2020.04.23 10:42

EU members cool on Eastern Partnership aspirations, concerned about visa liberalisation

Rikard Jozwiak, RFE/RL 2020.04.23 10:42

EU states have yet to reach a full agreement on the membership aspirations of their eastern neighbors and are concerned about the consequences of the already implemented visa liberalisation, according to a leaked document seen by RFE/RL.

The seven-page document is being debated by diplomats from the 27 EU states representing the European Council.

It represents the response to the European Commission’s communique on the Eastern Partnership that was presented last month, and is expected to be approved in the coming days.

Read more: EU signs visa agreement with Belarus, ending decade-long deadlock

The Eastern Partnership programme was launched in 2009 and is meant to bring Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine closer to the bloc without a clear offer of future membership.

Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine have since inked association agreements with the EU, including free-trade deals, but some member states have been reluctant to openly discuss the issue of these countries' eventual EU membership.

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

The document being discussed still lists several conclusions in brackets -- meaning that unanimity has not yet been reached on the language.

Read more: France slashes EU hopes for Eastern Partnership countries

Officials told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that France, backed by some southern EU member states, has insisted on putting in brackets the phrase that states that "the Council acknowledges the European aspirations and European choice of the Eastern Partners concerned, as stated in the association agreements".

However, the officials said they expect that France will eventually back down since the phrase has for several years been the EU standard for acknowledging that Eastern Partnership countries such as Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine can join the bloc in the future.

'Unfounded asylum applications'

In a paragraph describing the need to enhance the capacity of the eastern partners to counter hybrid threats and malicious cyberactivities, some countries have also pushed to add "while recalling the non-confrontational approach of the Eastern Partnership," which currently is in brackets.

However, the Council members appear to be in full agreement when it comes to the possibility of suspending visa liberalisation.

While no suspension is thought to be imminent, the document says member countries "note that the high number of unfounded asylum applications by some Eastern partner countries nationals in the EU member states raises concern.”

Both Germany and Sweden have, in the past, complained that Georgian criminal gangs have used visa liberalisation to carry out burglaries in their countries.

The document is being discussed while the European Parliament is debating a draft report on the future of the Eastern Partnership.

The nonbinding draft states more ambitious goals than the Council text.

It suggests a common economic space between the EU and the Eastern Partnership as well as gradual integration of the six countries into the EU's energy union, transport community, and digital single market.