Wednesday

13th Dec 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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

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.

Feature

Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees

Lebanon hosts over one million Syrian refugees, and has received some €1bn in EU funds. Caught in a geo-political tug of war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Lebanon's domestic politics have cast a longer shadow over its Syrian 'guests'.

EU complicit in Libyan torture, says Amnesty

The EU and its members states have signed up to 'Faustian pact' with Libyan authorities in the their effort to prevent migrant and refugee boat departures towards Italy, says Amnesty International.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Pro-Kremlin trolls targeted Scottish referendum
  2. MEPs vote to allow phosphate additives in kebabs
  3. Babis government sworn in in Czech Republic
  4. Russia looks to crypto-currencies to evade EU sanctions
  5. Juncker embroiled in Luxembourg wire-tapping trial
  6. Kurz close to forming new Austrian right-wing government
  7. Ministers reach deal on fish quotas but overfishing continues
  8. UK parliament to vote on right to veto final Brexit deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  2. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  3. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  4. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  7. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  8. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  9. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  10. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  11. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  12. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe

Latest News

  1. Tusk migration note prompts institutional 'hysteria'
  2. Migration looms over summit, as Africa pledges fall short
  3. Brits in EU-27 are uncertain, alone and far from protected
  4. 2018 fishing quotas agreed - but Brexit muddies waters
  5. Medical HQ to spearhead EU military push
  6. Facebook to shift ad revenue away from Ireland
  7. EU renews glyphosate approval, pledges transparency
  8. Romania searching for EU respectability

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  2. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  3. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  4. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  5. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  6. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  7. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  8. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  9. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  10. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  11. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  12. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations