Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), while Ukraine, which used to be the front-runner, is lagging behind, according to reports to be published today (20 March).
EU officials who asked not to be named said last year was marked by a digression in EU-Ukrainian relations, contrasting with progress made with Moldova, Georgia and to a certain extent Armenia.
Progress reports under the ENP are expected to be presented on Wednesday by Enlargement and Neighbourhood Commissioner Štefan Füle.
This development is likely to cause malaise in Kyiv. Ukraine has for many years considered itself the front-runner in EU rapprochement. It has been able to negotiate an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free trade Agreement (DCFTA), which diplomats from both sides consider as the most advanced of their kind. Both documents have been initialed in March 2012 but remain unsigned.
The three conditions for signing the texts is to address the problem of "selective justice" - a reference to the imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko -, dealing with the democratic shortcomings stemming from the October national elections, and advancing judiciary reforms.
According to EU officials, in 2012 Ukraine did not address most of the recommendations in the previous ENP report. The new recommendations seen by EurActiv, the country is invited to address the case of the politically motivated convictions without delay, to establish a reliable electoral system and address the shortcomings of the October election, to step up fight against conflict of interest and corruption, including in the judiciary system, to reverse the backsliding which occurred in 2012 on public procurement and budget transparency.
Commission sees progress
In contrast, the Commission says that Moldova addressed in 2012 most of the recommendations in last year’s report. Ambitious reforms in the justice and as regards the fight against corruption started to be implemented, this year’s report says, the reform of the public administration continued, in particular with the adoption of a decentralisation strategy, as well as reforms in the fields of health and education. The DCFTA negotiations were launched with four rounds that took place in 2012. Although the reports make no mention of it, it is assumed that DCFTA could be signed at the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit in November, during the Lithuanian presidency of the EU.
Regarding Georgia, the Commission says that the country “acted” on most of the key recommendations in the last year's ENP progress report. According to texts seen by EurActiv, the Commission says that Georgia ensured broadly free and fair parliamentary elections, strengthened the freedom of expression and opinion, and continued to reform the justice system.
The most important recommendation to Georgia is that the roles of prime minister and president be respected under the constitution. Since elections on 1 October the political situation in Georgia has been marked by a standoff between Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and President Mikheil Saakashvili.
On the negative side, the Commission states that Georgia still suffers from a lack of judicial independence.
Regarding Armenia, the Commission says the country addressed some of the key recommendations contained in the last year's ENP progress report. It is invited to address the shortcomings concerning the May 2012 parliamentary elections and February 2013 presidential elections, and implement the recommendations of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), including changes to the legislative framework after the presidential elections.
On Azerbaijan the Commission says the country addressed only a few of the key recommendations contained in the last year's ENP progress report. Azerbaijan needs to make further efforts to meet its commitments in building deep and sustainable democracy, including electoral processes, the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the independence of the judicial system, the Commission says.
Asked by EurActiv to comment if the EU was not too lax on Azerbaijan, given that EU companies are interested in buying some of the country’s natural gas, Commission officials insisted that all countries were treated on an equal footing.
Regarding Belarus, the Commission recognises that it doesn’t have the same leverage as with the other countries under the EaP, because the country authorities hostility toward the EU. Throughout 2012 the Commission has on numerous occasions expressed its concern regarding the lack of respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles in Belarus.
In its report, the Commission also points at the repressive policies in Belarus, becoming more targeted and sophisticated. Instead of heavy prison sentences, there was rather a tendency to intimidate representatives from civil society by means such as dismissing people from their jobs, preventing them from holding assemblies, bringing civil cases for "non-payment" of taxes, not allowing certain citizens to travel abroad, fining activists or sentencing them to short and sometimes repeated jail sentences.
Given the complex political situation of the country, the EU action focuses on supporting cooperation in sectors benefitting most directly the citizens, putting emphasis on civil society participation and at the same time maintaining technical level contact with the Belarusian administration, in particular at local level.