Saturday

24th Jun 2017

Germany calls for rethink of Eastern Partnership

  • St Basil's cathedral, Moscow: Erler voiced sympathy for Russia's trade concerns (Photo: malyousif)

The EU was wrong not to have analysed possible conflicts with Russia before offering the so-called Eastern Partnership to countries like Ukraine, Gernot Erler, Germany's new chief of relations with Russia and the eastern neighbourhood told journalists in Berlin on Thursday (30 January).

Barely a day in his new job, he said that being labelled as "someone who understands Russia" does not offend him.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Unlike his predecessor, Andreas Schockenhoff, who did not shy away from harshly criticising the Kremlin on human rights, Erler says it is important to take into account Moscow's concerns - be they legitimate or not - about the West.

His appointment was a concession made by Chancellor Angela Merkel to her Social-Democratic coalition partners, who claimed the foreign ministry in the coalition government.

Erler, who will turn 70 this year, is a fluent Russian speaker and is seen favourably in Moscow.

A close ally of German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier - himself a Russophile - Erler was the mastermind behind the idea of a "modernisation partnership" with Russia, or, seeking democratisation through increased economic ties.

Unlike his previous government roles, his portfolio this time is not just German-Russian relations, but covers the entire post-Soviet area, including the so-called Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine).

He said his name was floated to act as a mediator in Ukraine, where pro-EU protests in Kiev recently turned violent.

But in the meantime, EU neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton have taken on the task.

"It is best for Germany not to seek a special role in Ukraine but rather to stick to the common European position and support the EU mediation efforts," Erler said.

With at least six people dead, several others missing and amid shocking images of "burning policemen,” who had been attacked with Molotov cocktails, Erler said the number one priority is to stop the violence.

He said the second priority is to quickly create a functional government because "Ukraine is on the brink of bankruptcy, which would have immense consequences also for Europe."

But, looking further down the line, he said the EU must reconsider its Eastern Partnership and why the Ukraine fiasco arose.

The protests began last November when Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych declined to sign an EU association and free trade pact, in favour of a Russian bailout.

"I am surprised that experts have been called to look into it only now - if there is a conflict between a Russian Customs Union and the Eastern Partneship. We need a solution as quickly as possible, because this is not only about Ukraine. Moldova and Georgia have finished the negotiations and want to sign the agreement this summer. How will Russia act if that happens?" Erler asked.

"We have to ensure there is no tension between the Eastern Partnership and the Russian Customs Union," he noted.

He added that trade is just one element of concern from the Russian side, but did not elaborate on the point.

But he said that if countries like Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova enter a "deep free trade agreement" with the EU, as currently envisaged by the Eastern Partnership, Moscow fears that these markets will be flooded with cheap Western products, which would undermine Russian exports.

"I can understand this concern. I don't know what the solution will look like, but it seems possible and this is currently being assessed by experts,” he noted.

Merkel caves in on Russia appointment

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has accepted the appointment of a pro-Moscow veteran as special coordinator for Russia policy, a concession made to her coalition partner.

Interview

EU visa waiver unlikely to import Ukraine crime

Visa-free travel, which began last week, unlikely to prompt a Ukrainian crime wave, an EU police expert has said, but Ukraine itself is seeing increases in lawlessness.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel and Macron hold symbolic joint press conference
  2. Juncker has 'no' clear idea of kind of Brexit UK wants
  3. Belgian PM calls May's proposal on EU citizens 'vague'
  4. UK lacks support of EU countries in UN vote
  5. Spain to command anti-smuggler Mediterranean force
  6. Estonia confirms opposition to Nord Stream 2 pipeline
  7. Ireland and Denmark outside EU military plan
  8. EU leaders renew vows to uphold Paris climate deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  2. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  3. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  4. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  5. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  6. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  7. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!
  8. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  9. EUSEW17Bringing Buildings Into the Circular Economy. Discuss at EU Sustainable Energy Week
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?
  11. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  12. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move

Latest News

  1. Macron’s investment screening idea watered down by leaders
  2. Leaders unimpressed by May’s offer to EU citizens
  3. New Irish PM praises unscripted nature of EU summits
  4. EU extends sanctions on Russia
  5. UK's universities set 'Brexit wish list'
  6. Decision on post-Brexit home for EU agencies postponed
  7. May's offer on citizens’ rights dismissed as ‘pathetic’
  8. 'Historic' defence plan gets launch date at EU summit