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Draft EU Summit Text Acknowledges 'Aspirations' Of Eastern Neighbors

By Rikard Jozwiak
A draft of the Vilnius summit declaration seen by RFE/RL acknowledges the European "aspirations" of its six Eastern Partnership countries, includes wording on Belarusian civil society that Minsk wants to delete, and has left a blank space regarding EU-Armenia relations.

The final text of the declaration is expected to be endorsed by the heads of government of the EU member states -- as well as officials from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine -- at the Eastern Partnership summit in the Lithuanian capital on November 28-29.

It should serve both as a template of what has been achieved so far and what is expected to happen ahead of the next summit in 2015.

The most fought-over paragraph in the declaration has been one about the status of the relationship of the six partner countries to the EU. The current draft states that the "summit acknowledges the sovereign right of each member state to choose its ambition and final goal of its relations with the European Union," and to decide "whether to remain partners in accordance with Article 8 of the treaty of the European Union or follow its European aspirations in accordance with Article 49 thereof."

The wording on "European aspirations" is similar to the declaration issued after the previous Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw in 2011 and is weaker than what some pro-enlargement EU member states want.

They would like wording along the lines of "European perspective," which applies to the countries of the Western Balkans -- more strongly suggesting that these countries will one day become EU member states, but not necessarily when.

It is not likely the wording will change dramatically, as some EU member states -- most notably, France -- aren't keen to offer anything that would imply future membership.

There is also a paragraph in brackets welcoming the signature of an Association Agreement together with a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTA) pact with Ukraine and the initialing of the same agreement with Georgia and Moldova.

The progress made in Association Agreement negotiations with Azerbaijan is also welcomed, with Brussels indicating its readiness to commence talks on a DCFTA.

No wording is ready yet for Armenia after Yerevan announced that it wants to join a Russian-led Customs Union. EU diplomats say a memorandum of understanding of future cooperation might be signed instead.

Minsk has so far indicated that it wants to delete all references in the declaration referring to Belarusian society. One such paragraph says: "The EU has increased its engagement with Belarusian society through a dedicated European dialogue on modernization, launched in Brussels in March 2012, as a sign of the EU's firm commitment supporting the Belarusian people and identifying key issues on the way ahead and looks forward to engaging with the Belarusian authorities in this regard, too."

In a paragraph concerning the possibility of Belarus signing a visa-facilitation agreement with the EU, Minsk also wants to delete a reference that says the agreement would be "for the benefit of the population at large."

EU member states are likely to resist these moves, but Belarus has the support of the other five partners in deleting these sentences.

When it comes to visas, there is a blank space for Moldova, indicating that the EU might be ready to offer some sort of visa liberalization for certain individuals, such as students or business people, but not the general large-scale visa liberalization that Chisinau is seeking.

Very little is so far mentioned about the various frozen conflicts in the partner countries, but Georgia has inserted a line which reads, "Participants emphasize the need for the full implementation of the mandate of the EUMM (European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia) of the whole territory of Georgia and to its future strengthening and reiterate their support for the Geneva international discussions."

It is likely that Moldova will try to insert something similar about Transdniester, whereas it is unclear if Armenia or Azerbaijan want to mention the frozen conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The draft declaration is currently being discussed among EU diplomats and officials from the six partnership countries and is scheduled to be endorsed first by EU ambassadors at a meeting in mid-November.

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