Upgrade needed for the Eastern Partnership

Year 2014 was important for the content and future of the Eastern Partnership policy of the EU. Political events that took place in the Eastern neighbourhood brought new accomplishments but also serious challenges.

We have seen progress with three East European front-runners: Association Agreements have been signed and ratified between the EU and Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, the provisional application has begun in Georgia and Moldova and partly in Ukraine. The EU visa free regime entered into force with Moldova. At the same time, we see clear differentiations in foreign policies among 6 Eastern partners – it will be crucially important to apply a differentiated and tailor-made approach in an enhanced Eastern Partnership after the Riga Summit in May 2015.

Armenia has decided not to proceed with negotiations on the Association Agreement with the EU and seeks currently a new format of relations with the EU. We look forward to enhancing the level of our cooperation with Azerbaijan and Belarus, but it is essential to see the progress of the respective governments in improving the situation with human rights in their countries and respecting the European values. Belarus is participating in the multilateral track of the Eastern Partnership and is currently progressing in the relations with the EU. Some positive signs have been seen in the release of the political prisoner, Mr Bialiatski; but we might see a crack-down scenario repeated in the context of the presidential elections due in November 2015. It is important to use the window of opportunity which we can see at the moment. Belarus has also taken a stand in the Ukrainian crisis, supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine and also acting as “peacemaker” in the talks to solve the crisis by hosting the negotiations. It is notable that independence from Russia is important for Belarus.

The Eastern Partnership should reflect an “open-door” policy based on the more for more principle, and avoid the punishment logic. We will discuss this approach and the issues of multi-lateral cooperation with our Eastern partners in particular at the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly Plenary session this March in Yerevan.

We currently observe many challenges in the area. The enhanced Eastern Partnership will need to cope effectively with one of the biggest challenges which occurred on the European arena since many years which is the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. The European Commission has created a Support Group for Ukraine, and also the EP’s support to Ukraine remains firm and is even evolving for more.

Always in this context, one of the most dramatic challenges we face is maintaining unity in the EU, despite the polarised views of our EU member states on future relations with Russia. The EU needs to maintain a united position, in order to tackle the issue effectively. A special role here could be played by those member states who are caught geographically between the EU and Russia, and who are also interested in maintaining normal trade links with all the countries of their immediate neighbourhood, including of course Russia.

Russia is an important partner of the EU and we should make our utmost to restore our relations as soon as possible. This cannot take place at any cost, however, and the main conditions for this remain non-negotiable – cease-fire on the ground and more generally, all commitments taken under the Minsk agreement on the path to a settlement of the eastern Ukrainian conflict must be implemented.

Therefore, the EU member states will need to cooperate on upgrading the Eastern Partnership to a higher, more ambitious level, which should allow us to carve the best out of the partnerships with all the Eastern Partnership states, while remaining receptive to understanding their peculiarities and concerns. Specifically, the future relationship of the EU with Russia should be addressed on the basis of a renewed strategy, to be elaborated jointly by all the member states, as our goal is to see Russia moving from being a strategic problem for Europe to a genuinely strategic partner, also for Russia’s own sake. To form such a position, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) review, which should start very soon in the EU Institutions, will also be a key factor.

Speech in the Nordic Council and the Baltic States Assemblies’ meeting in Brussels 22.1.2015