BRUSSELS -- The latest draft of the Eastern Partnership declaration prepared for the bloc's Riga summit next month contains little good news for EU hopefuls Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, and highlights the shrinking ambitions of the European Union in its eastern neighborhood.
The document seen by RFE/RL has been debated for over a month in Brussels among diplomats from the bloc's members, and several additions to the text have been made to the document first drafted by the European External Action Service (EEAS).
The text, which will be endorsed by heads of government at the Riga summit on May 21-22, has been sent to the six Eastern Partnership countries -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine -- for input and the reading is likely to be a frustrating exercise in Tbilisi, Chisinau, and Kyiv.
The three countries, which have all recently signed Association Agreements with the EU, were hoping that the Riga summit would clearly acknowledge their aspiration to one day join the bloc, but there is little indication at this point that that will happen.
The text is simply stating that "in the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership, the summit participants reaffirm the sovereign right of each partner freely to choose the level of ambition and the goals to which it aspires in its relations with the European Union. It is for the EU and its sovereign to decide on how they want to proceed in their relations."
EU sources told RFE/RL that the idea of the Riga declaration was that it would be neither more nor less ambitious than the declaration agreed at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in 2013.
The language agreed in the Lithuanian capital regarding the path to EU membership was, however, more clearly expressed.
It stated: "The participants of the Vilnius Summit reaffirm their acknowledgement of the European aspirations and the European choice of some partners and their commitment to build deep and sustainable democracy. In this context, they take note of the commitment of those partners to pursue these objectives. The participants reaffirm the particular role for the Partnership to support those who seek an ever closer relationship with the EU."
The current draft represents a considerable blow to EU members Poland and Lithuania, who are keen to bring the three countries closer to the bloc. Diplomats sympathetic to Ukraine also lamented their failure to include a line in the current draft that was agreed by EU foreign ministers last year stating that the Ukrainian Association Agreement signed on March 21, 2014, "does not constitute the final goal in EU-Ukraine cooperation."
At the time, this was seen as the clearest official indication yet that Kyiv one day could join the EU. Diplomats told RFE/RL that they still hope to improve the text after the input from the eastern partners.
The draft declaration language is also weak when it comes to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. It states that "events in Ukraine have shown that the fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity cannot be taken for granted in the 21st century on the European continent."
But the following paragraph from the original draft has been omitted from the current one: "the summit participants express their readiness to help overcome the worst political rift in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Our citizens expect us to prevent further negative repercussions for the stability of our continent and we are committed to do so."
Instead the document states that "the summit participants strongly support all efforts aimed at de-escalation and a political solution based on the respect for Ukraine's independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. They call on all parties to swiftly and fully implement the Minsk agreement of September 2014 and the package of measures for their implementation of February 2015," and adds that they "expect all parties to honor their commitment in this framework."
Russia is only mentioned in the context of its illegal annexation of Crimea, which the text describes as "a violation of international law and a direct challenge to international security."
Ukraine is also likely to be worried about the additional language of the entering into force of its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU.
Kyiv and Brussels agreed in September 2014 to postpone its provisional application to January 1, 2016. This date is stated in the text but what is new is an additional paragraph noting that the participants in the summit "also note the importance of continuing the trilateral process on EU-Ukraine DCFTA implementation, in a constructive manner, using the existing flexibilities available to the contracting parties within the DCFTA."
Russia has been eager to delay the implementation of the measure by at least a year and some EU member states have reportedly considered this option as well.