Wednesday

17th Aug 2022

Beefed up enlargement portfolio delights eastern neighbours

  • Moldova is increasingly on the EU radar after the April protests. (Photo: benia.livejournal.com)

The merger of European enlargement with neighbourhood policy in a single portfolio headed by a Czech EU diplomat is raising hopes in eastern countries such as Moldova and Georgia about their long-term European future.

The list of portfolios unveiled Friday by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barros includes a single post for enlargement and neighbourhood policy, taken by Czech EU affairs minister and former ambassador to Brussels Stefan Fuele. Currently part of the Commission's foreign policy dossier, relations with EU's southern and eastern neighbours will be mainly managed by Mr Fuele "in close co-operation" with the new top diplomat and commission vice-president Catherine Ashton.

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The move is good news particularly for the six countries in the so-called Eastern Partnership policy launched under the Czech EU presidency earlier this year - Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The first three have already openly been advocating to be included in the bloc's enlargement policy.

"It's a very positive sign to have enlargement and neighbourhood policy under the same hat. It doesn't automatically mean that we will join, but it doesn't rule out that this could be taken into consideration at some point," Georgian state minister for Euro-Atlantic integration Georgi Baramidze told this website.

Appointing a seasoned Czech diplomat like Mr Fuele with "very good knowledge" of the region to the job was also welcomed by the Georgian minister.

A Moldovan diplomat echoed Mr Baramidze's remarks, pointing out that Chisinau had already established contacts with the enlargement unit in 2008, when the country chaired the southeastern European co-operation process, seen as an antechamber to the accession track.

After post-election street protests in April that turned violent and were brutally repressed by the Communist government, Moldova managed to elect a Liberal coalition government called the "Alliance for EU integration."

The combined portfolio "should be seen as an encouragement for the government to pursue democratic and economic reforms. The ball is in Chisinau's court," Monica Macovei, the head of the EU-Moldovan delegation in the EU Parliament told this website.

Croatian and Icelandic commissioners also envisaged

However, the combination of several portfolios into one could also have been done so that they could be split again once Croatia and Iceland join the EU and have their own commissioners, expected to happen around halfway through the five-year Barroso II commission.

Enlargement and neighbourhood policy could be separated again, or other combo-portfolios such as taxation, customs union, audit and anti-fraud headed by the Lithuanian, Algirdas Semeta. "There will be more preparation, in any case, than back in 2006 when Bulgaria and Romania were about to join," an EU official familiar with the matter told EUobserver.

At the time, Romania got the lightweight portfolio of multilingualism, a splinter dossier from the culture and education post.

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