EU and Eastern Partnership (EaP) heads of state and governments as well as European institution leaders are meeting via video link today (18 June) to underline the strategic importance of the partnership and discuss long-term objectives.
However, the virtual get-together of EU leaders and the six partner countries — Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, — is set to produce no final declaration. An in-person summit is planned for early 2021.
The EU has provided over €640 million for immediate and short-term needs for the region amidst the pandemic, as well as long-term support such as the so-called “macro-financial assistance,” highly favourable loans designed to improve the macroeconomic stability of countries.
The largest chunk, €1.2 billion, is earmarked for Ukraine, in a move that demonstrates that the EU is willing to help partners in times of crisis, Ukraine’s head of Mission to the Mykola Tochytskyi told this website.
“We are trying to be very vocal on the issue of [financial] help of the EU because it helped us also to fight disinformation,” Tochytskyi told EURACTIV.
The diplomat has argued since he took the post in 2016, that if the EU wanted to learn more about the Russian methods of disinformation, it should look at what this country is doing to destabilise Ukraine.
Strategic communication is also set to be high on the agenda, as highlighted by the Council’s conclusions on the future of EaP last month and the video conference of the EaP foreign affairs ministers last week.
The region, traditionally a disinformation battleground, has been recently a target of COVID-19 ‘infodemic’ conspiracy theories.
The three EaP countries that have signed associations agreements with the EU – Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – are calling for a special format adequate to their ambition to join one day the bloc. There has been some support from the European Parliament and Euronest, the parliamentary assembly bringing together MEPs and politicians from partner countries, but at the top EU level the idea of a higher degree of relationship continues to be met with caution.
Belarus and Armenia have joined the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, while Azerbaijan, rich in fossil fuels, seeks to maintain equal distance from the big powers.
Nevertheless, Tochytskyi pointed out that two informal meetings between commissioners and the three associated partners have already happened and can provide a basis for deeper sectoral integration in other areas.
“This is also a good signal for our EU partners as well that we will be ready to have such a formula between the three of us and some EU commissioners in other dimensions, like digital,” the diplomat said.
“It’s not only about the trade, it’s also about mentality and vision,” Tochytskyi said, adding: “We need not only economically but also mentally to be closer to the EU”.
Member states have also called for better monitoring of reforms in strengthening rule of law and justice reforms, a key topic often cited by EU officials.
“My personal opinion is that if we will not finish correctly with our judicial reform, especially reform of tribunals, if you will not have good, not corrupt, well-performing and experienced judges, we could fail in general”, he said. He also mentioned the risks in the fight against corruption and the land reform.”
The issue of the justice system has recently resurfaced in Ukraine in light of high-level reshuffles and criminal investigations into the pro-Western former President Petro Poroshenko for alleged abuse of power while in office.
News of criminal charges has prompted worried reactions from Brussels, with European People’s Party president Donald Tusk saying the largest political group was “very concerned” with the matter.
EPP is very concerned by political cases against former President Poroshenko. The charges should not resemble politically motivated persecution, nor be politically motivated against select political opponents.
— Donald Tusk (@donaldtuskEPP) June 17, 2020
“The charges should not resemble politically motivated persecution, nor be politically motivated against select political opponents,” the formed Council president wrote on Twitter on Wednesday (17 June).
EURACTIV has seen a copy of a letter by Poroshenko to Council President Charles Michel in which the former President expresses the hope that a message to stop with selective justice would be sent to the authorities in Ukraine.
“The best is to close the dossier in the tribunal”, Tochytskyi commented.
[Edited by Georgi Gotev]