The Eastern Partnership Summit: A Cheat Sheet
For those playing along at home, a rundown of who will be there and what’s at stake. by Alexander Silady, Martha Tesema, and Barbara Frye 22 November 2013
Officials from six countries of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus will meet with representatives of the EU on 28-29 November in Vilnius. It will be an anti-climactic summit, with two of the four countries that were to strike deals with the EU having already backed out. With Ukraine’s decision yesterday to suspend its work on a free-trade agreement and Armenia’s earlier decision to join the Russia-led Customs Union instead, that leaves Georgia and Moldova teeing up to initial agreements that commit their governments to political, judicial, and economic reforms, and anti-corruption efforts, while conferring important trade privileges on their countries or allowing their citizens easier travel to the EU.
- There is no deal on the table this year for Armenia. It was to initial an agreement with the EU that included a free-trade pact but in September abruptly chose to join the Russia-led Customs Union instead. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan made the announcement after meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, who had opposed Armenia’s deal with the EU. Russia has enormous sway over Armenia as an energy supplier and potential counterpoint to the increasingly powerful and militarized Azerbaijan, Armenia’s bitter enemy in the struggle for Nagorno-Karabakh. Brussels has since made vague comments about continuing “cooperation with Armenia in all areas compatible with this choice” and, similarly, Sargsyan said the move “doesn’t preclude our dialogue with the European structures,” though it does preclude membership in the EU’s free-trade area. The EU as a whole is Armenia’s largest trading partner.
- Both sides recently approved an agreement to make it easier for Armenians to get visas to enter the EU.
- In a 2012 Caucasus Barometer poll, 54 percent of Armenians surveyed favored EU membership, compared with 11 percent who were opposed and 22 percent who were indifferent to the idea.
- Azerbaijan is not considering EU membership. Formal relations between Azerbaijan and the EU have been governed by a cooperation agreement since 1999 that aims to foster the development of democracy and a free market economy in Azerbaijan.
- This year officials in Azerbaijan say they are confident of signing an agreement to simplify visa procedures for their citizens who want to travel to the EU. The changes would not go into effect, however, until after the signing of an accompanying agreement, on readmission of Azerbaijanis sent home from the EU, which could happen next year.
- Baku had angled for the signing of a “modernization agreement” on political reforms, security, energy, transportation, and other issues, to be decoupled from ongoing negotiations over a broader association agreement. Those hopes were dashed by Brussels in August, which insists on linking the two. There is no signing date on the horizon for the association agreement.
- In August, Azerbaijan became eligible for project financing through the EU’s European Investment Bank.
- In October strongman President Ilham Aliev was re-elected in a ballot harshly criticized by the largest and most comprehensive foreign monitoring mission. The EU’s top foreign policy officials pulled their punches, encouraging the government to continue “to develop the path towards democracy and the rule of law in Azerbaijan.”
- Belarus is not considering EU membership and has no agreements on the table this year.
- The EU’s recent approach to Belarus has emphasized programs that help the country’s citizens and civil society groups while placing an asset and visa freeze on officials. That blacklist was drawn up in 2011 after a brutal crackdown on opposition figures and protesters following disputed presidential elections in December 2010. It was renewed in October because the country continues to hold political prisoners “and the respect for human rights, the rule of law, and democratic principles has not improved in Belarus,” according to an EU statement.
- The country was not represented at the previous Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw in 2011. The foreign minister has said he expects that “the level of participation of Belarus should not be very high” this year.
- The EU has offered to start visa simplification talks with the Belarusian government but has not received a formal reply.
- Georgia plans to initial an agreement with the EU that aims to bring Georgian laws into line with those of the EU and make reforms in some areas, and includes free-trade provisions. The country’s Foreign Ministry says the document “will include a strong mechanism for the phased integration of Georgia within the European Union,” although it’s not clear that officials in Brussels are prepared to go that far. The initialing process confirms that both sides agree on the text and goals of the agreement. Before its expected signing next year, both sides will prepare to implement it. It still must be ratified by all EU members after being signed.
- Since 2011 Georgians have enjoyed simplified visa procedures for visiting the EU. Tbilisi and Brussels are in negotiations over dropping visa requirements altogether, but no movement is likely on that at this summit.
- The departure of fervently pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili this year, following a change in government last year, raised questions about whether Georgia would continue to nurture closer links with the EU. Bidzina Ivanishvili, who just resigned as prime minister and who has been the most powerful person in Georgian politics for the past year, made his fortune in Russia and once held Russian citizenship. He talked of mending relations with Moscow, in tatters after the war between the two countries in 2008, and both governments have made moves to ease trade disputes and travel (including a move by Saakashvili in early 2012 to drop visa requirements for Russians). Still, Ivanishvili’s first official visit after taking office last year was to Brussels, and in March the Georgian parliament adopted a resolution confirming the country’s commitment to a pro-Western path.
- Moldova, which aspires to EU membership, plans to initial an association and free-trade agreement much like the one on the table for Georgia at the Vilnius summit. Like Ukraine and Armenia, it is being pressured by Moscow to give up on EU integration. In September, Russia banned imports of wine from Moldova, threatening a $135 million trade. Brussels responded by seeking to lift a quota on imports of Moldovan wine into the EU. Russia’s state-owned energy giant, Gazprom, has further complicated life for Moldova by insisting that the Moldovan government would be on the hook for a more-than-$3 billion gas bill owed by Transdniester, a breakaway territory of Moldova, if the two regions were reunified. Russia is a patron of Transdniester’s de facto government and keeps troops in the region. The EU would likely prefer to see the Transdniester issue settled before importing another “frozen conflict,” as it did with Cyprus.
- Since January 2008, Moldovans have enjoyed a simplified visa-application process to visit the EU, and both sides plan to sign an agreement dropping the visa requirement altogether at this year’s summit.
- The EU has been pushing Moldova to improve its human rights climate. The country outlawed discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS in 2007 and passed a broader anti-discrimination law in 2012, but enforcement has been spotty. Last month parliament annulled a Russian-style law banning “gay propaganda” that had been passed in June.
- A broad-free trade and political association agreement with the EU was up for signature this year until the government suspended work on it yesterday.
- The deal was opposed by Moscow, which wants Ukraine to join its Customs Union. To exert pressure, Russia imposed trade barriers on Ukraine, including banning imports of a Ukrainian brand of chocolate and conducting onerous checks on freight vehicles crossing over the countries’ common border into Russia. It also pressed Ukraine to pay overdue bills to Gazprom while suggesting Kyiv could receive discounts on its steep gas price by joining the Customs Union. Moscow also offered to bring Ukraine into joint projects in space, nuclear energy, and aviation.
- The EU made the deal contingent upon release of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, imprisoned in 2011 on an abuse of office conviction. President Viktor Yanukovych likely wants to keep Tymoshenko locked up, or at least see her remain saddled with a criminal conviction, in order to keep her out of the presidential race in 2015, when he is up for re-election. In the 2010 contest, Tymoshenko took 45.47 percent of the vote to Yanukovych's 48.95 percent. Yanukovych pleaded that he could not interfere in the legal process by ordering her release. He proposed a bill, which failed in parliament, that would have allowed prisoners to travel abroad to receive medical treatment. If adopted, Tymoshenko would have been allowed to receive medical treatment for back problems in Germany. Crucially, she would have remained ineligible to run for president again.
- Since January 2008, Ukrainians have enjoyed a simplified visa-application process to visit the EU, but Kyiv is still trying to meet the benchmarks for the EU to drop its visa requirement altogether.
Source: Razumkov Center. Infographic by Karlo Marinovic