The European Parliament Delegation to the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly has discussed to what degree the European Union should support the differentiation principle within the Eastern Partnership and offer “more for more” to EU-aspiring Associated Trio countries of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. EaP initiative also includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, and now-suspended Belarus.
The delegation – representing the EP in the Euronest Assembly which brings together parliamentary delegations of the EU, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and Armenia – convened ahead of the Eastern Partnership Summit scheduled in December.
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MEP Andrius Kubilius (EPP, Lithuania), chair of the Delegation, opened the November 12 discussions by pointing to an impasse in the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP) integration policy. “Motivation for reforms even in Trio countries can start to erode if again there will be no clear big integration goal, looking into next decade,” he argued, adding that challenges remain as several member states oppose a more ambitious Eastern Partnership integration agenda.
Citing the 2020 European Parliament report, which recommended differentiation with the EaP countries, MEP Kubilius advocated for creating a common economic space between the EU and at least the Associated Trio states of the EaP. “This would be this new big intermediate goal, and that can be attractive for both sides,” he asserted.
MEP Kubilius expressed his hopes that the 2021 Summit declaration will include a provision on differentiation with EaP states, recognizing the importance of the Trio format, and another one on economic integration, also introducing a “clear evaluation and monitoring system for their progress.”
MEP Witold Waszczykowski (ECR, Poland) said during the gathering that while “we still support the concept of differentiation,” the situation of the Associated Trio countries – Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova – has changed. MEP Waszczykowski said that Ukraine and Georgia are not “better off because of the security problem.” But he said Moldova with a “very pro-European oriented” new President and Government is “much better off right now.”
The MEP warned against establishing new institutions between the 27-member-bloc and the three countries, “not to pretend we are moving forward creating more bureaucracy.” Instead, he argued the EU must use existing instruments with the Trio. Noting that he does not believe membership to be on the agenda for the three states, MEP Waszczykowski advocated for bolstering the Associated Trio countries’ economic and sectoral integration into the EU.
He suggested admitting the countries for a symbolic fee to the EU single market, and to include them in the Three Seas Initiative, bringing together twelve EU states for cooperation in energy and transportation, among other issues.
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Vice-chair of the Euronest, MEP Markéta Gregorová (Greens/EFA, Czech Republic), argued the approach of differentiation with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova “is slightly obsolete now because of the vast changes in the three countries and the whole region.”
“We can see that in the example of Georgia, that the democratic backsliding in the recent months there has been severe,” Gregorová stressed, going on to highlight the need for Brussels policy to help strengthen rule of law and prevent “more democracy backsliding” in the country.
Speaking about security issues in the EU’s eastern neighborhood, the Czech MEP stressed that the EU should think of all the EaP countries as one platform “so that they are not weakened against Russian influence.”
MEP Viola von Cramon-Taubadel (The Greens/EFA, Germany) concurred that the differentiation was necessary, considering that “some countries are more advanced than others.”
Concerning the Trio, MEP Cramon argued Georgia and Ukraine have to work with more ambition on implementing their Association Agreements with the EU. Meanwhile, she highlighted Moldova as a country that is “really trying hard” and putting a lot of work into a new phase of reforms.
Noting that the membership perspective for the EaP, including the Associated Trio countries “is rather far away,” she underscored “the need for an extra incentive,” including through closer economic integration. “We should not exclude any countries from this,” she stressed.
MEP von Cramon-Taubadel took note of a “lack of interest in the ruling elite in Georgia and Ukraine,” in the context of their European integration aspirations.
She stressed that the situation in Georgia “more and more difficult in the last weeks and months,” going on to advocate for using a carrots and sticks approach and making sure “they understand what the sticks mean.”
MEP Rasa Juknevičienė (EPP, Lithuania) stressed the security benefits of the EU enlargement, noting it could help contain the Kremlin, minimize the area of its influence and security of the continent. “We need a way out of the enlargement policy stagnation,” she noted, speaking against the “EU’s unreadiness to accept new members.”
The MEP argued “the lack of clarity” on the membership perspective means Tbilisi and Kyiv “are gradually losing trust in the credibility of the EU policy.”
“They may start losing the motivation to reform and unavoidably they will face more and more instability,” she asserted, adding: “This is what we see starting to happen in Georgia, which concerns me a lot. Once this trend prevails it will be very difficult to reverse it, so we have to act now.”
Michael Siebert, Managing Director for Russia, Eastern partnership, Central Asia, Regional cooperation and OSCE also addressed the MEPs. He said: “Georgia is really going into the direction where we have the feeling it is no longer fully adhering to what has been agreed in the Association Agreement and what was the base for the 19th April Agreement and conditions for the multi-annual financial agreement.”
“We will have to, as Ms. von Cramon said, show carrots and sticks, we must be very clear to them, what the core of judicial reform is about, and the ways to establish political culture in the country. I won’t say opposition is helping in much ways on that, but it is of course ultimate responsibility of government to bring forward judicial reform,” Michael Siebert went on, albeit adding: “We should be careful not to overdo and throw the baby out with the bathwater, we don’t want to lose Georgia on the way towards the European Union.”
He said that as regards to the Eastern Partners in general, the rule of law, good governance, the anti-corruption, human rights and gender equality will serve as the elements that “will remain cornerstone of our future policy.”
Michael Siebert also said “We acknowledge that the Associated countries are going further ahead, they want to go closer and ultimately become members of the European Union and it is a different path and we will acknowledge as much as possible this way and help them going it.”
The meeting comes amid tensions in Georgia over the incarceration of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and the results of 2021 municipal polls, as well as growing criticism from MEPs over the treatment of Saakashvili.
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