Monday

27th Mar 2017

EU summit text loaded with eastern tension

  • Prague - home of the peaceful anti-Soviet "Velvet Revolution" in 1989 (Photo: pavelm)

Last minute tweaks to the Eastern Partnership summit declaration reveal EU unease over enlargement and immigration, as well as the complexities of old conflicts on the union's eastern frontier.

An earlier Czech EU presidency text of 29 April referred to the 27 EU states plus Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia as "European countries." It also spoke of "visa-liberalisation."

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.

The latest document, rubber-stamped by EU diplomats in Brussels on Wednesday (6 May), renamed the six as "Eastern European Partners" and "partner countries." It added that the visa move is a "long-term goal."

Germany and the Netherlands forced the changes, concerned that "European countries" sounds too pro-enlargement. The new language on visas is a far cry from pre-April Czech proposals, which spoke of "visa-free" travel.

The tweaks might look unimportant but have serious implications. Polish and Ukrainian officials fear the new country nomenclature dampens Ukraine's dreams of getting an "EU perspective" in the next two years.

The visa wording may see just a privileged few, such as diplomats or businessmen, one day freely enter the EU, while ordinary people struggle to, say, meet a friend in Madrid or try to build a better life in London.

Meanwhile, Georgia and Azerbaijan failed to push in a clause that the 33 countries should respect each other's "territorial integrity."

The latest wording speaks of obeying the "principles and norms of international law" - a loose phrase that could see Belarus recognise Georgia rebels in South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, entrenching Russia's military occupation of Georgia.

It could also see Armenia maintain military support for the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan, limiting EU options for building new gas pipelines in the South Caucasus.

Velvet evolution

But despite the upsets - French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday night had not confirmed if he will go to Prague on Thursday - the event will mark a victory for ex-Communist EU states keen to extend EU freedoms closer to Russia.

The Eastern Partnership idea was born during informal talks between like-minded governments in Tallinn in mid-2007. The pace of progress, through European Commission blueprints to EU summit agreements in 2008, has been rapid by EU standards.

If all goes well, the six states' political elites will in coming years forge new relationships with EU colleagues via abundant meetings. Free trade deals will ease the flow of money. And Europe's post-Cold War dividing lines will gently erode.

"The summit is just the start of the initiative," a Czech diplomat said. "Moscow is quite negative about the Eastern Partnership. But frankly, that's a Russian problem. They see the world through a zero-sum lens. We do not."

Costing hearts and minds

The Russian "problem" may not be easy to brush off, however. Russia-linked emergencies - like the war in Georgia or the gas crunch in Ukraine - are already transforming the region faster than any EU policy.

The EU visa wall, its scant help in the cruel recession and a lack of visible projects, such as EU-funded highways, are costing hearts and minds. Forty two percent of Ukrainians want to integrate with Russia, compared to 34 percent with the EU, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think-tank reports.

"The Eastern Partnership is a step forward. But it is still a typical EU solution - a long-term, technocratic instrument for a region full of short-term crises," the ECFR's Andrew Wilson said.

Tens of thousands challenge Putin's authority

EU and US call on Russia to free those who are detained, after tens of thousands protested against corruption in the biggest challenge to Kremlin authority in five years.

Stolen Russian billions ended up in EU states

Illicit money flowing out of Russia ended up in almost every single EU state, an investigation has found, posing questions on the integrity of Europe’s banking systems.

Turkey-EU relations plumb new depths

Turkey’s EU quarrel escalated on all fronts over the weekend, amid fresh “Nazi” and “terrorism” jibes. “Not all Turks are little Erdogans,” Juncker said.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  2. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  3. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  4. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  5. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  6. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  7. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  8. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  10. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans
  11. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  12. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People