The EU should give a clear enlargement perspective to the Eastern Parthernship countries at the May summit in Riga, writes Krzysztof Bobinski.
Krzysztof Bobinski is the co-chair of the steering committee of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum.
It looks like the Riga Eastern Partnership summit at the end of May will see the EU member states and the European Commission doing their utmost to keep any mention of enlargement off the agenda.
But with dramatic challenges facing the EU’s neighbourhood policy and the fact that thousands of people have died in Ukraine to defend their right to pursue a European destiny, the Riga summit must make a statement on a membership perspective for Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia.
The EU’s reticence comes amidst an uneasy ceasefire in Ukraine and an uncertainty in Brussels as to what the Kremlin will do next. The EU is keeping its head down and avoiding anything that might provoke Russia.
That means making sure the message in Riga to the Eastern partners is as weak and low key as possible. Enlargement fatigue at home is also keeping the EU from opening the door to more countries.
But Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, which signed Association Agreements with the EU in 2014, are still looking for a membership perspective at the summit.
Latvia, currently holding the EU rotating presidency, would also like to see a reference in the summit’s conclusions about an enlargement perspective, but opposition from a number of member states persists.
Representatives of the Eastern Parthernship civil society organisations think that an EU failure to give a clear membership prospect to their countries will enable the Russian propaganda claim that enlargement will never happen. An EU rejection and hesitation will diminish any hope and dicourage further reforms in the Eastern states.
It will undermine the Eastern Partnership programme’s achievements and reduce people’s credibility.
The Eastern states are aware of a long and challenging road ahead. Reforms in all spheres of public life will have to be introduced against mounting oppostion from oligarchs, and in the face of Russian resistance backed by pernicious propaganda. These efforst could only be encouraged and strengthened if the EU publicly acknowledges in Riga that membership lies at the end of that road.
As Georgian civil society organisations pointed out, the Association Agreements signed with the EU last year recognise that the three Partner countries are European states. Being European and having European aspirations could be enough to apply for EU membership under article 49 of the Treaty of the European Union. The treaty gives membership rights to any European state as long as it promotes European values.
Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, knows from his experience in Poland that needed reforms only gained traction when it became clear that membership was on the table.
This is a message he must share with the European leaders in the Council, in order to encourage them to make Riga a truly historical European summit to match the dramatic situation the EU and its Eastern neighbours have found themselves in.