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EPP launched

By Messenger Staff
Monday, May 11
On May 7 at the EU summit in Prague a joint declaration on the Eastern Partnership Programme between the EU and six post-Soviet countries, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Armenia, was signed. The document gives these countries a great opportunity to facilitate their further integration with the EU.

The Georgian population has been given different information about this by different sources. The authorities have made very optimistic and cheerful statements about the new EPP, Russia has made cynical remarks and EU representatives have made balanced diplomatic evaluations. The Eastern Partnership Programme has been elaborated by the EU as one of the ways to establish relations with selected post-Soviet countries. By 2013 these countries will have been given EUR 600 million under this programme to stabilize their economies and facilitate the development of Western democratic values.

The EU Commissioner responsible for External Relations and the European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, has stated that this programme gives the participant countries a unique chance to further integrate with the EU based on three major components: democracy, good governance and stability. Czech PM Mirek Topolanek highlighted the importance the EU attaches to having partner countries in which democracy, rule of law and human rights protection thrive, as these principles are considered inviolable in modern Western European countries.

Interestingly the EPP unites countries with differing basic standpoints, standards, foreign policy priorities and so on. Georgia and Ukraine have actively declared that they wish to integrate with NATO and EU, and see the EPP as a temporary substitute for this. Belarus and Armenia are close allies of Russia and reach out to the EU and Russia simultaneously. Moldova claims to become an associate member of the EU but is having serious internal problems, suppressing the opposition and expelling the Romanian Ambassador. Azerbaijan has put its commercial interests first –it wants to sell its natural gas to Europe.

However these countries have one thing in common. They are all squeezed between the EU and Russia. Moscow considers all these countries as part of its sphere of strategic influence and interest. That’s why the Kremlin is always irritated by any kind of relations being established between ‘its’ neighbours and the EU.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has stated that the EPP has been devised in order to establish European influence over the six countries. This is the Russian view. Russia cannot imagine that one country can establish friendly relations with another on an equal basis with a genuine desire to support someone, even in theory. For Russia foreign relations, and domestic politics for that matter, are all about influence and interest. Javier Solana, the senior EU diplomat, has said that the Russian position is not constructive and that this project is not targeted against Russia or anyone else.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili considers the EPP to be a regional alliance, meaning that the trade and visa regime will become easier, bringing extra jobs to Georgia and facilitating business. Saakashvili says this is the EU’s response to the August war. EPP represents the first time Georgia has sat at the table with the other countries involved on an equal basis, stated Saakashvili.

There are certain details of this programme however which must be considered carefully. In the most recent previous draft of the project document the EPP partners were referred to as European countries, meaning that their visa regimes with the EU should have become simpler. In the final document however they are referred to as partner countries. The simplification of the visa regime is treated as a long term objective, not an instant necessity. This amendment was introduced by the demand of Germany and The Netherlands. Georgia and Azerbaijan could not convince the summit to include a clause saying that all states involved should respect each others’ territorial integrity, the signed document merely referring to ‘respect for international law,’ a much more ambiguous concept than clearly defined boundaries drawn on a mutually recognised map.

The Russian media gleefully jumped on the fact that the EU does not consider EPP countries European countries and does not explicity recognise their territorial integrity. Of course we should realise that the EPP provides opportunities for cooperation rather than solutions for all the problems Georgia faces, and therefore we cannot expect everything in it to automatically suit us. But while we should not overestimate it neither should we ignore it. The EPP does have very serious potential.