New trade deals and a path to closer association with the European Union for Eastern Partnership members are among the top items on EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele's 2013 wish list. In an interview with RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Rikard Jozwiak, Fuele also predicts that several countries in the Western Balkans will move closer to EU membership.
RFE/RL: There is an Eastern Partnership Summit coming up in Vilnius in the autumn of 2013. What has to happen there for you to consider the summit a success?
Stefan Fuele: I think it would be a number of concrete deliverables concerning the association agreement negotiations, including the economic integration part -- this famous Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). I think it would be also important [to] have, at least with some of our partners, some concrete deliverables on the mobility issues; I am talking about visa free [travel], which is so important for the citizens of that region. But I think that there is one more issue which I hope will be the highlight of that summit, and that is the link between reforms being delivered by our partners and us not only appreciating, welcoming those efforts, but at the same time being ambitious and courageous enough in defining, and...a European road for those partners who would like to be closer and closer to the European union.
RFE/RL: So, in a sense what you want to see some sort of path for the Eastern partners for them to join the EU, regardless of how long or short this path is?
Fuele: I am...referring [to] the road to get closer and closer to the European Union. But yes, indeed what I am is saying is that I hope very much that while [at] the last summit [of the] Eastern Partnership Summit [in Warsaw in 2011] we [were] able to accept the language of a European perspective as the language being promoted by our partners, I hope very much that the European Union, the member states, will be more and more ready to accept that language as their own -- as the language defining their policy towards the most ambitious partners.
RFE/RL: 2012 was a very difficult year for the EU's relations with Ukraine. How do you see this relationship developing next year, especially with the EU-Ukraine summit coming up at the beginning of 2013?
Fuele: We are going to have a summit with Ukraine...hopefully in the first month of 2013. I hope very much that it will set up an ambitious agenda for Ukraine and [for] us. For 2013 to be, again, a good year -- a good year for engagement and a good year [that] would hopefully end up at the [Eastern Partnership] summit [with] the signature of the association agreement -- this road would require engagement on our side and it would require...Ukraine to deliver on some issues. I am looking forward [to] the member states in the next couple of days to define more clearly what we are talking about.
But overall I am positive here. I am positive about our continuing engagement and our continuing focus on the values and principles underpinning our relationship.
RFE/RL: Will something change in your approach to Belarus next year? You have imposed sanctions against people close to the regime. You are engaging with civil society. And you are trying to lower visa costs for ordinary citizens wanting to visit the EU. But all this doesn't seem to impact the Lukashenka regime. Is it not time for the EU to recalibrate its policy toward Belarus in 2013?
Fuele: No, it is not up to us to recalibrate [our] policy, it is up to Belarus and its authorities to recalibrate their policies. I don't think it adds to the credibility of the European Union if it is changing its policies. I think we all know where the problem is. We all know that with the authorities keeping a number of political prisoners [incarcerated] under questionable conditions is far from being conducive to a constructive dialogue with the European Union.
RFE/RL: Do you expect any positive developments in the South Caucasus next year?
Fuele: I think [there are] going to be some positive results [in] our negotiations of association agreements and [with] economic integration...through the DCFTA. No doubt about it. [There] is also going to be some real progress...[on] the mobility issue -- visa facilitation, in particular. I hope also that we will be able -- through our programs and engagement [with] the countries [of the South Caucasus] in various Eastern partnership activities -- to strengthen regional cooperation. Because the Eastern Partnership is not only about bilateral relationships between our partners and the European Union, but it is also about the multilateral dimension of that partnership; and in that region, there are a lot of things the three countries could to together.
RFE/RL: Croatia will join the EU in 2013 and Montenegro will continue its EU accession negotiations. Will there be any more success stories for EU enlargement in the Western Balkans? Will Serbia start negotiations? Will Albania become an EU candidate country? And will we finally see some movement on the name issue concerning Macedonia?
Fuele: Do I see a realistic possibility of [these things] happening? Absolutely. There are two challenges. The first one [is] to keep the momentum of enlargement. And the second one is for the governments and all important stakeholders in those countries continuing -- and indeed strengthening -- their reforms. Because the more reforms, the bigger the support from the member states on that path of enlargement.