations. With sufficient political will and a sustained commitment to reforms, the long-term perspective for Moldova is bright." These statements express a deeper hope that Moldova will be EU’s greatest challenger in the Eastern Partnership.
Latvia, Hungary and the Czech Republic are following the example set by Poland. In various bilateral meetings between Polsih and Latvian Foreign Ministers, Valdis Dombrovskis, the Prime Minister of Latvia, with Moldova's Prime Minister Vlad Filat, Czech and Slovak Foreign Minsiters, as well as Hungary's position on the signing of an association agreement with Ukraine are clear signals twoards supporting the Eastern Partnership.

Foto: Kancelaria Premiera

Of course, Lithuania strives to achieve a successful Eastern Partnership summit in November 2013. The most appopriate partner for its strength is Poland. Poland will fully support Lithuania in the context of preparations of the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius: "When talking about Lithuania`s preparations for the Presidency of the Council of the EU, Prime Minister A. Butkevičius invited Polish Prime Minister to work together to have a successful EU Eastern Partnership in Vilnius in late November. Polish Prime Minister D. Tusk offered his support during the Presidency, considering Poland’s previous experience in that respect," a press release stated.


And what about Germany? One of the constructive supporters of the Eastern Partnership is struggling with the Euro crisis and the decision of British Prime Minister David Cameron to put on referndum wheter Great Britain to stay or leave the European Union. However, this aim of making the European Union competitive should not obscure the objective that constitute the very importance of the Eastern Partnership. Andrew Rettman writes in EUobserver: "Germany and Poland, as well as the Czech republic and Sweden, have put forward joint ideas on how to handle post-Soviet countries, in what some diplomats are calling a "new axis" in EU foreign policy. The four nations sent an unofficial paper on the so-called Eastern Partnership scheme to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on 15 January. The text contains four proposals. It says the EU should boost relations with individual countries covered by the scheme (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) if they excel in pro-democratic reforms. It calls for steps to create a free trade area between the six states and the EU on the model of the European Free Trade Association with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. It says EU foreign ministers should regularly talk about Eastern Partnership developments in their monthly meetings. It also calls for "more visibility" for the scheme by creating an "Eastern Partnership label" - a special EU logo to be displayed on projects, such as new roads, funded by the programme in the target countries."
Support on the regional level: the same players

Meeting of Visegrad, Nordic and Baltic states;
Foto: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia
Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Visegrad, Nordic and Baltic countries met in Gdansk on the 20th of February 2013.The Eastern Partnership was one of the most discussed topics and the ministers agreed that they should cooperate in order to strengthen the framework of integration of the Eastern neighbours: "The Ministers discussed relations with the Eastern European partners, and in particular preparations for the Estern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013. They agreed that the Eastern Partnership has been pivotal in strengthening integration on the European continent, and expressed their support for the European aspirations and the European choice of some Eastern European partners. They further called on the Eastern European partner countries to intensify reform efforts in line with the Eastern Partnership Road Map, in order to prepare the ground for an ambitious outcome of the Summit, and committed to jointly push for the EU to respond accordingly. Hope was expressed that the Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements between the EU and the Republic of Moldova, Georgia and Armenia would be initialed by the time of the Summit. The Ministers called on Ukraine to demonstrate determined action and tangible progress in line with the EU Council Conclusions of December 2012, in order to pave the way for signing the Association Agreement/ DCFTA during the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius. Moreover, the Ministers highlighted the dynamic development of the Eastern Partnership multilateral cooperation and stressed importance of further strengthening of the flagship initiatives and creating new ones as well as further enhancement of people-to-people contacts and support for youth and students exchanges and scholarship programmes."

And traditionally strong positions are offered by Lithuania, Poland, Estonia and Latvia. The Eastern Partnership remains a top priority for these countries. They want to be an example for the Eastern neighbours.

It is very important to have good friends. They offer support in difficult times. They always have an open door to listen to the wishes and problems of the neighbouring countries which allow them to criticize and lead. The Eastern Partnership countries should be well advised to continue the process of approximation with the European Union.

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