Poland, Sweden defend ‘Eastern initiative’

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A new proposal by Sweden and Poland to strengthen the EU’s ties with its eastern neighbours to be officially presented today is not meant to undermine but rather enhance existing EU policies, according to a draft paper obtained by EURACTIV.

The paper will be presented at a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers in Brussels today (26 May).

Mirroring the countries already covered by the ENP scheme, the new initiative aims to improve ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and particularly Ukraine. The draft paper suggests that a new Enhanced Partnership Agreement (EPA) currently being negotiated with Ukraine “could serve as a reference” for other countries. 

France, which takes over the EU Presidency in July, also recently intensified its efforts with Ukraine, pushing for the country to be granted ‘privileged’ status’ with the EU. 

The new initiative is seen as a complement to the French-driven ‘Union for the Mediterranean’ proposal, but unlike the original French vision, the Polish-Swedish proposal clearly states that it would be embedded into existing EU structures and does not seek additional funding but is financed solely out of the ENP budget.

The main difference with the bilateral ENP scheme is that the Polish-Swedish initiative instead stresses multilateral cooperation in fields like migration, visa-free travel, free-trade and the environment. 

Projects could also be extended to Russia, according to the draft paper. 

Speaking at a policy briefing in Brussels today (26 May), Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski described the initiative as a "practical and ideological enhancement of the ENP" which would complement the 'Union for the Mediterranean' and in no way foil the EU's strategy.

He highlighted the importance of the Eastern countries by distinguishing them from the EU's partner countries in the south. Whereas the latter were "neighbours of Europe, the Eastern countries were "European neighbours" with a "natural membership perspective". 

The Commissioner in charge of Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, dismissed this view, saying that both dimensions have to be treated equally and any pre-selection of future EU candidates would come too early. 

The chairman of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee  and former Polish Minister for European Affairs Jacek Saryusz-Wolski welcomed his government's initiative, dismissing criticism that following the French plans for a Union for the Mediterranean it could further undermine the Commission's European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). 

Both would be "cross-fertilising", bringing "added value" to the ENP, Saryusz-Wolski told EURACTIV. 

The Ukrainian government dismissed the 'Eastern partnership' for not being representative of a common EU line, saying that “any initiative that is being proposed should be grounded in the unity of the European institutions".  

The Ukrainian Economy Minister, Bohdan Danylyshyn, however, admitted that there was certainly a need "for the EU to develop an effective eastern dimension of its foreign policy". 

He also urged the to "envisage a clear EU membership perspective to those European neighbours of the EU who can demonstrate seriousness of their European ambitions through concrete actions and tangible achievements".

The German government, which in the beginning had been very critical of the French initiative on the Mediterranean, welcomed the Polish push to strengthen ties with the EU's Eastern neighbours "as long as it remains in the borders of the ENP," a spokesperson of the German Permanent Representation to the EU told EURACTIV. 

The new proposal comes just three weeks after the Commission launched a new Neighbourhood Investment Facility (NIF) aimed at increasing investments in its southern and eastern partner countries. 

The NIF is embedded into the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which the EU set up in 2004 to improve its ties with countries in North Africa, the Middle East and the former Soviet republics Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. 

MEPs among others had repeatedly called for the still-to-be-created Union for the Mediterranean to be supplemented by an eastern dimension, covering the Black Sea region in particular. 

  • 26 May 2008: The initiative is to be presented to the meeting of EU foreign affairs ministersl. 
  • 19/20 June 2008: The issue is to be further discussed at the EU Summit, alongside the plans for the Union for the Mediterranean. 

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