BRUSSELS (RFE/RL) — Thirteen European Union states have sketched out a prescription for the bloc’s Eastern Partnership program that includes a “European Package” to go beyond the current prize of association agreements for EU neighbors.
The document, seen by RFE/RL, presents a possible future for the EU’s Eastern Partnership — which includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine — in light of a major summit in Vilnius in November and ahead of the next meeting of heads of governments in Riga in 2015.
The paper — titled “20 Points on the Eastern Partnership Post-Vilnius” — will be discussed by the 28 EU foreign ministers at their monthly meeting in Brussels on February 10 and is supported by EU heavyweights like Germany and the United Kingdom.
Although the document stops short of calling for future EU membership for some or all of the Eastern neighbors, it does say that the EU should start “exploring some sort of ‘European package’ as a station beyond the association agreements.”
The text says that this package should focus on mobility and visas, student exchanges, more twinning projects, and increased participation in EU community programs and agencies.
Georgia and Moldova initialed association agreements in Vilnius and could sign them as early as this year.
But Ukraine suspended its signature ahead of the meeting amid Russian trade pressure, leading to civil unrest that is still gripping Kyiv and other parts of the country.
The paper offers little indication of what role the EU should play in Ukraine but states that Brussels should continue to engage with Kyiv on a “broad political spectrum” and adjust EU policy “in the light of developments.”
A senior EU diplomat told RFE/RL that visa restrictions and asset freezes directed at Ukrainian officials responsible for the crackdown on the demonstrators still isn’t on the table.
The EU member states also want to engage with Russia in a “substantial, frank, and open dialogue on the integration processes in Europe” but at the same time underline that punitive actions against Eastern Partnership countries are “unacceptable.”
Russia created trade obstacles for both Georgia and Moldova in the run-up to the Vilnius summit, and the document stresses the need for a “well-coordinated EU response to possible actions” that could include trade embargoes, restrictions against migrant workers, and increased tensions in protracted conflicts.
If the suggestions on Ukraine are thin, there is more on Georgia and Moldova, which the EU hopes can sign association agreements by August.
The 13 member states behind the “European Package” initiative hope to speed up internal procedures in order to allow for a signature of the two countries “as soon as possible, and no later than the end of August 2014.”
There is also hope of strengthening the EU’s role in the settlement of protracted conflicts and making use of the association agreement implementation “as a vehicle to strengthen contacts between Chisinau/Tbilisi and secessionist regions, and develop mutual incentives for contact.”
Another idea is that Georgia and Moldova should receive “a constant flow of EU high-level visits with clear and constant messages regarding early signature of the association and the need for vigorous European reforms to make full sense of the agreement.”
The EU, on the other hand, should also work on strengthening visibility by promoting and publishing studies that explain long-term gains of the Eastern Partnership, including a “possible impact on Russia and the Customs Union/Eurasia Economic Union, and negate unfounded claims of costs.”
For the three remaining partners — Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus — there are a few new ideas, as well.
Armenia decided to shun the association agreement in favor of the Russian-led Customs Union in September, but there is a suggestion in the text to upgrade the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) that currently regulates EU-Armenia relations. No details are offered.
There are also some new ideas for Belarus — which still has officials under EU sanctions — and Azerbaijan — which wants an association agreement without its trade part. It is suggested that the EU, through informal contacts and “using positive attention and events in the near future” — such as the ice hockey world championship in Belarus in May and the Azerbaijani chairmanship of the Council of Europe later in the year — should persuade the two countries “to take positive steps on political prisoners for the benefit of relations with the EU.”