EU launches Eastern Partnership with six ex-Soviet states at Prague summit

Viktor Yushchenko and Alexander Lukashenko (right), photo: CTK

The European Union launches a new Eastern Partnership plan with six former Soviet states at a summit in the Czech capital, Prague on Thursday evening. The initiative, which is said to irritate Moscow, is aimed at fostering closer ties with countries like Ukraine and Moldova. But what can the Czech-backed plan actually achieve in practical terms?

Viktor Yushchenko and Alexander Lukashenko (right), photo: CTK
The Eastern Partnership plan is being signed on Thursday by representatives of the EU and Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Ivo Šlosarčík from the think tank Europeum outlines the basic idea behind the initiative.

“There is a bunch of countries between the EU and Russia. And if the EU wants to keep some influence in those countries – not only economic influence but for instance influence in human rights standards and democratic trends – we must talk to them, and in a rather structured and not chaotic way. And we of course have to offer something to them.”

What is being offered may fall some way short of what the former Soviet states were hoping for. The prospect of visa-free travel has been put on the back-burner. And Ukraine, for instance, has insisted that signing up to the Partnership is no substitute for its ultimate aim of joining the EU.

But Petr Kratochvíl from Prague’s Institute of International Relations says it should still be useful in several areas, including energy policy.

“If you plan a pipeline then you definitely need co-operation among a number of partner and member countries. The same applies to labour migration, visa issues, and a number of other areas, frozen conflicts for instance. So it basically tries to create a forum for discussion, for consultations, not only between the EU and the partners, but among the partner countries.”

Václav Klaus (right) with Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev, photo: CTK
The leaders of several big West European states such as France and the UK aren’t coming to Prague for Thursday’s launch. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, is due to attend. Ivo Šlosarčík:

“Germany has very special relations with Russia, but also has an interest in ‘good neighbourhood’. Because Germany has this experience of using enlargement to central Europe – the accession of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, as a tool of stabilisation of its neighbourhood. Germany, in my opinion, very clearly understands why the new member states are interested in the Eastern Partnership, and why it should be an EU priority.”

Whether the Eastern Partnership actually does help bring about regional political and economic stability probably won’t become clear for a few years yet.