Europe’s eastern future at stake at the EU Vilnius summit

  
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The aggressive attitude of Russia towards neighbour countries seeking closer EU integration indicates a new reality which the EU’s Eastern partnership must be ready to face, writes Alex Petriashvili.

Alex Petriashvili is the Georgian state minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

On the East-West divide, Georgia has historically been at a crossroads of choices, constantly challenged by global geopolitical turbulence. A new phase that began with the collapse of the Soviet Union continues to unfold, as Georgia consolidates its democracy and aspires towards European and Euro-Atlantic integration even as Russian barbed wire runs through it. That process is at stake at this month’s EU Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit.

The Vilnius summit is expected to be decisive in taking stock of the achievements and granting deliverables to the committed partner countries. Georgia is among those leading Eastern Partnership countries that have successfully implemented reforms under the EU-integration agenda and moved closer to EU standards. We expect to initial the EU Association Agreement, including Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DC FTA) at the summit and to step up to new level relations with the EU that would foster transformation of the country into genuine European state.

Georgians have shown they overwhelmingly support European integration. After last year’s historic parliamentary elections, all major political actors have reached consensus on foreign policy priorities, including strong impetus to accelerate EU integration. Georgia’s recent presidential election reinforced the population’s choice for Europe by choosing Giorgi Margvelashvili, whose election platform was built on European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

The Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTAs), [between the EU and Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, which are integral part of the Association Agreements], would give access to the world’s largest EU-internal market, promote exporting industries and increase investment attractiveness of the EaP countries. Despite the growing number of regional integration groups in the world economy, the EU remains a successful “classic economic model” and achieving gradual economic integration with the EU is the main priority of Georgia’s foreign policy.

Along with the political association and economic integration, the visa liberalisation with the EU could become an effective tool for ensuring closer people-to-people contacts and keeping EU integration support high among Georgians.

The Vilnius summit would mark the start of a much more complex exercise – successful implementation of the Association Agreements, including DCFTAs. The “Post Vilnius” process, alongside mobilisation of institutional capacities and intensification of the reform process, requires adequate evaluation and timely prevention of possible security challenges. The aggressive attitude from our northern neighbour towards the EaP countries by playing 19th century zero-sum games of geo-political competition and the misuse of energy prices, artificial trade obstacles as well as the instrumentalisation of frozen conflicts, is unacceptable.

Today, the EU is one of the strongest supporters of Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity and European Union Monitoring Mission remains the only monitoring mechanism in the vicinity of Russian-occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moreover, the results achieved by the EU’s active role in transforming border conflicts from the line of controversy into the line of cooperation in the member states gives us an incentive that integration into the EU yet could serve as a way to settling of existing territorial conflicts in the region.

At the same time, Russia’s recent blackmail policy in the South Caucasus and vigorous promotion of the Moscow-led Eurasian Union indicates a new reality in the EaP region and we have to face this changing environment. The EaP can only be successful and bring feasible results if it thoroughly implements basic principles of differentiation, a tailor-made approach that would facilitate individual partners to meet their expectations and allow the EU to effectively apply the “more-for-more” principle.

After the fall of the “Iron Curtain”, scepticism towards the prospects of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe was high and the possibility of establishment of the rule of law, liberal societies and political pluralism seemed rather tedious. Nevertheless, by the early 21st century, the majority of East-Central European countries have successfully reinvented themselves as consolidated democracies and functioning market economies. The cornerstone to this dramatic transformation was the EU’s bold membership prospect to a number of post-communist countries, and intentions to meet so-called Copenhagen Criteria supported a reshaping of their political and socio-economic discourses.

We are confident that offering a clear European prospect for willing and able Eastern Partnership countries at Vilnius is not only about milestones and marks in history; it is about steps that enable us all to work together making Europe free, secure and prosperous.

Let us take these steps together.

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