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21/05 – EU scales back its ambitions in the East

As the EU heads of state and government are gathering in Riga to attend the Eastern Partnership summit, many European media report on the implications of such a meeting, most of the comments remaining quite cautious. According to many newspapers, former Soviet Republics should not expect much.

Indeed, Les Echos explains that the conflict with Moscow over Ukraine has dampened the enthusiasm of a number of member states, especially France and Germany, and from now on, the EU’s watchword will be not to upset Russia. Since the latest summit in Vilnius 18 months ago, European countries have been walking on eggshells and Eastern Partnership plans have gone by the wayside because of the Russian intervention in Ukraine, Le Figaro reports. This year, the symbol will prevail over the content, as the summit will be very short. Indeed, Suedeutsche Zeitung’s Daniel Brossler reports that the EU heads of state and government want to prove that their Eastern policy has not failed, despite the Ukraine crisis.

The Eastern Partnership, which intended at first to extend the EU’s neighbourhood policy towards Eastern Europe, was crushed in November 2013 in Vilnius by Vladimir Putin’s pressure on Ukraine. As the EU now wishes to pacify its confrontation with Russia, it has “frozen” its opening plans in Eastern Europe, with only two small countries remaining in the process: Moldavia and Georgia.

According to Le Monde, ambitions have been reviewed downward and the Eastern Partnership has now become a “differentiation and flexibility” policy, a complete turnaround compared to initial ambitions expressed in 2013 and a way of hiding past failures. For Volkskrant, the Eastern Partnership summit’s priority has shifted from democracy to security ever since the annexation of the Crimea and the war in Ukraine.

But some EU leaders still have high expectations regarding the consequences of the summit. In an interview featured in Die Welt, Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkin states that Kiev expects a “concrete promise” from the EU regarding a European membership for Ukraine in the future. “We need to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he stresses. Georgia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Tamar Beruchashvili also has some great expectations, noting in an interview with Handelsblatt, that Georgia has “done everything” the EU has demanded. She now hopes that the EU will recognise the efforts and grant visa exemption soon. “The EU integration and visa exemption are currently our highest priority,” she stresses.

In an interview with L’Opinion, Pierre Vimont, the former Executive Secretary-General of the European External Action Service, expresses optimism about the abolition of visas for Georgia and Ukraine, saying that illegal immigration is another issue which mostly concerns the Mediterranean area. In another positive sign ahead of today’s summit, Russia has eased tensions by no longer demanding that the free-trade agreement between Ukraine and the EU be postponed until early 2016.

But the Minsk agreements are currently in jeopardy and the negotiations, in July, between the member states on whether or not to extend sanctions against Russia promise to be difficult, Le Figaro reports. “The lack of consensus between the member states, on the future of the Eastern Partnership as well as on the issue of potential EU accession, is likely to prevent any breakthrough in Riga,” reports Le Figaro.

However, prospect of the accession to the EU of the six Eastern countries is remote, given that President Jean-Claude Juncker explained that no such accession is being considered for the next five years, reads Evenimentul Zilei newspaper. Actually, an official from Brussels even indicated that the summit will not mark new progresses, but will only show that this policy is functional.


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