Poland and Sweden to pitch 'Eastern Partnership' idea
Poland and Sweden are to unveil joint proposals for a new eastern Europe policy at an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Monday (26 May), in a mini-version of France's "Mediterranean Union."
The "Eastern Partnership" envisages a multinational forum between the EU-27 and neighbouring states Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Polish press agency PAP reports.
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The forum would aim to negotiate visa-free travel deals, free trade zones for services and agricultural products and strategic partnership agreements with the five countries.
It would also launch smaller, bilateral projects on student exchange, environmental protection and energy supply, but would avoid the controversial topic of EU membership perspectives.
Dictatorship Belarus could join at a technical and expert-level only. Russia would also be invited to cooperate on local initiatives, involving the Kaliningrad enclave for example.
Unlike the grander Mediterranean club, the eastern set-up would not have its own secretariat but would be run by the European Commission and financed from the 2007 to 2013 European neighbourhood policy budget. A commission official would be appointed as its "special coordinator."
Following the foreign ministers' debate, Warsaw hopes to secure formal approval at the EU summit in June and to start detailed work on the "partnership" by the end of the year.
"Poland prepared the proposal with Swedish cooperation. The project was presented to the European Commission in recent days and met with a positive reaction," Polish foreign ministry spokesman Piotr Paszkowski said.
The upcoming French EU presidency - keen to secure Polish support for its Mediterranean baby - is warming to the idea, with French leader Nicolas Sarkozy to hold talks with Polish prime minister Donald Tusk in Warsaw next week, PAP writes.
Germany, the UK and the Netherlands have also voiced initial support, but Spain and Italy could prove problematic while Ukraine will have to be persuaded the partnership offers something better than the current EU neighbourhood package, Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza reports.
"The EU's eastern policy is of interest to the whole EU," Polish commissioner Danuta Hubner told the Rzeczpospolita newspaper. "The weakness of [previous] northern, eastern or southern European Union policies was that they existed only in the sphere of interest of member countries in those regions."