BRUSSELS -- EU ambassadors have agreed to recognize the European aspirations of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, according to a draft statement of next month’s Eastern Partnership summit seen by RFE/RL.
Ambassadors from the 28 European Union member states agreed on the language of the draft declaration during a meeting in Brussels on October 11.
“Summit participants acknowledge the European aspirations and the European choice of the partners concerned, as stated in the Association Agreements,” the document reads, referring to Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine -- countries in the Easter Partnership that have concluded the agreements with the EU in recent years.
The Eastern Partnership is an EU initiative that governs relations with six former Soviet republics.
It is aimed at creating a mechanism for talks on trade, economic strategy, travel agreements, and other issues between the EU and Eastern European countries.
The draft declaration approved by EU ambassadors on October 11 uses language from the final declaration of the 2015 Eastern Partnership summit in Riga.
The draft text will now be sent to the six Eastern Partnership countries, which also include Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus.
The Dutch government had threatened to dilute the strength of the text but agreed to the language after the inclusion of a paragraph that says “the summit participants commend the full entry into force of the Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free-Trade Areas with Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and most recently with Ukraine following the December 2016 decision by the EU heads of state and government.”
That December 2016 decision was a legally binding supplement to the Association Agreement that the Netherlands had agreed together with the other 27 EU member states.
It underscores that Brussels will not give Kyiv the right to automatic EU membership or guarantee any EU military aid for Ukraine.
That December deal allowed The Hague to finally ratify Ukraine’s Association Agreement, which had been opposed by 61 percent of Dutch voters in a citizen-driven, nonbinding referendum in April 2016.
Hungary also was able to get language inserted in the text aimed at putting pressure on Kyiv.
Hungary in recent weeks has expressed anger about Ukraine's decision to enact a controversial education law that critics say will restrict school studies in the languages of minorities in Ukraine.
Ukraine's Association Agreement with the EU was originally meant to be signed in November 2013 by then-President Viktor Yanukovych.
However, in a dramatic turnaround, Yanukovych walked away from the accord under pressure from Moscow, prompting massive protests that pushed him from power -- and into self-imposed exile in Russia -- in February 2014.
The EU draft declaration agreed on October 11 says participants in the Eastern Partnership summit “look forward to stronger engagement with all partners in modernizing education and research systems, and improving their quality performance and competitiveness, while ensuring respect for rights already exercised of persons belonging to national minorities as enshrined in UN and Council of Europe Conventions” and related documents.
It declares that members will not discriminate against minorities and will respect diversity -- “fully taking into account the expertise of the Council of Europe” when reforming education systems.
The text of the draft declaration is not expected to undergo major changes ahead of the November 24 Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels.
That’s because the 28 EU member states are unlikely to backtrack on a text that has taken them more than three months to agree upon.