Thursday

21st Mar 2019

EU keeps former Soviet countries at arm's length

  • The Blackheads' House in Riga, where leaders opened the Eastern Partnership summit (Photo: Consillium)

"European aspirations", with no membership in sight

That was the big pre-summit suspense: Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova wanted the final declaration to include a promise of EU membership talks in the future.

But the EU will take no new members in the years to come, especially not from Russia’s neighbourhood.

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"The Eastern Partnership is not for enlargement, it is for rapprochement," said German chancellor Angela Merkel.

In the end the three countries made do with it.

The declaration uses the same wording as at the Vilnius summit 18 months ago, "acknowledg[ing] the European aspirations and European choice of the partners concerned".

It also sticks to the so-called "more-for-more" approach introduced in 2013, which rewards countries who make the most progress on reforms

These two positive signs were agreed at the 11th hour as some EU states feared adding to tensions with Moscow.

European Council president Donald Tusk said "there was a tough discussion on the language", adding the Eastern Partnership is “a long process, especially at this difficult time”.

Visa-free regime soon

Moldova was granted a visa-free regime last year. Ukraine and Georgia want the same as soon as possible but failed to get the 1 January 2016 date they asked for.

Instead, the declaration "warmly welcome[s]" their progress in implementing the measures required by the EU and leaves the door open for a decision in the coming year.

The European Commission will publish a report in December, and "if the commission gives a positive opinion, Georgia and Ukraine might enjoy a free visa regime," said Latvia’s PM Laimdota Straujuma.

The commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said he is "very optimistic" on the issue, with a to-do list including secure IDs, better border control, and tackling corruption and organised crime.

Russia on all lips, nowhere in declaration

The Riga summit was the first EaP meeting since the start of the war in Ukraine.

"Russia was mentioned a lot" at the opening dinner, an EU official told EUobserver, with some leaders warning against Moscow’s real intentions in the region while others wanted to avoid confrontation.

"This partnership should not be a new source of conflict with Russia," said French president Francois Hollande.

This ambivalence is reflected in the final document, where the name of Russia is nowhere to be seen.

EaP leaders said they "reaffirm the sovereign right of each partner freely to choose the level of ambition and the goals to which it aspires in its relations with the European Union".

But Ukraine’s demand that "Russian aggression" be condemned did not make it into the document.

Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko said he is still "satisfied" by a summit which "demonstrated the unity of the EU and very strong solidarity with Ukraine".

Cameron starts tour for EU reform

British PM David Cameron, meanwhile, used the Riga meeting as a platform to talk about his plans for EU reform.

He listed his major issues as being: "the concept of ever-closer union", the relationship between the single market and an ever-more integrated eurozone, "the scale of migration from EU countries" and its consequences on welfare.

Next week he will start a series of meetings with EU partners, including Juncker on Monday, as well as the French and German leaders later in the week.

Even though he said he would prefer "a UK in a reformed EU", Cameron warned he could choose to campaign for Britain’s exit from the EU ahead of a membership referendum to be held by the end of 2017.

"If I don’t get what I think we need, I will rule nothing out," he said.

Greece

Like at all recent EU summits, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras met with Merkel and Hollande for informal, but politically crucial talks.


The meeting was described as "friendly and cooperative" by all sides but did not clear the way for a deal on releasing bailout money for cash-strapped Greece.

The next key date is 5 June when Greece is due to pay a €300 million installment to the International Monetary Fund – some fear Greece may default on the payment.

"We told him he must go further and faster," a French official told EUobserver.

Arriving at the summit Thursday, Hollande said the talks with Tsipras would prepare "a Eurogroup end of May or early June".

The next officially planned Eurogroup meeting is on 18 June.

EU reaches out to former Soviet states

EU countries have acknowledged Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova's EU aspirations but stopped short of giving a clear enlargement perspective.

No outcome from Greece talks in Riga

A two-hour meeting between the leaders of Germany, France, and Greece in Riga produced no tangible outcome on the Greek debt crisis.

Eastern Partnership: In search of meaning

Twenty-five EU leaders and six former Soviet states are meeting in the shadow of the Ukraine crisis and amid divergent views on future relations.

Analysis

Ex-Soviet states need more EU clarity

Sooner or later, the EU must give a clear answer on enlargement to Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, the EU foreign service's former top official, Pierre Vimont, says.

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