What can the EU offer its eastern neighbours?
The EU and the six countries participating in the Eastern Partnership have announced that they will pursue deeper cooperation at their summit in Brussels. At the same time the EU called for more democratic progress in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Commentators discuss the reasons for the lack of real cooperation.
A naive partnership
After the end of the Eastern Partnership summit Diena sums up its agenda:
“The members of the Eastern Partnership were offered a clear political choice between Russia and the EU. And in the corridors of the EU institutions people are well aware that a decision in Brussels' favour will lead to economic problems in the countries that choose this option. The theory that such a decision won't have any impact on the economic ties with Moscow was naive from the outset. And another problem is that it turns out that a change of course on this matter doesn't necessarily go hand in hand with a change in the way of thinking of the political elites. This makes it difficult to give certain partner countries a cash injection, and is also an unpleasant issue for Europe's voters.”
Progress blocked by EU's fear of commitment
Political scientist Vytautas Keršanskas explains in LRT why little progress is being made on the integration of the Eastern Partnership countries into the EU:
“The EU member states and their societies are divided on the question of EU integration. The advantages of the association agreement won't be apparent until later on, but initially the costs will be high. The EU is also not sure about how important the Eastern Partnership is for it. The programme's primary goal is to create a ring of secure and prosperous states around the EU. But the values are being pushed aside: for example [Belarusian President] Lukashenko, the leader of a country which still has political prisoners, was also invited to the summit.”
EU must remain a beacon of hope
The EU must offer its Eastern European neighbours positive prospects to prevent them from abandoning their reform efforts, the group "Friends of Ukraine", founded by former Nato General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen, writes in an appeal also published in Le Monde:
“The EU leaders know very well that reforms are painful and that the people must see the benefits they will derive from them before they accept them. If the societies in these regions stop putting their hopes in a better future within the EU, we shouldn't be surprised if they elect representatives who move in the opposite direction. The best way of ensuring that our eastern neighbours continue on the reform path is for the EU to offer them positive perspectives. The time has come for the EU to put its inertia behind it and show that it is still a driving force of hope among its neighbours.”
Scrap roaming fees and open up markets
The Lithuanian diplomat and former EU ambassador to Russia Vygaudas Ušackas explains in Delfi how the EU could send positive signals to its Eastern partners:
“We understand that for various reasons it's too early to offer these countries the prospect of membership. But there are other ways in which we can convey a sense of territorial affiliation to our Eastern partners in order to motivate them and stimulate reform policies. For example by abolishing roaming fees in these countries. In this way they could gradually be integrated into the digital EU market and into the energy and customs union. It's time to replace the lethargy with ambitions and thus restore faith and trust in the EU.”