The European Union's Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius is just weeks away, on November 28-29. RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak spoke with longtime international diplomat and former Swedish Prime Minister (current Foreign Minister) Carl Bildt about what to expect.
RFE/RL: In the final Vilnius Declaration, do you envision more expansive wording, such as giving some Eastern Partnership countries a European Perspective (in other words, a path to membership without a specific timeframe) instead of just acknowledging their European aspirations?
Carl Bildt: Let's see. It is still work in progress. I think it would be difficult to get all of the [EU] member states to go much further. That has to do with the fact that progress in some of the Eastern Partnership countries has been rather slow. That also means that the issue is at the moment a fairly theoretical one because any more advanced perspectives [are] in the fairly distant future. But we always point out that Article 49 of the Treaty of Rome still applies and that gives a membership perspective to every European country that is willing and able to fulfill the obligations.
RFE/RL: Looking ahead to the next Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga 2015, what should be the goal? Will we see some of these countries becoming potential EU candidate countries?
Bildt: [It's] too early to talk about that. Riga is two years in the future. Much can happen. I hope that much will happen, by the way, [before] Riga, but exactly where we will be at that time, I don't know. But I do think that what we should do between Vilnius and Riga is to look at what further steps we can take in terms of economic integration for those countries that are willing and able to do so. The DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement) ratification will be ongoing, I guess, but we will have provisional implementations and can we go further than that in different ways. I think there are ways of doing that. We should study that. The other item which I think we should [have] on the agenda by the time of Riga is what I call the 'integration of the integrations.' If we take the DCFTA component of the Eastern Partnership and then Russia is operating this Eurasian Customs Union, we are not quite certain of what that bird is going to be, the shape of that particular bird. But our vision is, of course, to have also an integration of the integrations, one way or another, so that we can bring also Russia at some point in time into a closer economic relationship with the EU.
RFE/RL: The Ukrainian government has started legal action in the United States and Switzerland to recover assets allegedly obtained through fraudulent means by former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko -- with the implication that former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was also involved in money laundering in the West. How serious are the accusations in your view?
Bildt: I don't know. I have no information to make it possible for me to assess anything of what they are doing. But of course there has been, fairly obviously, an attempt to throw as many accusations as possible against [Tymoshenko] from certain circles. That we have seen. When we have gone through these discussions with them over the past years, we [have heard] one allegation after another. And exactly what is the substance in them remains to be seen. Things [like this] have to be proven in a decent court, otherwise it is not serious.
RFE/RL: Are you still confident that Ukraine will sign the [EU] association agreement in Vilnius?
Bildt: No I am not. I have never been confident in that because it is very much touch and go and it is dependent upon what the [former European Parliament President Pat] Cox and [former Polish President Aleksander] Kwasniewski mission [to Ukraine] is going to report to us on the 14th [of November]. Then we are going to assess that as we come to the [EU] Foreign Affairs Council on the 18th [of November]. But I would not put too much money on anything at the moment. If I have any assessment it is rather on the slightly pessimistic side.
RFE/RL: How worried are you about Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's statement about the possibility of a criminal case against outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili? Do you think that Saakashvili might become a "new Tymoshenko" in that sense?
Bildt: I think that it might even be worse in that particular case and we have said it very clearly to Mr. Ivanishvili that if he goes forward with those things, then Georgian foreign policy will be reduced to one issue for the next few years to come, to the detriment of the development of the country. When we were there some 10 days ago at the press conference we had together -- [Polish Foreign Minister] Radek [Sikorski], Ivanishvili, and myself -- he said some wise things, as a matter of fact, following our talks. Whether that will be policy remains to be seen. I have seen that since then he has said some things that could be interpreted in the other direction.
RFE/RL: Is it not a bit ironic that the Azeri President Ilham Aliyev is welcomed to the Eastern Partnership Summit but the President of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, is not, considering that they are both big human rights abusers? What is the difference between them?
Bildt: The difference is, of course, that Mr. Lukashenka locked up his opposition. I mean, all of the key opposition leaders were put in jail. The situation in Azerbaijan is not a good one, but it is a different one in that respect. So there is a difference.