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EU, Ex-Soviet Republics To Extend Partnership Beyond 2020


BRUSSELS -- The foreign ministers of the European Union and six former Soviet republics will meet next month to endorse an extension of the Eastern Partnership Program.

The program aims to encourage Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine to undertake reforms, in return for closer relations and economic benefits.

The foreign ministers will pledge "to develop the Eastern Partnership agenda beyond 2020" when they meet in Brussels on May 13 in a gathering that will coincide with the 10th anniversary of the partnership.

An early draft of the statement the sides will endorse, seen by RFE/RL, states they will "continue to work jointly and in a spirit of close cooperation to ensure our societies can fully reap all the benefits, from increased prosperity to democracy, stability and security that come from such a partnership."

The draft statement is likely to change, but EU sources told RFE/RL that the text is unlikely to give any clear indications of future EU membership for the six countries, nor will it mention Russia.

Moscow has expressed strong misgivings about the program, arguing that closer economic ties between the EU and its main trading partners could harm Russian interests.

The statement states that "reform implementation and delivery of the agreed commitments must remain the main focus in the years to come."

Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine have all struck association agreements with the EU under the Eastern Partnership program and Azerbaijan is expected to initiate an updated partnership deal with the bloc at the event in May.

A summit that brings together EU leaders and the presidents or prime ministers of all Eastern Partnership countries has been held annually since the inaugural meeting in Prague in 2009.

But it was decided there would not be a summit in 2019 due to Brexit, European parliamentary elections in May, and changes in personnel in the European Commission and the European Council.

The next summit is expected in 2020.

In place of the summit, European Council President Donald Tusk will host the leaders of the six countries for dinner on May 13.

The European Commission will also have a high-level event dedicated to the partnership on May 14.

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