European Union has unveiled an Eastern Partnership initiative offering deeper ties to six eastern European states, including Georgia, but not an eventual membership.
European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso and Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said at a news conference in Brussels on December 3, that the bloc planned to allocate total of EUR 600 million for the period of 2010 and 2013 for this “ambitious initiative.” EUR 350 million will be a fresh funding, while the rest will come as a result of redeployment of funds from already existing EU’s aid projects in the region.
The Eastern Partnership, which targets Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, aims at upgrading EU’s political engagement with these countries in number of areas, including the prospect for association agreements, integration into the EU economy and easier travel to the EU.
European Commission President Barroso said that the August war in Georgia prompted European Union to act in this direction. He, however, repeated for several times during the press conference that the initiative “does not aim at building spheres of influence, drawing any kind of new division line in Europe.”
Barroso said that the initiative was a demonstration of the European Union’s “soft power.”
“Stability and prosperity in the 21st century will be brought about by economics, not by missiles; by dialogue, not by demonstration of force; by partnerships and multilateralism and not by unilateralism,” he said.
He said that Eastern Partnership was a way towards “association agreements” with those partners which seek “much closer relationship with the European Union; the prospective of deep and comprehensive free trade area; the prospective of mobility and security pact to improve mobility of citizens in a more secure space and also progress in energy security.”
Benita Ferrero-Waldner said that the initiative, which she said was EU’s important political investment, would be “flexible and tailored to each partner’s needs and capacity.”
“In each case the European Union will seek to offer the maximum possible, given of course political realities and the state of reform process in the partner country concerned,” she said.
The Easter Partnership, she said, would go ahead both in bilateral and multilateral directions.
In frames of bilateral direction, the initiative envisages the Comprehensive Institutions Building Program, through which EU will identify “weak spots” in each of the partner state and then tackle those weaknesses “through training, technical assistance and equipment where necessary” to achieve much needed reform targets.
Also in the bilateral track, the Eastern Partnership will offer so called association agreements to those partner states, “who meet the essential conditions of the Neighborhood Policy,” Ferrero-Waldner said. That would also include deep and comprehensive free trade agreement for those willing and ready to take on commitments with the EU that this agreement entails.
EU will also encourage in frames of the initiative to develop a free trade network between the partners states which could in the longer term join up into a so called Neighbourhood Economic Community.
The multilateral approach involves helping partner countries to get closer to EU standards. “They [all six partner states] have different objectives and state of development, but the EU standards they are trying to approach are indeed the same for all of them,” she said.
In this regard, she continued, EU was offering five major initiatives, so called “flagship initiatives” that involves border management programs; programs for small and medium-size enterprises; integration of electricity markets, energy efficiency and renewable energy; developing plans for a Southern Energy Corridor and response to disasters.
The European Commission said in a statement that European Neighborhood Policy has been an important platform and the backbone of EU-Georgia relations; “however, the conflict in Georgia in August 2008 has shown the need for deeper and more intensive EU involvement in the South Caucasus region, with a need of stronger regional cooperation.”
In November, EU decided to start visa facilitation talks with Georgia; talks will also involve matters related with readmission agreement with Georgia. It is an EU’s practice to oblige countries to sign a re-admission agreement in exchange for granting them visa facilitation.
The European Commission also said that Ukraine, which has already been offered association agreement, is “a front-runner among our Eastern partners and already has close bilateral relations with the EU.”