The European Commission published an avalanche of “progress reports” on Wednesday (25 March) covering 12 of the 16 countries in the EU’s neighbourhood for 2014, calling it a test year for the Union’s relations with its neighbours.
The countries are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine for the Eastern Partnership, and Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia for the Mediterranean. (Belarus, Libya and Syria remains outside most of the structures of the neighbourhood policy. Algeria is currently negotiating an ENP Action Plan).
The reports show the development of the respective countries in 2014 in terms of democratic transition, human rights and fundamental freedoms, their economic development and the countries’ cooperation with the EU in areas such as migration and mobility, energy and transport.
In a written statement, foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini reiterates that 2014 was a year of major challenges for the European Union, with armed conflicts in Ukraine, atrocities and human rights violations by terrorist groups in the Middle East and in North Africa, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
‘Seeking more effective ways of cooperation’
Increased irregular migration and trafficking of human beings to Europe have been one of the direct consequences of the crises. These developments have been a test for the Neighbourhood Policy. “In this crucial time, the EU is determined to step up its engagement with our partners across the region on political, economic and security cooperation,” Mogherini stated.
Neighbourhood Commissioner Johannes Hahn said that the reports will help the Union evaluate its approach towards its neighbours as a whole.
“We are currently consulting widely on the way ahead for this policy with a view to developing more effective ways of working with these key partners for the benefit of the EU and our neighbours themselves,” Hahn said.
Indeed, the Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit in Riga is widely expected to reassess the EU’s relations with the Eastern neighbours.
The EU initiative covers Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and has exacerbated EU relations with Russia.
Ukraine: ‘Very difficult context’
The 20-page report on Ukraine covers the dramatic episode of its modern history which Kyiv calls “the revolution of dignity”, while Moscow refers to it as “coup d’etat”, followed by what the report calls “a very difficult political, economic, social and military/security context”.
It takes stock of the unprecedented level of financial support from the EU to a country in its neighbourhood, and makes reference to the territories of Crimea, and of Donetsk and Luhansk, as if they were part of Ukraine. In fact, Russia has annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, while Donetsk and Luhansk are under the control of pro-Russian forces who have proclaimed them as ‘Popular Republics”.
The business and investment climate in Ukraine remained poor, with longstanding problems exacerbated by the conflict. There was little perception of improvement with regard to corruption and economic reform, and consequently there was little foreign investment, the report says.
Moldova: ‘General political stability’
The 19-page report on Moldova speaks of “general political stability” for the country in 2014. The country delivered on its EU association commitments and in April 2014 a visa-free regime took effect and around 360,000 persons travelled visa-free to the EU in 2014.
The parliamentary elections held on 30 November 2014 are assessed mostly in a positive way. The Commission believes that the countries made progress on human rights and fundamental freedoms. “Media enjoyed a good level of freedom in regional comparison, despite questions over concentration and transparency of media ownership,” the report says.
Georgia: ‘Some progress on deep and sustainable democracy’
The 16-page report on Georgia, a country where the government and the opposition frequently clash, is considered to have made “some progress on deep and sustainable democracy and human rights and fundamental freedoms”. Local elections held in June and July are considered to have generally complied with internationals standards.
Constitutional reform was initiated with the creation of a State Constitutional Commission. The role of parliament was strengthened and the power of the president reduced. The status of the prosecution service is one of the most urgent issues to be decided. Media freedom improved, but judicial independence remained fragile. Georgia made some progress in the fight against corruption, the report says.
Azerbaijan: ‘The Southern Gas Corridor of utmost importance’
The 13-page report on Azerbaijan, a country in the EU neighbourhood that isn’t interested in pursuing EU association, is criticised for human rights abuses, but praised for its commitment to building the Southern Gas Corridor, consisting of three gas pipelines that will bring Azeri gas to the EU by 2019.
Azerbaijan made good progress in its macroeconomic development, particularly through its efforts to further diversify its economy. In 2014, EU-Azerbaijan bilateral trade amounted to €16.7 billion, and the EU remained the country’s major trading partner, the report says.
However, the Commission regrets that the democratic and human rights environment significantly deteriorated in 2014, the period coinciding with Azerbaijan chairing the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Conditions for civil society organisations (CSOs) declined, a number of human rights defenders were detained, and freedom of expression remained limited other than on the Internet, the report says.
Armenia: Exploring possibilities for a future agreement
The 15-page report on Armenia, a country that decided to abandon EU association and became a member of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, says that Brussels and Yerevan explored the possibilities for a future legal agreement compatible with this new status.
Armenia made limited progress on deep and sustainable democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, the Commission writes.
Civil rights advocates, journalists and other persons with minority views on controversial issues, such as gender, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, continued to face intimidation, harassment, threats and abuse. Media independence remained insufficient, and there were no developments regarding pluralism in the broadcasting media and transparency of media ownership, the Commission writes.
Another contentious issue is the Medzamor nuclear power plant. The EU believes that the plant cannot be upgraded to meet current nuclear safety standards, and therefore should be decommissioned. However, the Armenian government has announced that the plant will continue operating until 2026.