2020.01.31 10:30

France slashes EU hopes for Eastern Partnership countries

RFE/RL, LRT.lt2020.01.31 10:30

France said Eastern Partnership programme excludes “all prospects" of EU membership. Meanwhile, the initiative uniting six states remains a priority of Lithuania's foreign policy and "an instrument" for EU membership perspectives of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

France has rejected suggestions that the Eastern Partnership could lead to European Union membership for countries included in the programme, and insists that half of its future funding goes to environmental investments, according to two documents seen by RFE/RL.

Paris submitted the two so-called discussion papers, dated October 2019 and January 2020, as part of a consultation process initiated by the European Commission ahead of the planned publication in March of a report on the future of the Eastern Partnership.

The countries included in the partnership are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

The partnership was created in 2009 with the aim of encouraging these countries to undertake reforms, in return for closer relations and economic benefits.

It has paved the way for Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, which have repeatedly stated that their aim is to join the European Union, to conclude association agreements and visa-liberalisation deals with Brussels.

Moscow has expressed strong misgivings about the program, arguing that closer economic ties between the EU and its main trading partners could harm Russian interests.

The French document from October states that “our spirit of responsibility must collectively guard us from fostering illusions or ambiguity among our partners about the purpose of the partnership".

It said the partnership is “based on economic and political cooperation,” but excludes “all prospects or all mechanisms of EU integration or membership.”

“The objective is to reinforce the resilience of our partners, especially in the fields of rule of law, the fight against corruption, and modernising the economy,” it added.

Paris has been a driving force behind the EU’s decision to halt the opening of membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania last year, sparking disappointment and concern in the Western Balkans.

French President Emmanuel Macron has insisted that enlargement needed to be preceded by reforming the EU at its current size. He also has called for dialogue with Russia, which is facing EU sanctions over its actions in Ukraine.

A diplomat from an eastern EU member state told RFE/RL under condition of anonymity that France “doesn’t want to do anything in the neighborhood that would potentially upset Moscow.”

“The impending Brexit also makes France the biggest foreign-policy player in the bloc, so they will have a big influence from now on,” the official added.

Both French papers also insisted on creating “a green agenda” for the Eastern Partnership to be approved at a summit of EU and Eastern Partnership leaders in Brussels in June.

The proposal comes as the European Commission in December launched a European Green Deal investment plan with the goal of creating a “climate-neutral EU by 2050.” And on January 20, EU foreign ministers adopted conclusions on climate diplomacy in which they stated that the bloc will place “increased emphasis on supporting the efforts of the EU's immediate neighbors” to achieve climate neutrality.

In its January paper, Paris noted that “our common determination to fight climate change leads us to suggest the EU Green Deal be extended to the Eastern Partnership, striving for climate-neutrality by 2050.”

It also suggested “that 50 percent of the European financial assistance to Eastern Partners [...] contribute to climate and environment objectives” with projects focusing on the fight against pollution, waste management, sustainable development, and renewable energy sources.

“There will be a negotiation about the figure the EU will spend on ‘green,’ but it will probably not go that high,” a diplomat from a member state who didn’t want to be identified told RFE/RL.

So far up to one-quarter of the Eastern Partnership budget has been spent on climate and energy.

Eastern Partnership programme a priority for Lithuania

“Lithuania backs EU membership perspectives for all European countries that foster EU values, choose a clear European direction, and successfully accomplish reforms," the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry told LRT English in a written comment.

"Eastern Partnership remains one of the priorities Lithuania’s foreign policy," the ministry said.

“[The] programme is not aimed at expansion and is not directly linked with the accession process. Additionally, only three out of six participating states have ambitions to join the EU.”

“Therefore, we hold the Eastern partnership policy as an instrument establishing pre-conditions for EU membership perspectives for the associated partners (Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova) once [they] meet the EU membership criteria”.

“Eastern Partnership politicies are now being reviewed and we aim for long-term perspective to emergem” the ministry said.

The story originally appeared on RFE/RL, and was updated by LRT English with a comment from the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry.

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