Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Opinion

Eastern Partnership must not be deterred by Russian aggression

  • Moldova has its sights set on closer integration with the EU bloc - even if membership is a long way off (Photo: euukrainecoop)

On 24 November, leaders of the European Union and the six 'Eastern Partnership' (EaP) countries – Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Armenia – will gather for their fifth summit, and the first in Brussels.

Much has changed since the inaugural 2009 EaP summit in Prague.

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My own country, Moldova, as well as Ukraine and Georgia, has fully embarked on the path of building a closer relationship with the EU.

We are fully aware that the only way to progress towards this goal is to implement reforms, strengthen democracy and rule of law, and build a sustainable market economy.

It requires political will, courage, and strong foreign support. As our actions in the last two years have demonstrated, we are ready to put in the effort. A consolidated Eastern Partnership, with more efficient and appropriate tools, will only make our task easier.

Despite external and internal challenges, we have made real progress.

Both the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements between Moldova and the EU has entered into force, committing my country to reforms that are already increasing living standards and bringing greater freedom and prosperity to our citizens.

Time and again, we have proven our commitment to a pro-European course and our readiness for deeper dialogue and cooperation. That is why we must seize the unmissable opportunity provided by the EaP summit to consolidate our relationship with the EU and cement a new vision for the future.

Moldova has consistently demonstrated that it takes EU integration very seriously.

While our country's record has not always been perfect and there is room for improvement, the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) political party that I chair in the governing coalition will do its utmost to implement reforms and ensure Moldova firmly stays on a European track.

Indeed, we are calling for a change to the constitution that would enshrine European integration as a national priority and Moldova's foremost foreign policy objective, insulating this ambition from politicisation.

Our 'Basic Law' will thus reflect the will of Moldovans for whom EU integration is a passport to our country's development and a better quality of life.

The EU's Eastern Partnership is based on a conditionality system that, while fair and practical, needs a boost if it is to remain attractive and efficient for the more ambitious partners.

Eastern Partnership Plus

I welcome calls by MEPs at their Strasbourg plenary this month for the creation of an 'Eastern Partnership Plus' format.

This concept provides that partners that register substantial progress in reforms, could be offered possibilities for deeper EU integration.

Provided this initiative wins the support of EU member states and institutions, it may become a key driver for change in the region, encouraging further reforms and bring us closer to the union. I welcome the opportunity to work together with the European leaders and institutions and to transform this comprehensive agenda into reality.

The EU has already taken a step towards a deeper partnership at the Riga EaP Summit in 2015, where European leaders set out four priority areas for engagement and reform: economic development, good governance, connectivity, and people-to-people contacts.

By supporting tailored reform programmes around these four pillars and offering the leading EaP countries a differentiated platform to continue on their European path, the EU will send a clear signal that leadership and ambition will be recognised and encouraged.

In a time of major European and regional transformations, a strong message for our citizens will only confirm that, irrespective of the challenges, it is worth pursuing the path we have formally embraced in 2013.

Focus should also be put on projects providing concrete benefits for citizens and businesses such as reducing roaming tariffs, digitalising public services and the economy, improving transport links on the basis of TEN-T networks, supporting small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SME), as well as creating new opportunities and more academic mobility for youth.

The past three years have also seen a considerable reconfiguration of the security landscape in the EaP region.

Crimea

The illegal annexation of Crimea broke international law and brought political and security unpredictability to a new level.

New hybrid threats, including sophisticated fake news disinformation campaigns and cyber-attacks, could undermine our institutions and political systems at a critical moment.

As a response, I hope that we will therefore also see the emergence of a fifth priority for the Eastern Partnership – stronger security, focused on stability and resilience.

Interested EaP countries and the EU must continue to work together to identify common priorities and promote a safer and more stable neighbourhood, showing that we will not be deterred by Russia's aggressive behaviour.

On issues such as cybersecurity, countering propaganda and capacity building, by working together, we can contribute more to our mutual security and reinforce our ties. As a sovereign country, we are determined not to become victim of a 'spheres-of-influence' policy, but rather to be an active player in an international order based on the rule of law and universal values.

By strengthening our current EaP framework for cooperation, so that it is adapted to the realities we face in an uncertain world, we will be better able to respond to current threats and challenges and improve the lives of our citizens.

We in Moldova are committed and ready to take the lead in pursuit of our European future.

Vladimir Plahotniuc is chairman of the Democratic Party of Moldova

Eastern partners, eastern problems

The EU must hold out the olive branch of possible membership in the distant future - but the current domestic problems in the ex-Soviet states, let alone their links to Russia make more than that difficult.

Agenda

EU agencies and eastern neighbours This WEEK

EU ministers will vote on where to relocate two EU agencies from the UK, while later EU leaders will host six eastern European countries in Brussels. Former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic awaits his verdict in the Hague.

EU's eastern partnership needs revival

A week before a summit with EU eastern neighbours, Sweden and Poland's foreign ministers propose "a way ahead" for the relationship that is more focused on people's needs.

Moldova turns from EU to Russia

Moldova's president said he would like to scrap an EU treaty and has started preparations to join a Russia-led bloc.

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