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22/05 – Low expectations for Eastern Partnership summit in Riga

Some European media outlets focus on the Riga Summit which is taking place between the EU heads of state and government and their colleagues from the six Eastern Partnership countries. Diplomats are working on a document which is to be signed today by the EU-28 heads of state of government, Corriere della Serra notes.

The programme is rather disappointing for some Eastern Partnership countries, Czech media note. L’Humanité Dimanche recalls that the aim of the EU is to bring former Soviet Republics closer to the Union, politically and economically,  but without any prospects of membership. Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said in an interview with LTV1 that there is a “long way to go” for any of these countries to actually join the bloc. However, he added that “it will be clearly declared in Riga that the Eastern Partnership project will be continued.”

Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma said that “Georgia and Ukraine are actively working to meet the requirements”, indicating that the visa regime might be lifted for these countries as well if the European Commission provides a positive assessment at the end of this year, Xinhuanet.com states. Ulrich Speck, from the think tank Carnegie Europe, believes that the EU’s attempt to make its eastern neighbours more European has in fact made them more unstable, Politiken reports.

The European Council President Donald Tusk said that the Eastern Partnership is not a beauty contest between the EU and Russia, Polsat News reports. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have all signed an association and free trade agreement with the EU, and they hope to get confirmation that they will eventually be able to join the union. In her Világgazdaság’s editorial, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Timoshenko says that “the EU faces a stark choice: a renewed Eastern Partnership or a renewed division of Europe”.

According to Le Figaro’s Jean-Jacques Mével, the shadow of Vladimir Putin is hovering over the Eastern Partnership summit, and that’s why the EU is “on the defensive” and unwilling to make promises to the former Soviet Republics. In an article for Die Welt, Gerhard Gnauck and Julia Smirnova even suggest that Europe is allowing Russia a say in its neighbourhood policy. As a result, the draft conclusions of the summit are likely to be more “distant” and “convoluted” than at the previous summit in Vilnius.

According to Jyllands-Posten, the EU member states will only “recognise the European aspirations”. On ZDF, Anne Gellinek even goes so far as to say that the Eastern Partnership summit was more of a sobering event than a beacon of hope. The EU has been on the retreat and offered the countries no perspectives, according to Der Standard. According to Commissioner Hahn, it is a misunderstanding to assume that a European Council meeting can produce results. Indeed, the EU wants to avoid escalating the tensions with Russia, which means that only half-measures have been taken, Die Presse notes.

Le Soir adds that the Riga summit’s main goal is try not to anger Moscow. German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to ease the tensions saying that “the Eastern Partnership is not an instrument of EU expansion. It is directed against no-one, especially not against Russia and it is not an either/or choice for those countries between closer ties with the EU or Russia”, Magyar Nemzet reports EC President Jean-Claude Juncker also rejected an enlargement strategy, Diário de Notícias says.

This is a cold shower for Kiev and Tbilisi as they expected to discuss a visa-free regime and the perspective of EU membership, ČT24 TV channel reports. The most concrete outcome of the summit is the offer of €200 million to SMEs in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, which would help the companies to succeed on the European market, Hospodářské noviny writes. However, Poland, the Baltic States and Sweden would like the EU to communicate that the Eastern neighbours have a future in the Union, Helsingin Sanomat reports.

Despite Europe’s official position, representatives of Georgian, Moldovan and Ukrainian civil society submitted symbolic application letters for EU membership to Commissioner Hahn, Latvian and Lithuanian media note. Georgian president Giorgi Margvelashvili called on European leaders not to allow “Russian aggression in Ukraine” prevent the integration of former Soviet Republics into the European union, mediafax.ro says.

In an interview with Lidové noviny daily, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó argues that Russia should not be excluded from the future of Europe. In a commentary in La Repubblica, Paolo Garimberti says that Russia is winning the “persuasion war” against Europe by establishing a huge sphere of influence over the European eastern countries, using economic “soft power”.

In Süddeutsche Zeitung, Stefan Kornelius estimates that the way in which Europe deals with Russian manipulation of political instability in Macedonia, Greece, Moldova and Ukraine will become a test of credibility for Brussels, which must protect its values when necessary. Handelsblatt’s Thomas Ludwig writes that offering Ukraine the chance to join the EU would be a bad idea because Europeans still have many problems with other member states.

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