Monday

30th May 2016

EU ministers look to salvage Georgia and Moldova pacts

  • Medieval map of Georgia: The Swedish paper warned to expect 'trade embargoes, restrictions against migrant workers, increased tension in protracted conflicts' (Photo: wikipedia creative commons)

The EU is considering hiring lobbyists to counter Russian “disinformation” and giving more money to Georgia and Moldova in reaction to the Ukraine crisis.

The ideas are put forward in two internal papers - seen by EUobserver - to be discussed by EU foreign ministers at a lunch in Brussels on Monday (10 February).

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They come after Ukraine, under Russian pressure, refused to sign an EU association and free trade pact in Lithuania last year, putting in doubt the viability of the EU policy for the region, the so-called Eastern Partnership (EaP).

One paper, entitled “20 points on the Eastern Partnership post-Vilnius,” was written by Sweden and signed by 12 other EU countries, including Germany, Poland, and the UK.

It calls for Georgia and Moldova to sign EU pacts by August, but has lower ambitions for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Ukraine itself.

Following Russia’s customs blockade on Ukraine last summer, it warns the EU should: “Raise preparedness in expectation of further external and internal threats or actions against front-runners, such as trade embargoes, restrictions against migrant workers, increased tension in protracted conflicts.”

It lays out plans for a PR campaign to “respond to disinformation … including through engagement of public diplomacy experts.”

It says there should be “a constant flow of EU high-level visits,” to Georgia and Moldova, with “specific activities … aimed at national minorities and remote regions.”

It adds that pro-EU countries should be rewarded by “prioritising additional EU funding.”

On Ukraine, it rules out sanctions for now, but keeps the option open if things get worse, saying the Union should: “Continue engagement with Ukraine on a broad political spectrum and adjust the EU policy in light of developments.”

It does not give up even on Belarus.

Mixing sport with politics, it notes the EU should, via “informal contacts” with Minsk, look to “using” its Ice Hockey World Championship this year to encourage “positive steps on political prisoners.”

The second paper, written by Poland, goes into detail on EU funding.

Looking at the 2014 to 2020 EU budget, it also says funds for Georgia and Moldova should be “relatively higher.”

It notes the extra EU aid should go on agriculture and rural development.

But it says EU money in repressive states should target civil society, students, and minority groups.

Poland echoes Sweden’s concern the EU is not visible enough. It calls for “an effective communication strategy to explain widely what the EU is doing and why” and “concrete projects under the EU flag.”

On Ukraine, it says there is little prospect of good news before presidential elections in 2015.

But it notes: “there exists a great pro-European potential in Ukrainian society … mainly visible among the younger generation and non-governmental circles, amongst representatives of SMEs, some regional authorities.”

It adds: “Those groups should get concrete actions and support from the European Union.”

Neither of the ideas papers mentions an EU enlargement perspective.

The omission comes despite EU neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele’s recent remarks that only a promise of future accession can change the region.

The two papers aside, the EU foreign service has declined to put a debate on Ukraine sanctions on Monday’s official agenda.

But an EU diplomat told this website ministers are likely to discuss enlargement and sanctions informally.

The contact added that some ministers will ring the alarm on worst case scenarios.

“There is a fear of escalation in Ukraine. This raises questions on migration - people who might want to come and take shelter in the EU. As responsible neighbours, we have to prepare for such a possibility,” the source said.

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