Fourth Eastern Partnership Summit held in Riga

Wed 27 May 2015

Fourth Eastern Partnership Summit held in Riga

Visa liberalization
The bilateral relation between the EU and Armenia was reaffirmed at the Eastern Partnership Summit. There will be a continuation of comprehensive cooperation in all the spheres and directions considering Armenia’s commitments in other integration processes. The green light seems to be given for talks to begin an accord that will be an alternative to the Association Agreement with Armenia, which was dropped after Armenia unexpectedly decided to join the Eurasian Economic Union under strong Russian pressure. The declaration also included another important process, namely that of mobility. Armenia has been lobbying for a visa liberation with the European Union. The latter has reaffirmed that Armenia and the EU have started a new process which will likely result in visa liberalization.

Earlier this month, the European Commission has said neither Georgia nor Ukraine would be eligible for visa liberalization with the European Union. Georgia and Ukraine have expressed their desire for a visa-free status repeatedly, but, according to the EU, they need to do more to implement legislation in various relevant areas. Georgia was urged to tackle the trafficking of drugs, whereas Ukraine was told to step up laws on organized crime and antidiscrimination.
Moldova received visa liberalization in 2014 and remains the only one of the six Eastern Partnership countries to hold this status.

Association agreement
Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have already signed and ratified their association with the EU. ‘The Summit participants stress that implementation of AA/DCFTAs [Association Agreements/ the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas] will be a top priority of the EU and the partners concerned for the coming years.’

Representatives of the civil societies of the three countries also signed a symbolic Admission Demand to the European Union, offering it to Johannes Hahn, the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations. Hahn, pointed out that he hopes the admission agreement will become a real thing in the future. As an encouragement, the European Commission launched a facility for the Small and Medium Enterprises from Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, which will provide the countries with 200 million euros in grants in the coming 10 years. “The new facility will provide concrete support for firms from Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, helping them to benefit from the Association Agreements and to get to new markets”, stated Hahn. At the same time, Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, stressed that ‘the European prospective for any of these countries doesn’t exist,’ adding ‘neither they, nor we are not ready.’

Joint declaration
In the summit’s Joint Declaration, specific attention was given to the conflict in Ukraine. Most participating countries expressed their support to the government of Ukraine, and ‘.. support all efforts aimed at de-escalation and a political solution based on respect for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.’ They believe that they are in the need for the earliest peaceful settlement of the conflicts in the region as the resolution of any conflicts in the region will be essential to economic and social development and cooperation.

However, Belarus and Armenia refused to sign the final declaration because of the provision on the ‘illegal annexation of Crimea.’ Azerbaijan also refused to sign the declaration, saying it did not provide sufficient attention to the Nagorno-Karabakh question. The Nagorno-Karabakh region is a breakaway region de facto independent from Azerbaijan, governed by local Armenians. For decades, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at loggerheads on the status of the region.

A strong partnership
When opening the summit, president Donald Tusk said ..‘the main message of the summit is ‘our continued, consistent and strong commitment to the Eastern Partnership and each of our partner countries.’ The second message, he said, was the ‘..common interest to continue developing strengthened, closer, differentiated relations with each of our partners to help them become more resilient in the face of increasing challenges to stability and security in the region and to make sovereign choices. Strengthened and more transparent institutions, free from corruption, will make our partners stronger and help us maintain the Eastern Partnership relevant for all.’