BRUSSELS -- The European Union plans to better tie financial assistance to the six nations of its Eastern Partnership program to improvements in their rule of law and may increase funding for alternative energy to wean them off Russian fossil fuels.
In a leaked draft of its joint communication about the future of the Eastern Partnership seen by RFE/RL, Brussels also said it wants to step up the fight against economic crime in the six countries, including the recovery of stolen assets.
Created in 2009, the EU’s Eastern Partnership aims to bring the former Soviet states of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine closer to the bloc through help with reforms, without offering those nations guarantees that they could one day join.
“It is important for the Eastern partners to put in place robust asset recovery frameworks, including by setting up functioning asset recovery offices that are in a position to trace and identify criminal wealth,” the draft said.
Furthermore, it said the EU will support a legal framework in the six nations “with a focus on high-level corruption, and will pay particular attention to the area of public procurement.”
Graft has historically been a major problem in the Eastern Partnership member states due to weak public institutions, including a truly independent judiciary, free press, and civil society. Many of the nations rank low in Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index.
The 18-page paper, which is likely to be presented by the European Commission next week, is titled Reinforcing Resilience – An Eastern Partnership That Delivers For All and follows months of consultations among EU member states and the six nations about the future of the Eastern Partnership.
The paper will form the basis of discussion when EU and the Eastern Partnership leaders meet for their next summit in Brussels, tentatively scheduled for June 18. The leaders will discuss launching new visa liberalization talks with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus, whose citizens still require visas to travel to the EU.
The Eastern Partnership has faced questions about its purpose as countries such as Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, which are seeking to join the EU, question the relevance of being lumped with Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Belarus, which have not directly expressed that interest. The paper states there is no intent to break up the partnership group.
A big emphasis at the summit will also be put on environmental issues. Paris has suggested that 50 percent of all funding to the nations be spent on green issues. The paper also pledges to help the six countries to increase energy efficiency as well as energy security by diversifying away from fossil fuels.
Russia is the dominant supplier of oil and gas to most of the six nations.