When planning the future of the Eastern Partnership, the EU needs to take into account the new reality that exists in the countries which are covered by the initiative. First of all, these countries need to be divided into three groups. The first group should include Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova i.e. the countries that have signed Association Agreements with the EU, including the Agreement on Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas. The second group includes Belarus and Azerbaijan. Finally there is Armenia, which did not sign an Association Agreement but has an active civil society, a certain degree of freedom, and is successfully working with the EU on areas such as visa facilitation. Of course the EU should continue its cooperation with all of the Eastern Partnership countries. However, it should change the emphasis and the scale of cooperation with each of these groups.
In the implementation of the Association Agreement with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, the EU should start carrying out specific projects aimed at showing the citizens of these countries that cooperation with the EU provides specific, positive and tangible results. The people in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova should clearly see that the risks taken by their governments when signing the Agreements were justified. After all, Ukraine was deprived of part of its territory, at least for some time. The implementation of the agreements on establishing a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area should by no means be delayed due to external pressure. At the Riga Summit it would be advisable to declare the readiness of the EU for the transition to a visa-free regime with Georgia and Ukraine, without fixing specific dates, despite the fact that those countries are not yet ready for it. As mentioned, the main point here is to show the citizens of those countries the prospect of a closer relationship with the EU and solidify a positive approach to EU integration. In turn, this will strengthen the pro-European attitudes of the political elites in those countries.
In the case of Armenia, the prospect of transitioning the visa facilitation process to the next level i.e. to the Visa Dialogue should be declared at the Summit. Armenia is successfully implementing the Agreement on the Schengen Visa facilitation and readmission, which came into force on 1 January 2014. The Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation (ACGRC) has prepared proposals on how to move towards the Visa Dialogue for the Armenian Government. This requires continued cooperation with the EU on a range of issues, from the fight against corruption, to the protection of personal data to adopting anti-discrimination legislation.
At the Riga Summit, it should be possible for the EU and Armenia to make a joint statement on their readiness to start negotiations on the formation of a new agenda, despite the fact that Armenia joined the Eurasian Economic Union. Beyond the process leading to a visa-free regime, there are no obstacles preventing work on issues including reforms of the judicial system and local government, cooperation in education, as well as human rights, as part of the agenda of cooperation between the EU and Armenia.
The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.