On May 11, the Council of the European Union (the Council) approved conclusions on the Eastern Partnership policy beyond 2020, reaffirming its strategic importance and reiterated its “incentive- and conditionality-based approach as a means to encourage Eastern partner countries to continue engaging in reforms and increasing efforts in this regard.”
The Council confirmed that the current policy framework, including the set of “20 deliverables for 2020” is valid and brings tangible results and benefits for people.
The conclusions called firmly for a renewed commitment to the fundamentals of the Eastern Partnership, including democracy, human rights, rule of law, good governance, and successful anti-corruption policies, as well as economic reforms, environmental, climate and energy challenges, digital transformation and investing in people.
“The Eastern Partnership continues to engage in more tailored bilateral relations,” noted the Council in conclusions, adding that “the scope and depth of cooperation is determined by the EU’s and Eastern partners’ common priorities and needs, as well as the pace, progress and quality of reforms implemented.”
The Council highlighted that it reiterates “its incentive- and conditionality-based approach, as a principle of the European Neighbourhood Policy as established in the EU Council Conclusions of December 2015, as a means to encourage Eastern partner countries to engage in reform and to continue to increase efforts in this regard, in order to benefit accordingly from the support of the EU.”
Welcoming the progress achieved, the Council called “for the full implementation of the Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas with Georgia.” In this context, the Council recalled the 2017 Eastern Partnership Summit declaration which “acknowledges the European aspirations and European choice of the Eastern partners [Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine] concerned, as stated in the Association Agreements.”
“The agreements provide for accelerating political association and economic integration with the European Union,” the Council stressed.
The Council stressed “the importance that the Eastern Partnership remains ambitious, flexible and inclusive framework for cooperation, allowing Member States and Eastern partner countries to tackle common and global challenges jointly in a wide range of areas.” “This includes exchanges and alliance building in various multilateral fora, deeper sectoral cooperation and gradual economic integration in accordance with the level of commitment as enshrined in the bilateral agreements,” it noted. The Council then recalled that “the Eastern Partnership aims at building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity and increased cooperation and is not directed against anyone.”
Confirming that the current policy framework, including the set of “20 deliverables for 2020” is robust, valid, bringing tangible results and benefits for people, the Council encouraged EaP countries “to increase efforts for additional progress in all fields, including outstanding challenges on justice and anti-corruption, as well as on gender equality, the enabling environment for civil society and non-discrimination as well as freedom of association, assembly, speech, and on hate speech.”
The Council noted with appreciation the Joint Communication on the Eastern Partnership beyond 2020: Reinforcing resilience – an Eastern Partnership that delivers for all, which identifies new challenges and opportunities in the Eastern Partnership region. In this context, the Council said “strengthening resilience as an overriding policy framework will be one of the key goals for the Eastern Partnership during the next years, in particular resilience in the areas of democracy, society, economy, energy, security, cyber, media, environment, health, notably in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, and human security as outlined in the Joint Communication.”
Strongly calling “for a renewed and strengthened commitment to the fundamentals of the Eastern Partnership,” the Council said “it should guide the joint work in all priority areas, as progress on rule of law continues to lag behind.”
“Ensuring democracy, human rights, rule of law, good governance, non-discrimination, gender equality, inclusion, an independent, efficient and accountable judiciary, successful anti-corruption policies, the fight against organised crime, and democratic institutions and processes are cornerstones of stable and resilient states and societies, and key conditions for developments in other fields,” stressed the Council.
It then invited the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the Commission, to better monitor, in close coordination with Member States, reforms in strengthening the rule of law and to strengthen support for key fundamentals.
The Council stressed “the indispensable value of engaged civil society in protecting democracy, values and principles jointly shared in the Eastern Partnership and expresses its support for the work of the Civil Society Forum, the European Endowment for Democracy and other organisations working in this area.”
Further, the Council recalled “the importance to strengthen capacity and resilience of Eastern partner countries against disinformation.” Noting that “strategic communication should remain a key task, in order to promote the visibility and benefits of the cooperation between the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries,” the Council called for the EU, the Member States and Eastern partner countries “to work together to develop a common narrative based on shared values, adherence to the rules based international order, including respect for human rights, and the benefits of cooperation to the lives of people and the positive impact of EU policies.”
The Council also noted “the proposal to consider, where appropriate, reinforcing capacity and resilience of Eastern partner countries as regards enhancing civil protection, fighting against organised crime and other illicit activities, countering terrorist threats and preventing radicalisation, hybrid threats, malicious cyber activities, promoting the application of the existing international law in cyberspace and the development of robust legal and policy cybersecurity frameworks based on EU legislation and best practices.”
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The Council highlighted that “promoting human capital development, better integrated economies that are inclusive, sustainable and that ensure social justice, creating decent work and economic opportunities, and prosperity for all people living in the Eastern partner countries should remain a top priority.”
“Increased trade, where possible, continued regulatory approximation, establishing conditions for associated countries’ continued alignment with the EU internal market and gradual economic integration as provided for in the association agreements, improved access to finance and where applicable further integration of the economies of Eastern partner countries and the EU are of key importance,” stressed the Council.
Speaking of climate and energy challenges, the Council said “the EU supports an intensification of the efforts by Eastern partner countries in this respect and notes their support for the European Commission’s initiative European Green Deal.”
The Council then stressed that “digital transformation and investing in people are equally vital elements in building economies and labour markets fit for the future, and to enable growth and sustainable development of Eastern partner countries.”
It also underlined “the crucial importance for resilient, fair and inclusive societies of professional, depoliticised, people-centred and accountable public administrations, including local and regional authorities.”
In this context, the Council highlighted “the importance of free, fair and credible elections, preserving civil society space and for support of an engaged civil society, including think-tanks, protection of human rights defenders, as well as free, plural and independent media, journalists and media literacy.”
The Council stressed “the critical cooperation in the area of protection and promotion of human rights and of combatting discrimination on any grounds as well as the protection of people in vulnerable situations including rights of persons belonging to minorities, and underlines that cooperation in these areas will remain a key priority for the EU.”
Noting that the resolution of conflicts, building trust and good neighborly relations are essential to economic and social development and cooperation, the Council said it “remains deeply concerned about the continued violations of international law in certain countries of the region.” The Council called “for renewed efforts and fully supports conflict prevention, confidence building and the facilitation of negotiated peaceful conflict settlement under the agreed negotiating formats and processes and recall the EU’s role in these.”
“The Council looks forward to the next Eastern Partnership Summit which is expected to review the results delivered since the last Summit and set out the direction and the way forward in further strengthening and deepening cooperation between the Eastern partner countries and the EU as well as among the Eastern partners,” it concluded.