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20/05 – Riga Summit promises EU’s Eastern neighbours no clear answers

As EU leaders will meet in Riga on Thursday to foster relations with Ukraine, Moldova and its other eastern partners, many European newspapers make predictions about the agenda and comment on the geopolitical implications and the general atmosphere, most of them remaining quite cautious.

Austrian daily Wirtschaftsblatt notes that if ambitions ran high at the last Eastern Partnership Summit, held in Vilnius in 2013, it is now different since in Riga, the EU will only try to preserve what has been achieved. Rather than a strategy encompassing all six eastern countries, the EU aims to customise cooperation programmes to each of the nations, says Commissioner Hahn, meaning that the EU is slowing the pace of the membership talks so as not to provoke Russia.

While the EU wants to deepen its relations with its eastern neighbours, this summit is not intended to appear as a hostile act towards Moscow, some articles underline. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has already forcefully warned the EU not to harm Russian interests. An editorial by Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala notes that one of the most difficult issues to be discussed at the EU summit in Riga is how the EU is to defend its eastern partners’ freedom of choice while remaining on good terms with the neighbours’ neighbours.

The Association Agreements between Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine and the EU have in the past been followed by Russian retaliation, or even war. EU member states do not have a common view on the Eastern Partnership or even whether the association should be the road to EU membership. The Riga summit will not change this, but the Eastern partners should be given the signal of a possible subsequent EU membership. However, the question of an EU accession will not be discussed presently, Brussels stated.

EU heads of state and government will meet the six Eastern neighbouring countries, Others media outlets notes that EU leaders will use this platform to tackle others topics. Indeed, FAZ states the agenda will not only be reviewing the Eastern Partnership. Angela Merkel and François Hollande recently announced to use the platform to talk to Alexis Tsipras about Greece’s debt crisis.

Talks with representatives of the Eastern countries are expected to be “harmonic.” The EU heads of state and government will only vote in the autumn on a proposal by the European Commission to redefine the Eastern Partnership. Nevertheless, the meeting in Riga should reveal a shift of emphasis in the relations. Another FAZ author finds that the slow-burning conflict in Ukraine did not change the bigger geopolitical picture. The EU is still set on closer relations with former soviet states, as shown by the planned meeting in Riga. Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova are still bound to the West by trade and political cooperation, while Belarus and Armenia seek proximity to Russia. None of the six states of the Eastern Partnership are currently seeking to join NATO or the EU.


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